Can Smog Towers Really Solve India’s Pollution Problem?

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Delhi’s first-ever smog tower started operating on January 3rd. Image courtesy to indiatimes.com.

Smog tower is something that all of us are hearing about nowadays. Some people are saying they are boon for India’s polluted cities and can combat air pollution. So, is it really true, or is it just another rumour in the market? Let’s understand it in this way: all of us know about vacuum cleaners—it is a device that creates suction to remove dust from the floor.

Let’s imagine a situation. Tomorrow is a holiday, and you have planned to invite your friends to your place. You wake up and look out of the window—the weather is incredible, your neighbours are setting up the barbecue grill in their lawn. You decide to clean your home before your friends arrive. So you take the vacuum cleaner and start cleaning.

After 30 minutes, when you are almost done, suddenly, you see smoke coming through your window. Your house is dirty again; you go out to check from where this smoke is coming and see both your neighbours grilling barbecue in their lawns. You complain that your home got dirty again due to the smoke from their grills, but they don’t accept their mistake and instead start blaming each other.

They tell you it would have been better for you to close the windows instead of arguing with them. Closing the windows is a solution in this case. It will stop the pollutants from entering your house. Still, unfortunately, there are no windows the atmosphere can close to save us from the harmful effects of emissions coming from the stakes of the industries and the tailpipes of automobiles. And also, there is no such giant vacuum cleaner, which can clean our whole city.

Nowadays, our government is planning to install smog towers to control the level of air pollution in the cities. But is this technology an effective solution for India? Are the smog towers capable of providing fresh air to the city, especially when emissions from industries and automobiles continue? Can the smoke towers control all types of air pollutants (PM, Sox, Nox, etc.)? There are so many questions about this technology. So, let me try to answer some of these.

Is smog Tower An Effective Solution For Indian Cities?

Dr Dipankar Saha, who formally headed the CPCB air laboratory division, said, “Like China and other countries, where these towers are installed for combating air pollution due to smog, but in India, the major cause of air pollution is not the smog but the fog and high concentration of dust in the air.” Hence, these towers may not be effective to control air pollution in Indian cities.

Also, the executive director of CSE, Anumita Roy Chowdhury, said that “We don’t have any data to establish that these towers clean up outdoor ambient air quality. Also, nowhere in the world have we seen any data published to establish that this technology improves air quality.”

All these statements indicate that the effectiveness of smog tower to control air pollution in India is still questionable.

If we look at how a smog tower works, it is much similar to the working of a vacuum cleaner. It creates a suction to intake the polluted air inside, and after filtering it, it will release the clean air into the atmosphere. What we need to understand is that this process will only be effective when no further air pollutant gets added to the atmosphere.

If there’s a leakage in your roof, the water will likely seep into your home. But taking a mop and drying your floors, again and again, will not solve the leakage problem. So what is the solution to this problem? Repairing the leakage. Working on the source of the problem rather than its effect gives us a better chance to contain a problem. Likewise, in the case of air pollution, the solution is not to control air pollution, it is to work on abating air pollution.

Dr Sarath Guttikunda, a well-known environmentalist, has made a fantastic satire about controlling air pollution in the picture below.


Can Smoke Towers Control All Types Of Air Pollutants?

The answer is NO. Smog towers can only filter out the particulate matter from the air; they cannot control the level of other serious pollutants like Nox—majorly emitted from the tailpipe of vehicles and burning of fuels in industries.

It is worth appreciating that the government is trying to take various steps to control air pollution in India. Still, we must think about the direction we have to move forward to combat this problem altogether. The solutions like smog towers will work only when we successfully control the emissions from the sources, i.e., from the tailpipe of automobiles and stakes of the industries, which as of now can only be done by promoting the use of green fuels and pollution control devices.
This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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