Every year in winters, for at least the past five years now, the residents of the national capital and several other cities in the country have witnessed unprecedented smog conditions. The approach of personal exposure reduction comes in as part of the larger strategy of #WinningtheAQbattle.
A simple way of understanding these measures is through the advisory below. There are separate cut-offs for at-risk category (children, elderly, pregnant women, those with respiratory and cardiac conditions) versus the general public. The guidelines are based on recommendations by the Green Fulbrighters Forum, a network of Indian and US Fulbright scholars working on environmental issues in India.
First and most important, one should know the air quality in the vicinity. There are several credible mobile phone apps such as AirVisual, AQICN and Sameer which give hourly AQI from more than 30 sites in Delhi NCR.
For AQI levels upto 100 (green) is considered satisfactory where people can go about their daily tasks. In the 100-200 range (orange for those at risk and green for the general public) those at risk need to think about the exposure. For example, if an elderly person goes for a brisk walk, he or she may need to go for a stroll combined with indoor exercises during that period.
ABC of the fight against air pollution
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For AQI in the range of 200-300, those at risk are in the red category where they need to stop going out without a mask. These should be only of the N95/N99 variety since others such as surgical masks offer little protection. For AQI in the 300+ range, the general public should not step out without a mask. If feasible, any outdoor activity should be done between 10 AM and 4 PM when the air quality in the 24 hour day is the best.
For schools, outdoor activities need to be suspended at an AQI of 300. At home, HEPA based air purifiers are advisable if AQI is greater than 200. This is especially relevant for those at risk. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the room is not frequently open and the air purifier is left running through the night. The best time to ventilate rooms is between noon and 4. At AQI of more than 400 ventilation of rooms should not take place. At these levels, video/teleconference and work from home options should be considered. Smokers are especially at risk and must quit if possible.
Public transport options, especially the Metro should be considered in high pollution days because of the reduced transit time and suitable indoor environment. Car air filters or switching on AC in recirculation mode should be considered. Office carpools and first/last mile connectivity are also critical.
NewsMobile has also started a campaign called the #PollutionHatao, an initiative to fight against pollution.
(Dr. Nitish Dogra is a Faculty at the International Institute of Health Management Research, New Delhi and a Fulbright scholar. He is a recipient of 2019 Community Hero Award from the Johns Hopkins University, the United States for air pollution advocacy in New Delhi, India)