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A few solutions to fight the air pollution monster

In part 2 of the series, Rajiv Makhni looks at what works and what doesn’t in this battle against pollution

brunch Updated: Nov 19, 2016 20:35 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Air pollution
(Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

A blaring alarm goes off and the transparent dome slowly lowers itself. The entire city is in lockdown mode. Giant turbine fans on top of each building kick in, sucking massive amounts of air and passing them through monster filters. Large truck- mounted air purifier machines start to move into the most polluted areas. Within minutes the air in the city is pure just like mountain air.

In the TV series Under the Dome, a mysterious dome cuts off a city from the rest of the world. A transparent dome acting as an air pollution barrier for an entire city is exciting. Any air pollutant from outside wouldn’t make it in, while large- scale air filtration technology would purify the air within. Unfortunately, the reality is that no dome is being constructed to protect us – now or in the future.

Air pollution now is the world’s largest single environmental health risk and reports state that annually about 14 million people prematurely die as a result. These staggering numbers confirm that taking drastic measures against this monster is now beyond critical.

Schools and air purifiers

Air purifiers are effective in a closed room environment but that adds a lot of carbon dioxide to your room. The amount of carbon-dioxide emitted by 30 to 40 children in a closed classroom could be even worse than the pollution. Only a centralised air pollution control blower system would work and that’s something schools need to plan and budget for.

You could make your own air purifier. SmartAir is one of the most impressive ones in this regard

DIY air purifier

Can you make one on your own, with a Do It Yourself Kit? Absolutely. An air purifier is basically a fan that sucks air in, makes it move through a filter that traps the pollutant particles and then blows clean air out. A good quality table fan with a pre filter and a HEPA filter would actually work. The most impressive one is SmartAir that sends you all the equipment for about `3,999. The more Air Purifiers you have in your house, the better the result and thus DIYs may well be the way to go.

3M, Honeywell and a few others make N95 and N99 face masks that do the same job at one/tenth the price

Face masks are the solution?

No, not really! They help in extreme situations but aren’t the holy grail. For one, they make you inhale a lot of your own carbon dioxide back into your lungs; buy one with a one-way-out valve. Second, while you can wash them for general hygiene, the filter inside doesn’t get cleaned out. You need a new one after some time. Third, you don’t have to buy those super-expensive designer ones. 3M, Honeywell and a few others make N95 and N99 face masks that do the same job at one/tenth the price.

In-car air purifiers can help to keep the air inside your car clean

In your car

An in-car air purifier is as important as one in your room. Switch on your AC in the car, shut off the compressor, strap a HEPA filter on the blower vent, set the air for recirculation and you’ve just made your car air pristine clean.

Air monitors can play a part by telling you how polluted the air is

Air quality monitor

Buy a portable one that works plugged in and on battery. It will gauge how effective your air purifier is, how polluted your car is, the most affected areas in your house, faulty windows or doors leaking in outside air, how bad the air is outside and if you should go for a run or a walk – and about a dozen other areas where you need to know what you’re breathing.

Stubble burning the main culprit?

One of the culprits, but it is not the major one. If crop burning in Punjab and other states was the main reason then every single town and city along the way should be as polluted, why just Delhi? The pollutants obviously don’t Star Trek themselves only into this city. Banning crop burning isn’t the solution; monetising what they plan to burn is. If farmers see even a little value for the stubble, they will sell it rather than burn it.

Stubble burning is not the only culprit

Entire city solutions

The usual culprits would be better traffic management, strict ‘pollution toll tax’ in congested areas, shutting down coal burning power plants or installing filtration systems at source, and strict monitoring of polluting industries around the city. Unfortunately, this needs more political will than we have right now.

Experimental but radical

Could every single car and every single building become an air purifier? By rejigging and installing HEPA level filters in the air-conditioning system of ALL cars and ALL AC plants of buildings in a city, you could theoretically create a massive grid of moving air purifiers and giant filters that could clean a city’s air upto 25 percent. It’s radical but doable.

Till then, the only solution is a giant dome covering the entire city. We would actually welcome it.

(The series is now concluded)

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch,November 20

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