“I am proud to be part of a team that works towards minimising pollution levels and saving the earth for future generations,” says K.Thamilselvan, a field assistant of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). He is part of the team of personnel involved in manning five stations as part of the Chennai Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme.
Come Deepavali and Pongal, field assistants, scientists and officials, work through the festival days to monitor the air and noise pollution levels. “It has been years since I celebrated these festivals with my family… but it gives me immense satisfaction to know that the data we collect serves as the base for government decisions like phasing out leaded petrol and two-stroke automobile engines,” he adds.
Field assistants like him sit by a respirable dust sampler taking hourly readings and making entries of the materials used such as filter paper to record the volume of dust and chemical absorbents used to collect Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Sulphur-di-oxide (SO2). “This is an interesting work as apart from ascertaining the levels of pollution we also record special observations, including the weather condition, reports of accidents and any burning in the vicinity, and even power failure. We work in three shifts of eight hours each,” says J.Balakumar, who has put in 13 years of service as field assistant.
Taking water and effluent samples from rivers and canals also forms part of the field assistant's work. A.Rajmohan, who started working in 1988, takes samples of water at six points and of effluents at five spots on the Adyar River alone. “It takes an entire day for me to complete work on one waterbody. At places where I cannot collect samples by standing along the bank or on a bridge, I wade into the water, even if it is slushy. I also take samples from the Cooum and the Adyar every week as part of the river restoration project.” Mr.Rajmohan is recovering after the official vehicle in which he was travelling met an accident while he was returning after collecting samples.
When it comes to conducting air quality checks at industrial units in which also field assistants are involved, they climb up exhaust stacks that are even 60 feet tall to check various parameters, including suspended particulate matter, NOx and SO2.
“We use various equipment, including stack monitoring kit, high volume air samplers, flue gas analyser and noise level monitors to check the level of pollution in industries. The equipment would weigh around 750 kg totally. We check for different parameters depending on the manufacturing process,” says R.Mohan, Assistant Director (Labs), who leads a team consisting of scientists and field assistants for industrial surveys.