Bhavay Sharma

10:52 AM, 12th Mar 2018

Future of air quality monitoring

In recent years, the Diwali festival has become an epitome of air pollution levels in different states of India, especially in Delhi-NCR. The whole Indo-Gangetic plane gets covered by blanket of smoke released from crop residue burning resulting in various health implications to people. In other parts of India, also, it is evident that air pollution plays a significant role in decreasing human health immunity towards various communicable, non-communicable diseases (link). Rising levels of air pollution is, hence, attracting a lot of attention, especially particulate matter, in major cities. There is a tremendous pressure on regulatory agencies, such as Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and State Pollutions Control Boards (SPCB), to curb the menace of ever spreading air pollution across different states of India, it is not restricted to state boundaries but has become a regional problem. Pin-pointing at a particular source of air pollution is not the solution to tame rising levels of emissions. 
First, the utmost important task is to categorize various sources of pollution at a particular place and what constitutes air quality. Only then, strict action can be taken against those sources by effective implementation of different regulatory mechanisms. 
To monitor air pollution levels, CPCB and SPCBs deploy manual and real-time air quality monitoring stations whose cost runs in crores of Rupees (link) for each station depending on the constituents of air quality to be monitored. As per 2011 population census, India has 498 cities (link) across 29 States and 07 Union Territories (UT) (link). CPCB has deployed 680 manual stations under National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) across 300 cities (link) and 86 Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (CAAQM) Stations across 47 cities (link). While CAAQMS give real-time monitoring data, NAMP does monitoring twice in a week (as per CPCB guidelines). The major point of observation is that most of the air quality monitoring happens in urban areas and secludes rural areas, which constitutes nearly 70% of the total population (link). Also, distribution of HC stations is not uniform, such as Gujarat state has only 01 CAAQMS in Ahmedabad, limiting the data availability. 
A coming of age method has been developed by various other agencies across the globe where a comprehensive network of Low Cost (LC) Instruments combined with Regulatory Grade or High Cost (HC) instruments would generate data sets which could be analyzed, and inferences be made to get the true picture of air pollution sources, such as vehicular emission, open waste burning, agriculture residue burning, industrial emissions, road side dust etc. The target areas for the network could be existing cities and emerging urban areas – smaller cities where pollution is rising but where current monitoring and documentation of sources is inadequate. This Hybrid Network would allow for the maximum coverage of geographical areas irrespective of the boundaries. It can be made more robust by feeding data from other monitoring sources, such as satellite, balloon monitoring etc. This method would not only empower the regulatory agencies to develop correct mitigation regulations against diverse sources of air pollution but would also allow citizens to explore their surroundings with right tools to restraint their activities. The political will to take action requires specific and credible information about sources, public awareness and support for action, as well as collaboration among the public and private sectors on feasible solutions.  
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