What has Brahmapuram smoke done to Kochi’s air and people’s health?

Kochi: With the massive fire breakout at the Brahmapuram waste treatment plant sending air quality in the city and its suburbs to new lows, medical experts have cautioned the residents about possible health risks. The fire spread over heaps of plastic garbage at the plant has been filling the city’s atmosphere with toxic smoke since Thursday evening. Smoke caused by burning plastic and other waste materials contains toxic gases like carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide which pose serious health threats.

Those with a history of lung and heart diseases are at higher risk while all exposed to the plume emanating from the burning garbage are advised to be extra cautious. Doctors told Onmanorama that those under the threat of the smoke should wear a face mask – N95 or of a higher standard – as it can save them to a great extent.

“On Saturday morning, Kochi's PM2.5 and PM 10 levels were really high. However, N95 and N99 masks are supposed to block 95 per cent and 99 per cent of PM2.5,” Dr Mujeeb Rahman K K, consultant pulmonologist of VPS Lakeshore Hospital said.

PM, or particulate matter, indicates the mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. PM10 is particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter, PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter.

Dr Rahman said people with a history of chest pain, breathing difficulties, chest congestion, dip in oxygen level as well as neurological issues should be careful and seek medical help if they feel any difficulty after inhaling the smoke-filled air. He said it is important to stay hydrated – drink plenty of water – if you are exposed to the smoke.

Dr Praveen Valsalan, senior consultant pulmonologist at Aster Medcity said that apart from those with lung and heart issues, infants and children are at risk. “In some children, the polluted air could cause breathing difficulties and chest congestion. These could be short-term issues, but in some cases, they might stay long,” he cautioned.

He said those who were exposed to the toxic air in the past few days may experience health issues in the coming days.

“Smoke emanating from plastic garbage contains several toxic elements. It can adversely affect those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and other lung diseases. It can also affect children,” said Dr Sophia Philip, assistant professor, department of pulmonology at the Government Medical College, Ernakulam.

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