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Headache, breathlessness, respiratory infection: Here’s how vehicular pollution is affecting you

GoBarefoot: In megacities and large urban areas throughout the globe, air pollution has become a growing problem and transportation is recognised as the major source of air pollution in many cities, especially in developing countries. Automobiles contribute almost 40% to 80% of the total air pollution (Goyal, Ghatage and Nima, 2006).

Transport plays a pivotal role in the overall development of a nation’s economy, and an efficient transport system is prerequisite for sustained economic growth. In India, the contribution of the transport sector to the country’s GDP in 1999/2000 was 5.7%, which increased to 6.6% in 2008/09.

The rapid growing transport system has resulted in an increased concentration of various air pollutants. Road traffic produces volatile organic compounds, suspended particulate matter (SPM), oxides of sulphur (SOx), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO) which have an adverse health effect on the exposed population.

People on the road or in houses and schools near the main roads are exposed to high levels of vehicle pollutant emissions. Those constantly exposed to vehicle pollutant emissions are street vendors and traffic maintainers. These people not only suffer from air pollution but also from noise pollution which cause health problems like headache, anxiety and stress reaction, irritability and nervousness, feeling of fatigue, and decreases work efficiency. Prolonged exposure can damage ear drums and can cause permanent deafness (Conserve Energy Future, 2009).

The particles emitted from the vehicular exhaust of more than 10-micron size are held in upper respiratory tract and particles less than 10- micron size accumulate in the lungs and leads to respiratory abnormalities. Vehicles in major metropolitan cities are estimated to account for 70% carbon monoxide, 50% Hydrocarbons, 30-40% NOx, 30% SPM, and l0% sulphur dioxide of the total pollution loads, of which approximately two third is contributed by two wheelers alone (Environment Protection Agency [EPA], 2015).

In a study conducted in Ghaziabad, India, having the coordinates 28.6700° N, 77.4200° E it was found that majority of people residing near the roadside reported various health problems such as difficulty in breathing, runny nose, dryness of skin, etc.


Demand for urban transport is expected to double by 2030. Hence, there is an urgent need to develop strategies which will reduce the demand for private transport without constraining growth and provide a healthy environment to urban dwellers (Agarwal, nd). Additionally, houses near the roadside require improved ventilation (mechanical or natural) to prevent the build-up of traffic pollutants inside the house.

Distribution of sample regarding the provision of immediate surroundings of the house

The graph indicates the immediate surroundings of the house. Majority (47%) of the homes were surrounded by roads. However, 22% opined open space in front of their houses while 17% and 14% had trees and buildings in front of their houses respectively.


Distribution of sample regarding the air quality within the room

Conditions faced with indoor environment
Conditions Morning (%) Afternoon (%) All day (%)
Lack of air circulation 5 35 60
Noticeable odours 22.5 47 30.5
Dust in the air 2.5 22.5 75
Disturbing noises 7.5 7.5 85

The table shows various problems faced by the respondents. Majority of the conditions were faced all day which points in the direction of houses being located in heavy traffic areas. Traffic congestion throughout the day could be a reason for the same. Comparing the morning and afternoon percentages, it could be seen that the conditions were minimally experienced during morning. This could be attributed to the fresh air and comparatively low traffic density during significant hours of the morning time.


Distribution of sample regarding the health impaired symptoms [air and noise]

Symptoms observed due to vehicular pollution
Symptoms Always






Headache 15 60
Nausea 22.5
Runny nose 17.5 77.5
Scratchy throat 27.5 47.5 15
Lethargy 17.5
Dizziness 10 32.5
Itchy/watery eyes 27.5 35 15
Respiratory infection 17.5 42.5
Shortness of breath 20 52.5 22.5
Dry/sore throat 55 12.5 30
Skin dryness 72.5 20
Difficulty in breathing 30 67.5
Chest pain 32.5 52.5

As depicted in the table, majority of the respondents faced difficulty in breathing followed by runny nose, dryness of skin. Rarely people experienced chest pain and nausea. However maximum number of respondents reported skin dryness and sore throat which may also be attributed to other factors apart from vehicular pollution.

Majority (78%) of the respondents reported clearing of symptoms within a few hours of leaving the place. This shows that majority of these symptoms were due to vehicular pollution in that area.


Also Read: Wake-up Delhi! Two weeks of odd-even formula won’t give you clean air


(The complete paper titled “Health Impacts Of Vehicular Pollution On the RoadSide Residents” was published in the Indian Journal of Environment Protection in February as Paper number T 64)

Isha Raheja

Relationship Manager at GoBarefoot, Isha did her graduation in Home Science from Delhi University, post graduation in Resource Management and Design Application, and holds a diploma certificate from UN Framework for Convention on Climate Change. Before joining GoBarefoot, Isha interned with Central Road and Research Institute, Department of Environment - Delhi Secretariat, and Indcare Trust. She is passionate about sustainable energy and has had two papers related to the environment published.

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