Don’t ask govts to buy ‘expensive, inefficient’ smog towers: Environmentalists urge SC

Activists say industrial and vehicle emissions standards should be strengthened, and clean fuels should be promoted to curb pollution. File

Activists say industrial and vehicle emissions standards should be strengthened, and clean fuels should be promoted to curb pollution. File   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma


Environmentalists urge SC to not direct the Centre or States to buy the purifiers

A group of environmentalists have written an open letter to the Supreme Court, urging it not to direct the Centre or the States to spend public money on “expensive” and “inefficient” smog towers, which will “only benefit the manufacturers and sellers”.

Earlier this week, the apex court had asked the Centre to take a concrete decision within 10 days on whether to instal smog towers in Delhi-National Capital Region to combat rising pollution.

The direction had come after pollution levels in Delhi peaked to a three-year high.

“India’s leading air pollution scientists and researchers unanimously say that outdoor air purifiers are inefficient to the point of being useless,” Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder of Care for Air India, a nonprofit advocacy group, wrote in the letter.

“We earnestly request you [the Supreme Court] — please do not direct any governments, local, State or Central, to spend public money to buy expensive smog towers. These are ineffective in bringing down PM2.5 levels and may even add to pollution when the dirty filters are disposed off in our already overflowing landfills and burnt,” read the letter.

Last year, China had set up the world’s largest air purification tower in Xi’an.

Co-director, UrbanEmissions.Info, and Care for Air India expert Sarath Guttikunda said that at 100% efficiency, a Xi’an-like smog tower can purify just 0.00007% of Delhi’s air.

“Delhi’s airshed is around 80 km x 80 km. If you assume Delhi is a box (like a room), atmospheric height is at least 1 km (3 km in summer). At an average wind speed of 2 m/sec, the volume of air passing through the city is more than 5 trillion cubic metre per hour. The capacity of the smog tower in Xi’an is a fraction of that — 4,16,000 cubic metre per hour,” he said.

‘Only sellers will benefit’

The reason indoor air purifiers work well and outdoor air purifiers do not is that this ratio is more favourable indoors, the advocacy group said. “Like the odd-even scheme, the best one can expect from smog towers is increased public awareness and political mileage. What is worse, in the case of smog towers, the only people who will profit will be the manufacturers and sellers,” it said.

Ms. Lavkare said better results can be achieved if the Supreme Court could direct the power companies surrounding Delhi to add filters to their chimneys to catch emissions at source.

“This was supposed to be done by December 7, 2017... they have lobbied to get this date pushed back to December 2019 and then 2022, with staggered deadlines.”

“China and other countries have not brought their pollution down by using smog towers. Rather, they have strengthened industrial emissions standards, phased out small and polluting factories and outdated industrial capacities, upgraded industrial boilers, promoted clean fuels and strengthened vehicle emission standards,” she added.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 3:15:16 AM |

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