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Podcast: In the Hunt for Air That We Can Breathe

26/12/2015 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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AP10ThingsToSee - A thick blanket of smoke is seen against the setting sun as young ragpickers search for reusable material at a garbage dump in New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. India launched the Air Quality Index Friday to measure air quality across the nation that is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

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There's been much talk about air pollution, off late - specifically the levels in Delhi, which was recently ranked as the world's most polluted city by a WHO database. 153 micrograms per cubic metre - that's the mind-boggling annual mean concentration of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, known as PM 2.5. Mind-boggling how? Consider this - t he WHO says that "no threshold [of small particulate concentration] has been identified below which no damage to health is observed" and so, they've instead stated a guideline that aims to achieve the lowest possible PM concentration - this is 10 micrograms per cubic metre for PM 2.5. Delhi's is 15 times that much!

As Samanth points out, the problem isn't Delhi's alone. The Guardian reports that according to the same database, 13 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in India. Even in Mumbai, which doesn't figure in the list of most polluted cities, coal dumps have proven to be a menace. To tackle this, Meera Sanyal, an AAP candidate during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, helped formed APLI Mumbai Movement - A Port Land Initiative Mumbai Movement - to push for a redevelopment plan for the city's port areas.

She filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court, in response to which, the court asked authorities to consider shifting coal stockpiles away from the Haji Bunder Port. This type of a localised, citizen collaboration against pollution may seem futile at first glance, but perhaps, this is exactly what we need to fight the menace of air pollution.

There are more examples on the episode, as Samanth & Padma speak to people like Nikhil Pahwa (founder of Medianama), and initiatives such as IndiaSpend and Sensors without Borders, who are tackling air pollution on a local level, with very interesting results. Low-cost sensors, for one, can measure the air quality around you and can go a long way in helping understand air pollution and its many characteristics. For example, did you think that a green cover offers complete protection against particulate matter? The answer will surprise you.

Listen to other The Intersection episodes here.

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