The Air Pollution Legacy: Lost Lives, Ill Health & Lack of Air Purifier Industry Standards in India
Date: Thursday , February 02, 2017
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Air pollution is both a local and a global problem on a gargantuan scale. WHO says that over nine out of 10 people live in places with poor air quality and the organization links exposure to outdoor air pollution to over three million deaths a year, a figure predicted to double by 2050. The unavoidable reality is that those of us living in most of the world\'s major cities are breathing air so polluted that it claims more lives than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined, and is leaving a terrible health legacy for our children.
Air pollution plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day and linked to cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and dementia. The damage from air pollution occurs across a lifetime, from a baby\'s first weeks in the womb all the way through to the years of older age, harming the heart, brain, and immunity, and effecting growth, intelligence, and development of the brain and coordination.
But what are the solutions? Is there technology available now to help us?
Indoor Air Pollution & Air Purifiers
Today\'s air pollution leapt into the public eye with the \'Airmeggedon\' headlines emanating from China in 2012 when the U.S. embassy in Beijing began issuing air quality statistics as a result of the severe air pollution engulfing the capital with increasing regularity. Until then, air pollution in China and elsewhere in nations like India was perhaps the world\'s best kept \'visible\' secret. The news sent Chinese ex-pats on a massive worldwide buying spree for indoor air purifiers that they sent home to help their relatives gasping for a breath of fresh air.
India is following similar movement. Especially in cities like Delhi and Mumbai where people have started talking about both outside and indoor air pollution, its adverse health effects and rushing to buy air purifiers now. As we spend up to 90 percent of our time at home and work, it is crucial to start talking more about indoor air pollution. Pollutants from the outside travel inside our homes, and are added to pollutants we create ourselves indoors through cooking, cleaning with chemicals and lighting candles & fires. Indoors, the air quality can be 2-5 times, and occasionally up to 100 times more polluted than the air outside.
The tipping point for air purifier market in India, interestingly, was Obama\'s visit last year. The U.S. Embassy installed air purifiers, \'mainstreaming\' the conversation about this industry. Last year, the conversation about air-quality was not on anyone\'s agenda. But past one year, there\'s been an explosion in demand for air purifiers in India.
It is essential that national governments, health authorities and city lawmakers acknowledge the problem & its roots and commit money and energy to raise public awareness in other cities as well. A good example of how modern technology is helping raise awareness is the Indian #Breathe real-time air quality monitoring public service on Twitter by simply tweeting #Breathe followed by the name of a city - #Breathe Delhi, for example. Such personal tools are important, especially when you consider that the country\'s media does a very useful job of bringing attention to air pollution when Air Quality Index (AQI) crosses figures like 500 and above which is extremely hazardous and 12 to 14 times more than the acceptable limits. However, when there is a slight reduction in AQI, say 350, which is still 9x of the acceptable limits and known to be \'severe\', media sometimes gives rise to misleading headlines like \'Air Quality Becomes Better\'. The need for media\'s awareness and exact reporting can be instrumental in helping people become more aware. That said, it is the individual\'s responsibility to be more aware and better equipped to understand the quality of air they breathe.
Need for Standardization
All that being said, buying an air purifier in India can be a difficult affair. There are no defined standards in the country yet, as the industry is nascent. In the absence of any regulation, many unreliable players are entering the market. Today, anyone can put a fan and filter together and sell it as an air purifier. In the U.S. and China, there are several strict standards to protect consumers and to ensure a minimum quality and performance standard for an air purifier model. Both Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM in America) and China certification are taken seriously in the west, however most air purifiers that are available in India do not have any of these certifications.
The term high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) is not understood by most manufacturers and customers. As per standards, it is certified as HEPA filter only if it can remove 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 micrometre in diameter. Similarly, the west has defined standards to determine the efficiency of air purifiers, relying broadly on the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), which is the volume of clean air that a machine can deliver. Air purifiers have to clean the air in a room at least five times in an hour to meet the CADR standards. So apart from ensuring that the air purifier has a genuine HEPA filter, it has to filter out PM2.5 (Particulate Matter of 2.5 micrometers or less) particles at a high CADR so that the air in the room is being continually cleaned.
Providing cleaner air for everyone across India may appear an impossible task. But indoor air purifiers with a solid track record and that adhere to the stringent Clean Air Delivery Rate and air filter standards set by AHAM, go a long way to helping people avoid the now proven health threats posed by breathing polluted air, at least indoors where we work, rest and play.