Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cigarettes & Indoor Air Pollution

Hello World! This is Govindraj Umarji. Dr. Sunita has invited me to write a post for A Greener You. I am really glad to be a part of this initiative.

A few bits about me: My basic degree is in Chemical Engineering. I completed my Masters under the guidance of Professor Patil (CESE 2007 Batch), with the topic being Improvement of the Indoor Micro-environment in Commercial Kitchens. Dr. Sunita & I share our Guide, Professor Patil and a passion for topics relating to Indoor Air Pollution. All right, then. On to my post.

These days, we hear a lot about indoor air pollution and its effect on human health. But what exactly is indoor air pollution? What are the sources of indoor air pollution? Why does it occur in the first place? Well, this post will try to provide some insights on that. Indoor air pollution is an area that is close to my heart and you will hear more on IAP on this blog from me.

To start with, let me get to pollution in general. Contrary to popular belief, a pollutant is defined as a substance present in excess of its normal concentration in the environment. That means, any substance on this earth has a the potential to be a pollutant, if it is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Air pollution is a serious issue because unlike water and land pollution, physical boundaries are not sufficient to contain it. Pollution, in that sense, is a unifying factor across national and international boundaries! Consider the case in point: rapid industrialization in Germany and France led to Sweden’s lakes turning acidic due to acid rain! Now, that is what they mean when they say that the world is getting closer.

Another myth is that CO2 is a pollutant. CO2 is a green house gas and is not a pollutant. CO2 will be called a pollutant if it is present in amounts exceeding 5000 ppm and since there are a lot many sinks to this particular gas, there is scant possibility of this gas making it to that high a concentration. Anyway, coming back to the point at hand, we all know what ambient air pollution is. There are standards set by the Central Pollution Control Board [CPCB] which are known as National Ambient Air Quality Standards [NAAQS]. More information can be found at the website:

However, there are no standards prescribed for the indoor environment. Why is this so?Consider the fact that there are at least a million registered and un-registered architects all over the world and each one has her / his own way of designing buildings. Each one gives different weightage to lighting and ventilation factors. Ergo, it becomes difficult to gauge how much air is going into an indoor environment and how much is leaking to the atmosphere from it. Also, the definition of the indoor environment is such that it becomes difficult to make a standard. An indoor environment is any place / location where one is not exposed to the ambient air directly. That means every place, right from schools to cars to trains and aeroplanes fall in this category. That makes a difficult job, that of specifying standards, impossible.

What then, are the sources of indoor air pollution? There are many, and a partial list can be found here: [The website of the United States Environmental Protection Agency] You will find among the many listed sources a source called Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). Note the use of the word Environmental. Cigarette smoke has not been referred to directly, because cigarette smoke itself is a part of ETS. ETS is constituted by cigarette smoke as well as the smoke that the smoker exhales. Overall, ETS is more harmful than cigarette smoke by itself is.

The cigarette burns at a very high temperature when the smoker inhales and the tip of the cigarette can be at as high a temperature as 900 C. This explains why cigarette burns take so long to heal. Nicotine, the habit forming chemical present in tobacco, does not lead to the production of harmful gases / particulate matter. It is the “tar” present in the tobacco which leads to production of carbon monoxide and carcinogens and poly aromatic hydrocarbos like phenanthrene, flouranthene, etc. Carbon Monoxide, another combustion product, reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of human blood because it forms an irreversible bond with haemoglobin. Particulate matter settles in the lungs, and cigarette smoke has such small particles that they can deposit in the alveoli, which are the places where gas transfer takes place in the lungs i.e. oxygen is swapped for CO2.

The smoke that a smoker exhales has more of these smaller particles than he/she has himself/herself inhaled, because they are too small to get deposited in the smoker’s lungs. However, in the time that elapses between a smoker exhaling and a passive smoker inhaling, these condense on other particles and grow sufficiently in size to get deposited in the passive smoker’s lungs. This is what makes passive smoking such a threat to humans! There are of course many other sources of indoor air pollution and I haven’t even scratched the surface of this topic. However, I do believe that I will have generated sufficient interest in this topic by this small article for all of you to do some reading on your own. Based on the popularity of this post, I will decide whether to part with some more interesting information!
Till then, adieu!

Some links for reading up on indoor air pollution:

Govindraj Umarji

Thursday, June 4, 2009

World Environment Day – 5th June

This is my foray into the world of green blogging – “A Greener You” .

But yet another green blog..why? As Karen puts it – “we all touch lives of different people. Let the other green bloggers touch the lives of people in their part of the world and this one will touch the lives and tell the stories of people in our part of the world.”

