For the people living in the Northern states of India, poor air quality in the winter has become an annual occurrence. The governing bodies get into action just as the winter rolls in to implement bans, policies and incentives to somehow reduce the pollutants in the air. Regardless, Delhi remains the city that has the highest average level of fine PM 2.5 among the world’s most populated cities. According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s (EPIC) Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report, with the average annual PM2.5 levels being at 21 times the WHO guidelines, the residents stand to lose 10 years of life expectancy if the current air pollution level persists.
In theory, staying indoors to save oneself may seem like a good idea, but due to the lack of circulation, indoor air is often far worse than outdoor air. The quality of Indoor air plays a major role in safeguarding the health as an average person spends majority of their time in indoor spaces such as schools and offices. After monitoring 850 million data points and serving 7.3 million square feet of indoor spaces collected by their devices from across the country, Abhinav Gupta, the CEO of ActiveBuildings has shared his understanding of air quality issues and how they can be dealt with. Here are the excerpts of his interaction with FinancialExpress.com:
How can regular households safeguard their indoor spaces against poor air quality?
Common items found in every home today such as mosquito repellant sprays, deodorants, candles, incense sticks, air fresheners and certain cleaning products that release cancer-causing Volatile Organic Compounds into our indoor air. Besides these, paints, wood varnishes, sealants, adhesives, copiers and printers found in offices are also sources of formaldehyde that adds to VOCs in the air. Since these VOCs are volatile, they evaporate at room temperature and infuse into the air we breathe.
Also Read | Air pollution may increase hospitalisation risk for autistic children: Study
Particulate Matter that can be generated through cooking, cigarette-smoking and other combustion activities, along with dust and construction materials add to inhalable particles in indoor air. Many pathogens such as bacterial droplets, viral droplets, and fungal spores remain suspended in the household air after an infection in the family. The dangerous combination of these pollutants lead to various lung and heart diseases in the human body.
Circulation of air helps maintain the carbon dioxide levels in the air that is shared among the family in closed spaces and although ventilation is an important step to ensure that the pollutants do not get trapped in the indoor air, this could also mean allowing outdoor pollutants like PM2.5 and PM10 to enter into our homes. Air purifiers may be installed to counter this problem but their need and efficiency can only be determined through air evaluation tests that give you a quantitative summary of the composition of the air.
Why is it essential to pay equal attention to indoor air quality?
There is widespread complacency regarding indoor air quality especially in India. The use of toxic chemical products, aerosol sprays, emissions from household appliances, construction materials, cooking, presence of mold, lack of ventilation, and more, add to the pollutants in our indoor air. These pollutants often induce immediate symptoms such as coughing, irritation in the respiratory tract, itchy eyes or skin allergies. But due to lack of awareness most of these symptoms are often ignored in the short-term, and end up becoming fatal diseases in the long run.
Indoor air pollution is a relevant area of concern for most developing countries such as India as it has a direct impact on mortality and morbidity. The health and well-being of occupants is determined by the physical, chemical and biological properties of indoor air.
Public health awareness on indoor air pollution has lagged behind that of outdoor air pollution. While outdoor pollution requires intervention by authorities, indoor air pollution can be resolved on an individual level with the help of information and guidance.
How can poor indoor air quality be more hazardous than the air outside?
Problems of indoor air quality are recognized as important risk factors for human health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency report; the concentration of pollutants in indoor spaces is often 2-5 times higher than it is outdoors.
Regular households fail to understand the importance of indoor air quality due to the lack of awareness. Most people spend a great deal of time indoors, especially those who are most susceptible to pollution’s negative effects (children, the elderly, pregnant women and people suffering from cardiovascular or respiratory diseases).
Constant exposure to pollutants like particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, dust and mold can end up causing respiratory disorders, asthma, risk of heart attack, reduced fertility, neurological or mental health issues, reduced cognitive functions and much more.
There is a rise in air pollution during the festive season: what are the reasons and how to deal with it?
The festive season coincides with the winter season in North India particularly. The pollution generated by the annual stubble-burning in agricultural areas, the firecrackers surrounding the festivals and weddings, smog, bonfires add to year-round pollution in the air caused by industrial and vehicular emissions, climate changes, construction and more.
Cold air in the winter is denser and traps the pollutants, unlike in summers when the pollutants get whisked away with the wind. This makes the pollution visible to the naked eye and binds it to the lower levels of the air we breathe that can seep into our homes.
Also Read | Can paddy pellets be answer to the stubble-burning menace in Punjab- Explained
Outdoor pollution is a larger phenomenon and needs government intervention along with time and research to find solutions and alternatives for a sustainable future. Meanwhile, we can secure the indoor air quality of our homes, offices, classrooms etc, by ensuring that we avoid activities and products that pollute the environment and invest in an air quality evaluation test to understand the air we are breathing.
Various factors play a role in deteriorating the air quality of Delhi and its surrounding areas. The major sources of air pollution in Delhi, as well as the surrounding region, are coal-ﬁred thermal power plants, small-scale industries, construction work, vehicular emissions, and biomass burning.
What is the importance of air quality monitoring in combating pollutants, and how does ActiveBuildings come into the picture?
Indoor air quality monitoring systems are being developed to deal with the higher mortality and morbidity rate caused by indoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution is not the same for every house. The architectural structure and location of the building, outdoor pollution levels as well as the lifestyle choices of the occupants influence the indoor air quality. Not every house has the same problem, therefore, there is no uniform solution that applies to all.
ActiveBuildings air monitoring sensors are the key to solving the problem of indoor air pollution. These air sensors quantify the levels of PM2.5, PM10, TVOC, carbon dioxide and humidity found in the air of the indoor space where it is installed. These handy sensors need 10-30 minutes of exposure to the indoor air to collect the data and this data is analyzed and drafted into reports for the house residents, along with recommendations on how the air quality issues can be resolved. Without proper air evaluation tests, a resident might be deploying a solution for PM2.5, whereas, the actual problem in the house was high carbon dioxide levels.
How does ActiveBuildings ensure clean indoor air accessible to all?
With years of research and data analysis, ActiveBuildings is constantly upgrading and revising its technology to ensure the accuracy of the air evaluation tests, and to also make sure that the technology is customer-friendly and easy to use. ActiveBuildings handy plug-n-play air sensors are the size of a WiFi router and can decipher the air composition of a 1000 sq feet area within 10 to 30 minutes of being plugged into an electrical point. Anyone can book an evaluation through the website for their homes or offices, with prices starting at 699 INR.
As mentioned before, not all houses have the same problem. Unless a thorough air evaluation test is executed, ActiveBuildings cannot suggest how to improve the air quality of the indoor space. While in some cases, the residents could be recommended to invest in a HEPA Air Cleaner or a dehumidifier, others might just need to open up a window.
ActiveBuildings is also working towards bettering the air quality in low-income communities without any cost to the end-customer. In April 2022, ActiveBuildings signed an MoU with Balvi Fund, run by the co-founder of crypto-currency platform Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, with an investment of 1 Million USD. This project focuses on providing 5,000 air sensors and 10,000 air cleaners to communities in need, in Maharashtra and Karnataka.