Outdoor Air Purifiers are all the rage these days. Major cities all around the world are installing various shapes, sizes, and technologies to combat poor ambient air quality in the city. Beijing, Hong Kong, Delhi and now Bengaluru have all either installed or allocated huge budgets to installing.
Typically, governments and urban authorities install them in busy junctions to clean the local air and minimize exposure to the dense population. Sometimes they can also be found installed on roadways, in an unsuccessful effort to capture pollution from cars.
Many governments seem to love these outdoor purification projects, regardless of their efficacy or not. Obviously for the optics, instant gratification, and headline-making; for a small useless investment, governments buy the claims to be doing “something” about air pollution.
But do these projects really work? In 2018, China installed the ‘world’s biggest air purifier’ standing tall at 100 meters, claiming to clean air in an area of 10 square kilometers. This trend of outdoor air purifiers started in 2016 with the Smog Free Project by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde. A 7-meter tall tower using patented ionization technology to purify 30.000 m3 of air per hour using only 1170 watts of electricity.
However, later studies for both Xian & Smog Free Tower found their inefficacy in tackling China’s massive air pollution that stood 15–20 times the safe limit. Various results showed that within 100 meters of the purifiers, the air quality dropped and pollution levels rose. Following the chinese footsteps, Delhi government installed 70 Wind Augmentation Purifying Units (WAYU) in September 2018. By Feb 2019, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) was contemplating throwing more money at 44,000 monitors costing Rs. 2.5 lakh each at various intersections in the city.
Installing Outdoor Air Purifiers to solve Air Pollution is like putting Air Conditioners to solve Global Warming.
Beyond the ribbon-cutting, the media coverage, and the quick pat on the back for admirable attempts, one would find outdoor air purification projects to be an absolute waste of the taxpayer money, more so in a poor country like India.
Instead of focusing on the root cause and tackling the issues at source, the cost of installation, maintenance, electricity consumption, and carbon footprint for the non-useful gimmick is an injustice to the already suffering public.
Though these devices might seem fancy and useful on appearance, we must not fool ourselves with these band-aid solutions and aim our efforts and resources at the root cause, various emissions sources, the system design issues of transparency, accountability, and better environmental monitoring.
With a targetted focus on managing industrial emission through better filtration equipment, removal of polluting poor-quality vehicles from streets, and building sustainable public transport, waste management,
What we are most worried about is their ability to take conversation surrounding air pollution away from “reducing and cutting down on sources of air pollution” and replacing it with “learning to live with air pollution”. This is a subtle, yet dangerous shift in mindset which can really impact our ability to combat and reduce air pollution. After all, if people do not care about it, how will they muster the effort to change how they live?
What is encouraging, however, is that this step shows that governments are indeed willing to combat air pollution and more importantly, are willing to invest in possible solutions. What we as citizens can do, is to ensure that governments act responsibly to address the climate crisis that is going to inevitably arrive.