Losing our breathas air pollution increases

2019-07-31 06:00

OVER the past few years, we appear to have seen an increase in chest infections and respiratory complications in Pietermaritzburg, and it would be reasonable to link this to increased air pollution.

There are three main sources of this pollution, which are industry, the burning from the landfill site and the traffic from the N3 which runs through Pietermaritzburg.

The polluted air causes burning in the eyes, nose, throat and chest, and sets up the respiratory system for secondary infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. This is especially prevalent at this time of year with winter colds. Children, the elderly and those who already suffer from chest complaints such as asthma and emphysema, are the most vulnerable. There is also a considerable rise in the cases of sinusitis and allergies, which is a worldwide problem.

The south side of the city is exposed to the fumes of the burning landfill site which at times has produced a fog of fine grit that blocks the nasal passages and lungs. We do not live in a particularly windy city so this polluted air hangs around in the hollow of hills that surround the city.

The next source is industry, which is slowly increasing its output of air and water pollution, and needs regular surveillance of its effluents.

What has been a more insidious cause of air and noise pollution is the increase of traffic along the N3 running through the city. This roar of traffic continues on a 24-hour basis throughout the year.

The northern suburbs are affected by the trucks that accelerate up Town Hill and the toxic fumes of the exhausts then drop down into the surrounding houses and suburbs.

There are perhaps three ways in which we can help reduce this pollution. Firstly, by improving the management of the landfill site at Scottsville, which hopefully will occur now that the municipality is under administration.

Secondly, I assume that the slower the traffic goes, the less exhaust fumes will be emitted. It might be an idea to reduce the speed limit from the Market Road turn-off to the top of Town Hill to 80 km/h, and enforce this by speed and toxic emission monitoring of cars and trucks. At the moment, the traffic seems to hurtle down the N3 at literally break-neck speed.

Thirdly, there are systems whereby daily air pollution indexes can be measured as occurs in many cities, especially in the U.S. and China. These indexes could be added to the national and local weather or news broadcasts or in this newspaper. People who are at risk of chest infections could then take action to avoid exposure to the pollution.

We are now destroying the global biosphere on multiple fronts. Industry and traffic are changing the composition of the soil, water and atmosphere with our waste and toxic fumes.

Nobody knows how much more carbon dioxide we can continue to pump into the atmosphere before our grandchildren will start to get out of breath.

• Chris Ellis is a general practitioner inPietermaritzburg.

There are systems whereby daily air pollution indexes can be measured as occurs in many cities, especially in the U.S. and China. These indexes could be added to the national and local weather or news broadcasts or in this newspaper.

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