Delhi has been choking for several years. Recent air quality levels have literally made the capital a toxic gas chamber. On 4 November, when Chennai woke up with smoggy skies, residents were surprised. It was unusual. While the meteorological department assured there was nothing to worry, weather bloggers, on the contrary, cried in dismay.
Some took on to social media to say that our city is slowing taking in Delhi’s hazardous air. Though there have been contradicting statements on this by environmentalists, Chennai's air has continued to deteriorate.
At the time of writing this article on 8 November, the air quality monitoring site aqicn.org recorded Chennai region as ‘Very Unhealthy’ at 244. Residents are naturally concerned. But, all hopes are not lost, as experts believe there are ways citizens can turn the tables by following simple steps.
Author Pallavi Aiyar in her book, ‘Choked!’ speaks about pollution in Beijing and Delhi. She writes “on her experience of living and raising two small children in Delhi, Beijing and Jakarta,” Pallavi explores the “fight against air pollution, gets expert opinion on assessing poor air quality and how it affects health, lists out lessons that Delhi can learn from Beijing’s successes and failures”.
“We need to set deadlines to meet national air quality standards at State and city levels,” says Pallavi in a telephonic conversation with News Today. She also speaks about the necessity to increase number of staff at pollution control boards. While writing her book, Pallavi recalls that India Pollution Control Board had 550 employees while Delhi Pollution Control Board had less than 200. But in contrast, Yantai in China’s Shandong Province had over 4000 employees.
“We need to develop local-level environmental bodies that implement pollution control norms,” she says. “It’s also necessary to create more air monitoring stations. A large part of India doesn’t have them and hence not much data is available.” Pallavi also points out Delhi’s geographical limits. “There is no space to flush out the toxic air unlike Mumbai which has the sea,” she says.
Pallavi shares simple steps to follow. “Investing in high-quality face masks is necessary as the situation is severe. It’s also important to insulate homes ensuring that the dirty air is kept outside. Use a device that measures the pollution level inside your home,” she says. “Get involved in your neighbourhood’s environmental group. Make sure trash is properly recycled. Instead of burning them, they can be used as compost. Think about your health before using a car when it isn’t necessary. Carpool or take a Metro. Clean air is a basic right just like food, clothing and housing.”
Like Pallavi, numerous experts have written investigative accounts on air pollution in India and what we can do about it. Kamal Meattle and Barun Aggarwal wrote, “How To Grow Fresh Air: India’s Top Experts Teach You How to Beat Air Pollution” while Dean Spears penned, “Air: Pollution, Climate Change and India’s Choice Between Policy and Pretence”. Tim Smedley released, “Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution” in April this year. The writers have researched and talked about methods vetted by scientists to combat toxic air.
Scientists and techies in India are finding ways to use their expertise in engineering to build devices that fight air pollution. Early this year, founder of Graviky Labs, Anirudh Sharma made heads turn when he delivered a TED Talk on how he made ink from air pollutants. Several startups from Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have also emerged in recent years.
Premier institutes like IIT have incubated many. IIT-Madras’ AirOk Technologies claims to have built “India’s first indigenous Air Purifiers with customised filter technology”. Head of operations at AirOk, Vishesh Kaul spoke to News Today about products the startup offers. Their device ‘comes with smart sensing and fully automated air purification”. They are Wi-Fi enabled and accessible through an app. Startups and innovators are slowly showing ways to face this toxic nightmare.