Harmful effects of air pollution, described as the world's biggest environmental risk by WHO, may linger on in Delhi for generations to come, experts warn.
New studies regarding air pollution, indicating that its impact may be 'transgenerational', have unsettled pollution experts anddoctors in the city.
T K Joshi, Director, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, told that a study by the US-based National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has uncovered this fact.
"New research that has shaken all of us says that if a fetus is exposed to air pollution, she has change in her genes, and these changes are such that they don't remain confined to her only.
"The impact is transgenerational. That means her children, her grand children will be affected. And you cannot undo a change in gene. If we don't control this then we are creating lot of diseases to which we do not have any cure, like asthma, cancer, stroke," Joshi said.
While the phenomenon holds true for people cutting across the world, it will be more so for residents of cities like Delhi, known for notoriously high levels of pollution.
It also turn on its head to the conventional wisdom that pollution affects only certain vulnerable categories such as children, the elderly, people with respiratory diseases and expecting mothers.
Joshi rued that indoor air pollution was an area that has seen the "least amount" of work. Its potential impact on health is a riddle that needs to solved.
"That is what is sorely needed, to find its short and long term impact, serious or mild effects. Itching of eyes, sneezing are mild effects, but if you say cancer it's very serious. So the riddle is yet to be solved," Joshi said.
Echoing these views, Prof Mukesh Khare of IIT Delhi said the latest findings make indoor air pollution more significant, as people, especially expecting mothers, spend more time inside.
"Urban indoor air quality is an area that is not well-researched. The Central Pollution Control Board had put a draft of indoor air quality monitoring guidelines on its website in 2014 but there has no forward movement since. We need to have prescribed standards like for outdoor air," he said.
Air pollution is killing nearly eight lakh people annuallyin the South East Asian Region with India alone accounting for over 75 per cent of the casualties caused by cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer, according to WHO.
Delhi also happens to be the 11th most polluted city in the world (based on data collected between 2008-13), according to the latest rankings released by the UN agency, while four other Indian cities - Gwalior (2), Allahabad (3), Patna (6) and Raipur (7) - figure in the top seven.