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Searching for some clean air solutions

air pollution in Delhi

Few eyebrows were raised when a World Health Organisation (WHO) report ranked New Delhi as the most polluted city in a list of 160 places across the world. Other Indian cities–where the particulate matter (PM)2.5 was higher than WHO standards–included Patna, Gwalior, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Kanpur, Firozabad and so on.

While this happened in 2014, the situation is no better this year. With the levels of PM2.5 and PM10, air pollutants that have adverse health effects, still above permissible limits, there is a sense of worry in the air.

Amid all the commotion, however, some focus has also shifted as to how one can stay clear of the deteriorating air quality. Some clean-air solutions have come in the form of predictive outdoor pollution apps, masks and respirators and air purifiers, but how effective can they be?

One example of a predictive outdoor pollution apps is SAFAR-Air. A government  initiative, the app was developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune. It provides air quality information for major Indian metros.

The app also gives a one-to-three day air quality forecast for cities including Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Kolkata. So far, SAFAR-Air has garnered around 10,000-50,000 downloads on the Google Play Store, with many users suggesting that more cities and towns be added to the service.

Meanwhile, others have turned to anti-pollution masks and air purifiers to breath easy. One of them is Kristin Braddock. Originally from the US, Braddock has been in New Delhi for five years and runs a social enterprise called Sewing New Futures. She has been using the Vogmask, a particle filter, anti-pollution mask, for about two months now, but admits that she struggles to use it. “I carry it in my bag and use it whenever I am commuting in an auto-rickshaw or stuck in heavy traffic. To be honest, I really struggle with using it. A few of my friends are better at using it than me. When you are sitting in heavy traffic, there’s a huge difference when you’re using the mask because the pollution is so evident, but in normal, everyday use, I don’t notice a big difference,” says Braddock, who believes that the prevailing conditions in the Capital are bad and that it’s sad people are not taking it seriously. “I have an air purifier for my home and that makes a big difference because it measures the pollution levels for your home,” adds Braddock.

Air purifiers is another segment that has caught the fancy of Indian consumers. Although, there is still a lack of awareness about the product, their demand is improving. “Indian consumers seem less aware around the prospects of air purifiers as they look for an instant gratification and visible results while purchasing goods, especially goods that are health-oriented or improve life. Air purifier sales are growing in India, especially after the recent WHO warning. The growing awareness among people about the surging pollution levels and the risk it causes to their health have encouraged consumers to invest in air purifiers,” says Manish Sharma, president, CEAMA and managing director, Panasonic India & South Asia. Sharma says currently, the size of the organised market for air purifiers in India is 20-25k units and is expected to reach 40k-50k units by 2016.

The bulk of the takers for air purifiers are those who want to improve the air quality at home and offices, especially since indoor pollution can be more threatening at times. “Since outdoor pollution is not within their control, consumers are looking for ways and means to improve air quality inside their homes and offices where they spend almost 80% of their time… There are young people who are buying it for their elderly parents who have developed respiratory illnesses. The expat population, including embassies and other small to medium corporate offices, forms a big chunk of our buyer and enquiry base,” explains Jayati Singh, business head, air, Philips India.

On the medical side, the opinion is divided. Many people, say experts, do not use anti-pollution masks properly.

As for air purifiers, they contend that such devices can’t be carried everywhere, leaving users exposed to the harmful pollutants that could not only affect the respiratory tract but also aggravate existing respiratory issues such as asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). “Ninety-nine per cent of the job is the regulatory body and government’s job. On an individual level, there’s very little you can do. Room purifiers, which are selling like hotcakes at the moment, are basically addressing the psychological fear. As for the masks, very high-end masks with n95 or n99 filters, they will work only if you wear them absolutely airtight.

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