You know you’re living in Delhi if your eyes burn, your throat is sore and your chest feels heavy. It’s been four days since Diwali night, however the cover of toxic air doesn’t seem to be lifting. The blame lies partly with the excessive fireworks display on Diwali night and partly with the farmers in Punjab who refuse to pay any heed to the environment and continue burning the crop stubble left behind after harvest.
WATCH VIDEO: Death By Breath: Short Documentary On Indian Express’ Special Series On Delhi’s Pollution
There’s also the failed attempt by the Delhi government in vacuuming the dust off our streets which continues to be a major source of fine particulate matter available freely in the air. Combine expert medical advice that urges people to leave the National Capital (if they want to be healthy) along with more experts who say that the PM levels are unlikely to go down over the next few days, we’ve got ourselves a real fix here. While the government scrambles to figure out a plan to tackle the problem in the long run, what you can do immediately is get yourselves a few air-purifiers for your home and car. However, don’t go out and just buy any purifier, simply because it has a large price tag or a fancy brand name on it. Here are the essentials to look out for.
All modern air-purifiers feature High Efficiency Particle Arrestance (HEPA) Filters. These filters are generally rated to trap particles as small as 0.3 microns (the breadth of a human hair is about 50-150 microns). The particulate matter we are most concerned with is rated PM2.5 (particles that are 2.5-10 microns in diameter) and PM10 (10 microns or more in diameter). Therefore, any air purifier with a HEPA Filter should be able to remove much of the particulate matter from the air, but that won’t be enough.
When evaluating air-purifiers, having a HEPA Filter is a pre-requisite. Nowadays, there is some controversy over the effectiveness denoted by the word HEPA, so to be on the safe side, ensure that you buy an air-purifier that mentions having both a TRUE HEPA filter and a 0.3-micron rating at the very least.
The War against Pathogens
So the HEPA Filter has taken care of the particulate matter, but what about the nasty bacteria, germs or even viruses that are present in the air? Our homes generally tend to have a musty odour thanks to mould. Pick an air purifier that is capable for releasing positive ions at the least. Currently, Sharp’s Air Purfiers are the only ones that release both positive and negative ions that bind with any kind of malicious entity in the air, neutralising it. The company calls this a Plasmacluster Ion Generator and it mimics the positive and negative ions that are naturally occurring.
Sharp claims that their Plasmacluster Ion technology can neutralize e-coli, H1N1, Tuberculosis bacteria and even fungal spores. Clean air doesn’t just mean free of PM2.5 and PM10, but also from bacteria and fungus. You could also just buy a regular air-purifier and pair it with a standalone ionizer as well for the same effect.
Unless you live in a room that is completely sealed off, an air purifier’s effectiveness will greatly depend on how big your room is, how much air the purifier can circulate and how much “fresh air” gets into your room at any given time. Most air purifiers advertise the size of room they would be adequate for, but it would be best to buy one which is a step above your rated room size. The density of the current pollution paired with the flow of air in and out your room will lower the effectiveness of your air-purifier. If you have a room that is 300 square feet, ideally purchase an air purifier that can handle a room size of at least 400 square feet. It is also strongly advisable to close all your doors and windows to minimise the amount of outside impure air coming in. The size match also relies heavily on another aspect of these devices called a Clean Air Delivery Rate.
How Much Clean Air
The Clean Air Delivery Rate denoted how much air can an air-purifier purify of all the present particles, expressed in cubic feet per minute. Normally, there are three CADR ratings, one each for Smoke, Pollen and Dust as these three particles tend to vary in size and thus are filtered out at varying efficiencies.
When purchasing an air-purifier, insist on getting all three numbers, given that smoke particles measure 0.09-1 micron and are the hardest to filter out effectively. The higher the CADR number, the more effective the air-purifier is, given the size of the room.
When Outside, Wear a Mask
Throw away those surgical masks you thought of wearing on your morning walk. They’re garbage and don’t filter out anything because they don’t form a seal around your mouth. Most pollution masks with a N99 rating (filtering 99% of particulate matter) will only filter our particles and won’t do anything about the fumes.
If you’re looking for an effective pollution mask, I personally use a 3M face mask paired with P95 filter and an organic vapour cartridge. This combination effectively allows me, a chronic asthmatic to move around without any problems outside. In fact, the mask filters out the odours from cigarette smoke, vehicular emissions and even garbage dumps. In case you don’t want something this bulky, you could always order a mask from Respro, a UK based company that makes neoprene masks that are filter and just as effective. Their Techno mask is ideal for the current situation as it comes with a P99 filter (rated to 0.3-micron efficiency) along with an organic vapour filter built in.
The current situation with pollution is dire and while the government mulls over ways to tackle it, we must take measures in our own little ways to ensure our good health. Air purifiers at this point are a must, as are face-masks while stepping outside. Between a good air filter and a respiratory mask, we just might make it through this winter without too much damage to our bodies. However, a long term solution is needed, and for now it doesn’t look like it’s coming in the form of either policy or governance.