Have you have ever wondered about the effects of Delhi’s air on people who work outdoors? How about Delhi’s traffic police? We sure have at Smart Air, and we have been waiting for research to catch up with our ruminations. A study on Delhi’s traffic police officers, published in January 2017, finally provides some answers – though pessimistic ones. The study suggests that traffic police officers have significantly worse respiratory and cardiovascular health than office workers.
Between July 2015 and February 2016, TERI University and the University of Surrey researchers compared 532 Delhi traffic police officers to 150 office workers. Individuals in both groups shared similar socio-economic characteristics and the same age group to account for differences stemming from such differences. The researchers then conducted a survey amongst the two groups over a six-month time span. The survey asked about the individual’s demographics, lifestyle, smoking and alcohol consumption habits, employment history, working hours, prior occupational exposure, and health status.
The study found that 59% of the surveyed traffic police officers reported having thick sputum, compared to 15% of office workers. Similarly, 45% more police officers reported pain in joints, and 39% more reported shortness of breath compared to office workers. While no office workers reported having coughing with blood, 26% of the surveyed police officers reported the symptom. The researchers report that these differences in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are likely related to the duration of time traffic police officers have served in their position. Factors such as BMI, age, smoking habits, or alcohol habits are not correlated to the differences in health.
It is important to note that the study shows that exposure to air pollution and poor cardiovascular and respiratory health are correlated. The design does not allow us to interpret if air pollution causes poor health. However, this finding is aligned with conclusions from other studies that have studied the health of traffic police officers. Other studies that have examined the health of traffic police officers have also found that their lung functions tend to deteriorate the longer they are in service. Studies in Bogotá (Colombia), Kathmandu (Nepal), Patiala, Pondicherry, and Rohtak have utilized either surveys or spirometers to test lung functions, and found that traffic police officers are exposed to higher levels of pollutants and are therefore at greater risk of respiratory diseases compared to those who spend less time outdoors.
With a growing number of evidence suggesting that the health of traffic police officers is at risk, it is up to the government to provide better health for its own employees. Researchers of the Delhi traffic police officers study suggest the adoption of a few measures:
- Compulsory use of mask and eyeglasses
- Regular health check-ups, combined with health education
- Transfers of police officers from heavy traffic zones to low-traffic zones or indoor postings
- An increase in salary to account for the pollution hazard or a higher health risk
While the adoption of such measures is paramount for traffic police officers, these measures are also necessary for other outdoor workers who are exposed to long hours of outdoor air: sanitation workers, construction workers, and vendors, amongst others.
Moreover, these studies give us food for thought: if they show that exposure to long-term air pollution has such significant effects for traffic police officers, how is short-term exposure affecting us on a day-to-day life?
 Bajaj, Nishitha, et al. “Determinants of respiratory and cardiovascular health effects in traffic policemen: A perception-based comparative analysis.” Journal of Transport & Health (2017).
 Ahlawat, Promilla, and Vineeta Shukla. “Monitoring of air pollution and assessment of its risk on traffic policemen.” Journal of Applied and Natural Science 2.2 (2010): 296-299.
 Estévez-García, Jesús A., Néstor Y. Rojas-Roa, and Alba I. Rodríguez-Pulido. “Occupational exposure to air pollutants: particulate matter and respiratory symptoms affecting traffic-police in Bogotá.” Revista de Salud Pública 15.6 (2013): 870-885.
 Shrestha, Hari Sunder, et al. “A cross-sectional study of lung functions in traffic police personnel at work in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.” Annals of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine 1.1 (2015): 42-48.
 Pal, Pravati, et al. “Pulmonary function test in traffic police personnel in Pondicherry.” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 54.4 (2010): 329-336.
 Gupta, Sharat, et al. “Respiratory effects of air pollutants among nonsmoking traffic policemen of Patiala, India.” Lung India 28.4 (2011): 253.
Bhumi spent several years working with small-holder farmers in India, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. She recently returned to India to work on governance reforms. She helps Smart Air with social media outreach, grant proposals, and anything else that comes along.