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India’s 1st low-cost air monitoring study to be conducted across 15 MMR spots in November, says Maharashtra pollution control body

PUBLISHED ON JUL 24, 2020 01:35 AM IST

Come November, a first-of-its kind study in India using low-cost sensor-based technology will be undertaken across 15 locations in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) to accurately measure the harmful pollutant concentration in the air.

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur (IIT-K) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last week to undertake the sensor technology assessment between November 1 this year and May 31, 2021. Based on the study’s success, such monitors would be rolled out across MMR, followed by 18 non-attainment cities (cities with particulate matter concentration below the national ambient standards), to identify pollution hot spots through hyper-local air monitoring, source distribution and associated health impacts.

MPCB made the announcement during a web-based seminar on Thursday organised by Delhi-based communications initiative Climate Trends.

The sensors will be installed across MPCB’s 15 existing real-time air monitoring stations –10 in Mumbai, one each in Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Vasai-Virar, and Dombivli. They will monitor PM (particulate matter) 10, PM2.5, ozone, oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx).

“We want to identify if the data received from these sensors is technically sound and the readings match with our existing technology. If the results are accurate, we will submit a report to the Centre and scale the programme,” said VM Motghare, joint director (air quality), MPCB.

Professor SN Tripathi, head of civil engineering, IIT-K and apex committee member, National Clean Air Programme said that such a study has not been conducted anywhere in the country before. “The idea is to look into the stability and accuracy of low-cost sensors. The end goal is to assess how they measure pollutants, stability of calibration models and the final use for hyper-local monitoring,” he said.

MPCB also announced the expansion of the state’s existing air quality monitoring network across 18 most polluted cities, with the installation of 98 real-time and 126 manual monitors.

“Tenders will be invited for the first phase [47 monitors] of real-time monitor installation in less than a week. Maharashtra will soon have India’s largest air quality monitoring network by next year, including 207 manual [122 new and 81 existing] and 122 real-time [98 new and 24 existing] monitors,” said Motghare.

Motghare said that the motive behind the sensor-based study is to initiate air pollution hot spot monitoring, for which it is important to understand the applicability of low-cost sensors first. “This type of technology has not been approved by the Central Pollution Control Board so far. A much smaller exercise carried out last year, failed to yield encouraging results,” he added.

Ambient air quality monitoring is conducted through a manual method (analysis of pollutants measured once every six days where data is transferred manually), continuous method (automatic real-time data collection of pollutants measured) and real-time low-cost sensors (based on light scattering technology using small equipment).

According to MPCB, manual monitors cost 8 lakh per station per annum, while the continuous ones cost 1.5 crore per station every year. This includes the purchasing cost, maintenance and number of pollutants measured. Independent researchers said low-cost monitors are bought for 50,000 to 2 lakh (including maintenance), based on the number of pollutants they measure.

States such as Meghalaya, Bihar and Haryana carried out similar studies, but used only five low-cost sensors each. Tripathi said in consultation with MPCB, leading startups had been invited for the project.

“Their sensors will be co-located with MPCB’s reference monitors. A report on the results will be submitted to MPCB, followed by further deliberations to scale this for the entire state,” he said.

Independent experts said the country needed a much wider network of air quality monitors combined with constructive data usage.

“Currently, monitors are unevenly placed in urban areas, which means our understanding of rural air pollution is limited. The current monitoring requirement will cost the country 10,000 crore, even as researchers estimate the need for at least 4,000 monitors to bridge the data gap,” said Shloka Nath, executive director, India Climate Collaborative, a philanthropic organisation working on solutions for climate crisis challenges.

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