Looking beyond 2020 towards clean air solutions
By Antonio Zocche, senior global consultant for air pollution control
Everyone on our planet breathes the same air, however every nation has different legislation on or “tolerance” for pollution. In countries of the Middle East, Far East and India, legislation tolerates a higher concentration of pollutants in the air than European countries and the rest of the world.
To put it another way, the laws of the various countries create “existential” disparities because the air quality will be better in some and worse in others.
If we subtract the air pollution generated by one of these countries, for example in India, in the 12 months from March 2019 to March 2020—therefore even before the slowdown in fossil fuel consumption due to the Covid-19 pandemic—carbon dioxide emissions fell for the first time in 40 years.
Currently, the excessive health risk from fine particles has decreased by 52% on average across India. The reduction in production activities and the slowdown in transport have cleaned up the air and cleared the skies, allowing people in the northern Indian state of Punjab to enjoy a view of the Himalaya mountain range, which is more than 100 miles away, due to the reduction of air pollution (something that hasn’t happened for over 30 years).
Recently in India the well-known media publishing group “India Today” launched a campaign, the Let India Breathe Initiative, to make the larger public more proactive and part of the fight for air pollution prevention and sustainable environmental practices to eventually promote an environmentally sensitive industrial system.
The campaign intends to take further steps along the lines of a people’s movement and encourages participation by popularizing and promoting daily urban practices that help move towards a clean, green environment. Some of the steps undertaken by the campaign to promote healthier air are: increasing carpooling, the use of public rather than private transport, switching to e‑vehicles, regular vehicular checks for compliance and maintenance, waste segregation into wet and dry, and not burning waste.
It also encourages contractors to put fine mesh screening at construction sites, and promotes the use of low-sulfur diesel in engines and generators. Farmers are also encouraged to adopt inexpensive waste composters.
In addition, the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Notification 2020 draft was released in March by the Indian Government Ministry of Environment and Forests. This notification is centered around raising very important concerns of accountability by industries towards environmental balance and preservation of ecosystems. The general public has been given a stipulated time to respond to this draft, engage in a group discussion and understand the legal issues involved and what the industries need to abide by before projects are started.
During the lockdown, a team of Indian researchers examined data from air quality monitoring stations across India, focusing on the urban region of Delhi, home to more than 20 million people. Urban emissions revealed that, during the lockdown, PM 2.5 levels in Delhi plummeted to 20 micrograms per cubic meter.
These PM 2.5 particles come mainly from combustion processes: fires, cars, and power plants, cement factories, glassworks, and steel production plants.
So do we need a global lockdown to improve the air quality of our planet, air that every one of us breathes? The answer is simple: NO.
There are valid technologies on the market developed to combat pollution from industrial processes (which allow a very thorough filtration of polluting gases, such as dust, halogen acids, dioxins, nitrogen oxides, etc.), making it possible to achieve very good air quality.
We can mention sleeve filters, made with filtering fabrics that allow a reduction of dust up to 1 mg/Nmc, desulfurizers that can achieve a 99% reduction and sulfur oxides, denitrification systems for the reduction of nitrogen oxides, or systems for the absorption of micro-pollutants such as dioxins, furans or heavy metals.
What is lacking is serious investment planning, technicians who choose the best filtration and pollution control processes technologically available, and serious, effective maintenance and management of existing air treatment systems.
In order to achieve the highest possible level of environmental protection against polluting agents, it is hoped that the operators of the production process plants will find and adopt suitable solutions to control and reduce emissions with the Best Available Technology or BAT, which means those plant engineering, control and management technologies that guarantee low levels of pollutant emissions, optimization of raw materials consumption, products, water and energy, and adequate accident prevention.
The time has come to change industrial strategy: this will serve to stimulate further economic growth, especially for countries like India, but also to protect everyone’s health, which has a lot to do with the air we breathe.
We conclude with a slogan that industrial plant managers should consider when they’re about to make an investment: purified air has a cost, but badly purified air costs much more.