Health effects of short and long-term air pollution exposure: Evidence from a survey of residents living in rural and urban regions near Kolkata


This report details the health impact of air pollution on urban and rural population near Kolkata. It was published on July 23, 2022, by Climate Trends, a New Delhi-based organisation working in the climate and development sector.

During 2021-22, 1,155 residents from seven locations in West Bengal – Kolkata, Howrah, Asansol, Haldia, Barrackpore, Bardhhaman and Barasat, were interviewed for the survey. These places host many medium- and large-scale industries, including four important coal-based thermal power plants.

In the report, health effects of air pollution on people have been categorised into upper and lower respiratory symptoms (URS and LRS) and studied on the basis of age, gender, occupation and socio-economic status. URS included wheezing, asthma, earache, tachycardia and hypertension. LRS, on the other hand, included sore through, sinusitis, runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, cough, chest discomfort and breathlessness.

The survey analysed PM2.5 (particulate matter of diameter 2.5 micrometres or smaller) data over the regions using satellite studies and surface measurements. It revealed that long-term exposure to air pollution had more detrimental effects on people residing in urban areas than in rural areas, and that the aged and women were more likely to suffer from health issues due to air pollution.

This 40-page document is divided into nine sections: Executive summary (Section 1); Key findings (Section 2); Introduction (Section 3); Objective (Section 4); Methodology (Section 5);  Results and discussion (Section 6); Study limitations (Section 7); Conclusion (Section 8); References (Section 9).


  1. In both urban and rural populations, URS like sinusitis and sore throat were more common than LRS like cough and wheezing. LRS, the report states, has a greater adverse impact on health when compared to URS.

  2. In rural areas, the impact of indoor air pollution, especially due to use of biomass-based cooking fuels like firewood and cow dung, was a major cause of adverse health. Traditional chulhas (oven) release a multitude of toxic pollutants such as dioxins, benzene and formaldehyde, as well as standard air pollutants like carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter. Women in rural areas, it was found, developed more severe health problems compared to men living in rural areas.

  3. Adverse health conditions were seen in people with more exposure to the location’s ambient PM2.5. 

  4. Occupation was a major determinant of adverse health conditions from exposure to polluted air. Those with greater exposure to vehicular emissions – like “drivers, traffic police, roadside hawkers, gas station workers” – suffered greater impact.

  5. The study found that urban areas had higher PM2.5 levels compared to rural areas because of proximity to coal-based industries and vehicular traffic. Also, lower respiratory symptoms (LRS) like cough, wheezing, chest discomfort and laboured breathing, which are more serious in nature than upper respiratory symptoms (URS), were more prevalent in people living in urban areas.

  6. For every 10 micro-grams per cubic meter increase in PM2.5, breathlessness among older people in urban regions worsened. People above 50 years of age in both rural and urban areas displayed highest prevalence of LRS and a quarter of them complained of URS like sore throat and nasal congestion.

  7. Hypertension, the study revealed, showed a positive association with PM2.5 levels. This increased the risk to cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and stroke.

    Focus and Factoids by Yazhini Sathiamoorthy. 

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Debajit Sarkar, Tanya Gupta, Palak Balyan, Alok Kumar, Manas Ranjan Ray, and Sagnik Dey


Climate Trends, New Delhi 


23 Jul, 2022