Clean Air Day – Evolution of Air Pollution monitoring over the years | The Financial Express

Clean Air Day – Evolution of Air Pollution monitoring over the years

Contamination of the environment has over time, affected our water, our food, our air, and hence, our health.

Clean Air Day – Evolution of Air Pollution monitoring over the years
Air pollution from both indoor and outdoor sources represents the single largest environmental risk to health globally. (Photo source: Pixabay)

By Abhinav Gupta

A decade ago, the concept of Air Monitoring was limited to scientific or governmental use only. However, over the past few years, with the rise in awareness among citizens and technological advancement, handy air monitoring sensors have become a household concept.

Over the years, industrial and lifestyle changes have become an indirect threat to our planet and life. Contamination of the environment has over time, affected our water, our food, our air, and hence, our health. Air pollution from both indoor and outdoor sources represents the single largest environmental risk to health globally.

In the 1800s, Canary birds are said to have saved countless lives of miners in the western countries with their peculiar warnings when they detected high concentrations of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane in mines. However, technology and innovation have made it easier to detect the dangerous contaminants in the air we breathe with low-cost, data-efficient devices.

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Rise in Health Disorders due to Air Pollution

WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) provide clear evidence of the damage air pollution inflicts on human health, at even lower concentrations than previously understood. As per their data, every year, exposure to air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths, 3.2 million of which are due to residential pollution caused by cooking, heating, generating electricity, and dust.

Throughout the past decade, environmentalists and scientists talked about the long-term effects of exposure to air pollutants. But the urgency of the havoc created by the air-borne Covid-19 virus taught everyone that pollutants in the air need to be dealt with immediately.

Introduction of Air Monitors to the world

In 1937, Draeger developed the first portable tubes for detecting carbon monoxide in mines. As technology advanced, the tubes that could now detect 100s of different gases were used in military production and medical applications like breathing apparatus and incubators. In 1974, the first PID (Photoionization Detector) was introduced as a handheld instrument to detect gas leaks for VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) using ultraviolet rays. They weighed around 4kgs with a separate hand-held probe and had to be carried over the shoulder.

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Around 2006, a group of artists, activists, and technologists came up with AIR which was a portable air monitoring device enabling people to find air pollution hotspots in their neighborhoods and transmit real-time data to a website. A few years after that, Pachube and Wicked Devices launched a low-cost sensor with Kickstarter crowdfunding from over 900 people. The project produced 800 quality sensing eggs that measured carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, and humidity.

In 2014, HabitatMap launched AirBeam, an open-source PM sensor where users crowdsource data on the AirCasting app and website to vividly show a region’s PM 2.5 levels. Over the years, open-source has led to a revolution in low-cost air monitoring technology.

Air Monitoring – Agencies and Governments

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been involved in research about low-cost air sensors through workshops and device evaluations and released their tips in the Air Sensor Guidebook in 2013. Meanwhile, WHO put out guidelines on the recommended air quality levels for countries. But the latest United Nations Environment Programme’s Actions on Air Quality report noted there were large gaps in monitoring of air quality.

The government of India launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) as a national-level strategy to curb air pollution levels across the country. In 2021, the Delhi government experimented with technology by installing 2 Smog towers in the city, attempting to monitor and clean the air. These 24-meter-high towers record the PM 2.5 levels of the air and are said to purify the air in a one-kilometer radius around the structure.

Air Monitoring and People

Post-Covid 19, people have become conscious and self-dependent when it comes to monitoring the air quality in their homes and offices. In 2022, air evaluation services have become as easy as booking a beauty service online.

Handy air sensor plug-n-play devices can now be set up in any room to check the quality of air in the entire home. The data collected by these sensors are then presented to the customer in an easy-to-read report and appropriate solutions are suggested.

Philanthropic entities too are investing in projects that work towards improving AQI in low-income communities.

Conclusion

Over the past decades, our planet has watched the blue skies turn grey with air pollution, but did not understand the urgency of the matter. Post-Covid it is noted that the need for clean and healthy air has not only become a priority to the government but also for common citizens, as markets record a rise in the demand for air monitoring and air cleaning services even for indoor spaces. From a bird to a mobile app and now with the latest innovations in wireless technologies, you can test the air quality of your homes with small, lightweight plug-n-play air monitoring sensors and breathe clean air.

(The author is CEO of ActiveBuildings. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)

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