The ABC of becoming green is a 3 step process :

A – Awareness

B – Belongingness

C- Commitment

This blog will create awareness – with inspiring stories and information about anything in the shade of green, belongingness you will need to develop, commitment will come the moment the realization sets in that – we belong to this earth and it belongs to us.

“Now as never before, the old phrase has more meaning. We are all in the same boat.” – Jacques Costeau.

We are at the beginning of the fourth revolution of human history. This is the green revolution…We aim to achieve a balance between our consumerist ways and the new greener ways – some call it sustainable development.

“Sustainability, ensuring the future of life on earth is an endless game, the endless expressing of generosity on behalf of all.”Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest

Green is about worrying more than oneself. It is being sensitive to what your actions could cause to not only your immediate neighborhood, but understanding its larger ramifications. Even something as simple as the food we eat has its ramifications. “We sit down at the dinner table, pick up a fork, take a juicy bite, oblivious to the double helping of global ramifications. Our beef comes from Iowa, fed by Nebraska corn. Our bananas from Honduras, our olive oil from Sicily”(source National Geographic : End of Plenty – The Global Food Crisis June 2009).

Becoming “A Greener You” is your choice and you can fool yourself into believing that one person does not matter. But believe me living in tandem with nature is cheaper and healthier and we can become green and more greener with patience and perseverance.

I chose June 5th- World Environment Day as the day of my first blog. World Environment Day (WED) was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

Commemorated yearly on 5 June, WED is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The day's agenda is to:

  1. Give a human face to environmental issues;
  2. Empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development;
  3. Promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues;
  4. Advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

So what better than 5th June to start this Green Blog.

Today I will tell you about a story of a certain doctor couple. In the neighborhood I grew up in – in Nagpur, central India, our immediate neighbors were Dr and Dr(Mrs) W. Mrs. W’s father was a keen gardener. As was the case in the early 60-70-80’s independent houses had big gardens – with front gardens for flowers and back gardens for fruits and vegetables. With the demise of Mrs W's father, the house was divided among the children – the ground floor for the son, the top floor for the daughter – Mrs. W and the second floor went to the other son – who constructed his office and cordoned off half of the garden to make way for parking for his staff. The front garden was half its size and was reduced to just a small portion of greenery.

The first floor had two big terraces which used to be rather bare. We used to play there with Mrs W’s kids when we are little. A few months after her dad’s demise we started seeing loads of potted plants arriving. Within months the bare terraces where transformed into a formal lawn sit-out(yes on the first floor!) and loads of plants from various places. Watching the bare space turning green gave me immense pleasure – as if it was Mrs W’s way of paying homage to her departed father. So why mention this story here – well its about how you can include just three green plants in your apartment and improve the air quality inside your house. A few months earlier I was checking out LEED certification courses and stumbled upon Kamal Meattle’s talk on TED. With its air-filtering plants and sustainable architecture, Kamal Meattle's office park in New Delhi is a model of green business. Meattle himself is a longtime activist for cleaning up India's air. He talks about three common plants – the Areca palm, the money plant and mother-in-laws tongue. These are not very high maintenance and are available anywhere in the world!


Each of these indoor plants have their specific specialties – but they all help in improving indoor air quality – which in turn improves the health of the people living therein. Work environments with healthier indoor air quality have reported lower absentees, fewer sick leaves, lesser allergies and increased productivity.

We may not be plant lovers but we all love our families and all offices would like their employees to be more productive – so please do go through Kamal Meattle’s talk on TED and get these three amazing plants to become the showpieces of your home or office.

So creating fresh air for yourself is easy and it could be your first step in turning into a beautiful light shade of green(for a beginning!). I move houses often (between countries) – but wherever I have lived I have had my plants and pots. On departing the country I leave my plants with plant loving friends.

Recently my hubby went for a training session - ‘How to make better business presentations” – session was interesting and the speaker very good. Now why I am going off the context – well – they were all asked to give a talk on any topic of their choice – my hubby gave a presentation on Longwood Gardens (visit his blog on Vignettes on Photography (using Olympus E-30)). His colleague Sumathi chose to talk about these house plants and Kamal Meattle. So there was Puru – sitting and nodding his head – Suni will like this – or she must have already seen this..!! So thanks to Sumathi – I decided to write my first blog on these three humble houseplants.

So this is my first blog post – leave your feedback, comments and let me know incase you want to share your big or small green effort, will happily include them. Counting on you all to make this a beautiful dark green blog!



Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Hi Sunita! Congratulations on getting 'A Greener YOU' started. I'm excited to see where your blog takes us! I'm confident that each little green effort we make will help our planet and make it a better place for our children and theirs.
All the best!