Is SMOG tower the solution air pollution?

Pollution Sep 09, 2021

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India’s first ''smog tower'’ was recently inaugurated in Connaught Place, by Arvind Kejriwal-the chief minister of Delhi. As the period of heavy air pollution due to stubble burning is approaching, this is a commendable initiative.

Smog towers are large-scale air purifiers. Usually, they feature multiple layers of filters that remove pollutants from the air as it passes through them. A smog tower uses a downdraft air cleaning system where polluted air is sucked in at a height of 24 metres, and filtered air is released from the bottom of the tower, at a height of about 10 metres from the ground. Using technical support from IIT-Bombay and IIT-Delhi, Tata Projects Limited (TPL) constructed the system. Its data will also be analysed by these institutes. The project management consultant is the National Biofuel Coordination Committee (NBCC) India Ltd. with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee taking charge of this project.

In a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the concentration of PM10 in Delhi had increased by 258% to 335% since 2009. PM10 includes dust of various kinds from the outdoors and fragments of bacteria, which are inhalable into the lungs and can cause infection in respiratory tract along with adverse health effects.To combat air pollution, the Supreme Court in 2019, ordered CPCB and the Delhi government to come up with a plan to build smog towers. IIT-Bombay subsequently submitted a proposal for the towers to the CPCB. By April 2020, two towers were required to be installed by the Supreme Court as a pilot project. The first of these towers stand at Connaught Place. In east Delhi, CPCB's nodal agency for construction of the second tower, located at Anand Vihar, is close to completion. For a third straight year in 2020, Delhi was the most polluted capital city in the world, according to a Swiss group's report which was released in March 2021, that ranked cities based on the levels of ultrafine particulate matter i.e. PM 2.5.  Within Delhi and neighboring areas, PM2.5 is one of the most predominant pollutants. PM2.5 is a term referring to fine particles that can penetrate deep into the body and fuel inflammation in the lungs and respiratory tract, thus weakening the immune system and increasing the vulnerability to infection.

This initiative also poses some challenging situations; it can make an impact only in the area within the range of 1 km from the tower. It provides short-term relief from pollution but does not guarantee long term solutions. There is still a lack of clarity on how the tower functions under different weather conditions, and how levels of PM2.5 vary with the flow of air. Nevertheless, the actual impact will be known after being assessed by IIT-Bombay and IIT-Delhi in a two-year pilot study.

Hence, it is the governments’ and the citizens' responsibility to also consider renewable energy to tackle air pollution and reduce emissions and help maintain a clean and green environment.

This article has been written by Sharon John for The Paradigm

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