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Technology fights the air pollution monster

Rajiv Makhni explains how air purifiers are your best bet right now as they can actually help you breathe better: Part One of a two-part series

brunch Updated: Nov 12, 2016 19:28 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Air pollution

The air pollution monster

It all started with an impulsive decision to escape ‘choked Delhi on Diwali’. Having experienced mind-crunching traffic jams mixed with lung-crushing toxic air the previous year, I went on a trip deep into the mountains three days prior to the festival that celebrates victory of knowledge over ignorance. The trip triggered off a chain of events that eventually led to the realisation that we all talk a lot about ‘air pollution’ but know very less and do even lesser about it. Here is my effort to spread a little knowledge and banish some ignorance.

It’s not a conspiracy theory

The headlines about how Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was multiple times higher than normal were deafening. My response on Twitter was an ill-conceived jab at humour where I wrote ‘The best advice I can give right now – Don’t Breathe’. It got its rightful share of chastising responses highlighting how silly flippancy was at a time like this – yet the shocker was the number of people who responded with how it was just media blowing a normal situation out of proportion and how they had lived in the city with the ‘same air’ for the last 50 years and were doing fine. Absolute denial was the maximum response! While I will give the devil its due and say that yes, the media tends to overly dress up these reports, it’s not fear mongering. The toxic air pollution situation is very real, we live in the world’s most polluted city and we live in a country where most of the other cities are doing a fantastic job in catching up with Delhi. Suck it up, understand that and let’s make that our base to move forward.

Laser Egg AQi (air quality index) monitor

Indoor pollution is a big issue

The air quality in your house can be worse than the poisonous fumes outside. We hear this all the time and yet we tend to shut our doors, seal our windows and sit tight inside assuming that we’ve banished the pollution. That makes it much worse. I used a professional AQI monitor and tested the air in a shut room that had not been aired for two days. It was exactly what I feared – the toxic air inside was a few degrees above the numbers outside.

Philips air purifier and humidifier

Air purifiers do make a difference

Nope, haven’t been paid by the All India Air Purifier Association Bribes and Kickback department. Just stating the facts. Almost any report by the media tends to have a strange footnote stating that the health benefits of air purifiers haven’t been proven! What? A device that reduces indoor air pollution so that what we breathe is 10 times cleaner hasn’t been proven? To make sure this notion is dead and buried once and for all I armed myself with 3 different AQI monitors (the Laser Egg, the Airveda and a Dylos) and did this experiment. I tested the AQI outside and then inside in three different rooms late at night with no air purifier on and then repeated the same with an air purifier in each room set to Turbo mode for 20 minutes. All the monitors reported a room that wasn’t in the danger zone anymore with air levels about 12 times cleaner than outside and about five to six times cleaner inside than before the purifiers started to blow.

Xiaomi-mi-air purifier with AQi app monitor

A few caveats

The kind of air purifier matters a whole lot. A HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter is critical, one that also has a humidifier built in is great, if it has an Air Quality Sensor that can also report to an app then you’re golden. But if that filter inside is all-clogged-up, then it’s even worse than not having a purifier at all. Also, don’t put your purifier on sleep mode at night. Leave it on auto mode and learn to live with that whirring sound. Shut off the purifier when you leave home, it increases the filter’s life and your room can be brought back to safe levels within minutes of being switched on again. Keep the unit in an elevated position and off the floor – it’s more efficient and doesn’t just suck in house dust. Remember, the purifier can’t purify the air in your whole house, just your room. Air the house everyday in the afternoon (specially if the sun is out) by opening the windows and door and putting on the fan at full speed for a few minutes.

That’s part one on how Tech can battle the Air Pollution Monster. Which Air purifier to buy, how to make one yourself (at a fraction of the cost) that can do a better job than very expensive commercial ones, why buying a portable Air Quality Monitor could be your best investment of the year, how polluted is the air in your car and how that has a quick fix, do pollution face masks work and is there a right or wrong kind, why the governments are lying about paddy burning being the main cause of all this awesome pollution and how tech can actually clean out a city and make it breathable again. Thats all in next weeks column. Till then - Don’t Breathe!

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

From HT Brunch,November 13

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