A Breath Of Fresh Air – Both Indoors And Outdoors

  • The author of this article is Abhinav Gupta, CEO, ActiveBuildings

We have an invisible killer amongst us in the very air we breathe. It might come as a shock that air pollution is almost on par with diabetes when it comes to causing mortality– a very common disease in the country. But, it is true. Even when it does not result in mortality, excess CO2 levels in the air hurts the human body at many levels. It increases the incidence of lower respiratory tract infections, allergies and causes long-term developmental effects in children.

Health – country & economy

The pandemic has changed the way we look at air quality. The initial euphoria during the early lockdown of cleaner air due to lower vehicular traffic has died down. The ghost of air pollution has come back to haunt us. Medical research says that continuous exposure to high CO2 levels weakens respiratory function. This makes it tough for the body to fight the effects of Covid-19 – a threat that is still in existence.

The pandemic also proved that the health of the country and the economy are interlinked at multiple levels. This, however, has been playing out with regard to air pollution for a very long time. Bad air quality makes people wary of venturing out, take more sick leaves, and since few Indians take sick leaves, even when they attend office, their productivity is substantially lowered. Globally, this results in losses worth billions of dollars and billions of sick leaves. The losses are as much as Rs 7 lakh crore or $95 billion per annum in India, as per a Dalberg Advisors report in 2021. This figure also includes a reduction in consumer footfalls in stores, along with productivity losses.

Up in the air 

In a post-Covid world, many experts foresee that pollution will keep people away from offline retail. But, the question remains – are people really safer inside? That is a question that requires a long winding answer. 

Active research has been done in several buildings across regions. Basically, bad air is dominated by high Carbon dioxide levels, which reduces the extent of Oxygen entering our bodies. These parameters are different for indoor air and outdoor air. 

While the permissible levels of CO2 outdoors are at 416 ppm, the permissible levels indoors are 1050-1200 ppm. Added to that, air quality is determined by PM2.5 and PM10, which are particulate matter. VOC or volatile organic compounds like paints, varnishes, cleaning material, and carpets are also found only indoors. All these three tell us the story of how good is the air we breathe in the safety of our homes.

When both CO2 and VOC are in high concentration, they cause ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ – where the pollution hits the person immediately. The number of such incidences has been growing in the last few years. Yet, very few times is air pollution so evident that it is ‘noticeable’. It proves that we breathe a lot of bad air without realising its ill effects. 

Good, bad or polluted?

Approximately 92% of the global population lives in areas where air quality is worse than safe or permissible. India has earned the dubious distinction of being home to 22 of the 30 of the world’s most polluted cities. Apart from the Delhi-NCR region, smaller towns like Rohtak in Haryana, Bhirwari in Rajasthan and Kanpur from UP made it to the list. 

North India is much more aware of the problem due to its ‘visibility, especially in the winters in smog. But towns and cities across the West, East, and South are equally affected, but citizens are blissfully unaware.

The best way to fight this invisible killer is using devices that bring it forth to the public eye. They must constantly monitor air quality and particulate matter, real-time, which can help people instantly act against them. Today, I believe many people are aware of bad air quality, but they lack the knowledge and means to fight it.

Breathing easy 

Analysing millions of data points across buildings, indoor air quality companies have developed devices that monitors seven air quality parameters like temperature, humidity, O2 levels, CO2 levels, VOC, PM10, PM2.5, airflow and more. The data generated can be viewed on a mobile phone or a tablet. In commercial and large buildings, it can be displayed on a screen too. If the air quality level breaches the safe limits, residents or building authorities can switch on their purifiers. There are cost-effective solutions offered where purifiers can be fit into AC machines for home use. 

Smart and clean cities 

The government of India has ambitious plans to create smart cities. Many people believe that these cities are better connected in terms of IoT and others, but they are envisaged to be smart in more ways. These cities must have liveable spaces where the quality of life is good, with clean air, better access to resources and good waste management. Such cities also intend to indicate air quality across the town on billboards and temperature and humidity to ensure transparency. They also take up solutions that ensure air quality remains in the safe zone.

Yet, this need not be way into the future. We can take a grip on the air we breathe right now and pay enough attention. The time has come for us to keep a close watch on our air and its safety, to live a better, happier and healthier life. 

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