Pollution Measurement: Air Quality Index (AQI), Impacts, and Global Initiatives

Pollution Measurement: Air Quality Index (AQI), Impacts, and Global Initiatives

Air Quality is measured using a metric called the Air Quality Index (AQI), which shows the changes in air pollution in the atmosphere. Clean air is crucial for good health and the environment. The atmosphere mainly consists of oxygen and nitrogen, both essential for life on Earth. AQI monitors eight major air pollutants in the atmosphere, including:

  • Particulate Matter (PM10)
  • Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Ozone (O3)
  • Ammonia (NH3)
  • Lead (Pb)


Also Read: 

Air Pollution Definition | Causes | Effects | Smog and Soot | GreenHouse Gases | Prevention and Control

Measurement of PM 2.5

PM 2.5 measures microscopic particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, and PM 10 measures particles smaller than 10 microns. PM is measured in micrograms per cubic meter, and a lower AQI value (less than 50) is considered safe.



Instruments Used to Measure Air Quality

Some instruments used to measure air quality include:

  • PCE-RCM 05
  • PCE-HFX 100
  • PCE-RCM 8


How Does PM Enter the Air?

Particulate Matter (PM) includes a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Larger particles such as dust, smoke, and soot may be visible, but smaller particles are invisible without a microscope. PM comes from sources such as construction sites, fires, unpaved roads, and chemical reactions involving pollutants from vehicles, industries, and power plants.



National Air Quality Index

In 2014, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) launched the National Air Quality Index to measure air quality in six categories:

  • Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Moderately Polluted
  • Poor
  • Very Poor
  • Severe

This index was developed in consultation with IIT-Kanpur and air quality professionals and experts. The AQI ranges from 0-500 to measure air quality:

AQI Range Category
0-50 Good
51-100 Satisfactory
101-200 Moderately Polluted
201-300 Poor
301-400 Very Poor
401-500 Severe

By monitoring air quality, individuals and authorities can take appropriate actions to protect human health and the environment. Understanding AQI helps us recognize the impact of air pollution on our well-being and make informed decisions about how to improve air quality.



Impacts of Poor Air Quality

Poor air quality can have significant effects on both human health and the environment:

  • Health Effects: Exposure to high levels of air pollution can lead to respiratory issues, cardiovascular diseases, and other health problems. It may also worsen existing conditions such as asthma.
  • Environmental Damage: Air pollution can harm ecosystems by damaging plants and water sources. It can also lead to acid rain, which harms soil and aquatic life.
  • Reduced Visibility: High levels of particulate matter can create haze, reducing visibility and affecting transportation safety.
  • Climate Change: Certain air pollutants, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), contribute to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere.
  • Economic Costs: Poor air quality can lead to higher healthcare costs, decreased productivity, and damage to crops and infrastructure.


Initiatives to Improve Air Quality

Various strategies are in place to improve air quality and reduce pollution:

  • Emissions Regulations: Governments set limits on emissions from vehicles, industries, and power plants.
  • Cleaner Technologies: The adoption of cleaner fuel and energy sources helps to reduce emissions.
  • Green Spaces: Urban planning that includes parks and green areas can improve air quality and provide a natural filtration system.
  • Public Transportation: Encouraging the use of public transit and other sustainable transportation reduces vehicle emissions.
  • Awareness Campaigns: Educating the public on how to reduce personal contributions to air pollution.


Monitoring and Reporting Air Quality

Air quality monitoring and reporting systems provide real-time data on air pollution levels:

  • Monitoring Stations: Networks of monitoring stations measure pollutants in specific areas.
  • Online Portals and Apps: Real-time data on air quality can be accessed through websites and apps.
  • Public Alerts: Authorities issue air quality alerts to inform the public of potential health risks and provide safety recommendations.


Tips to Reduce Personal Exposure to Air Pollution

You can take steps to minimize your exposure to poor air quality:

  • Stay Indoors: During high pollution periods, stay indoors with windows closed.
  • Use Air Purifiers: Air purifiers can help filter indoor air.
  • Wear Masks: High-quality masks can reduce inhalation of pollutants during outdoor activities.
  • Check AQI Before Going Out: Monitor air quality levels before going outside, especially for exercise.
  • Maintain Indoor Plants: Houseplants can help improve indoor air quality.


International Efforts to Address Air Pollution

Countries worldwide collaborate to address air pollution and its effects:

  • Global Agreements: Agreements such as the Paris Agreement aim to limit emissions and reduce climate change impacts.
  • International Standards: Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) set guidelines for air quality standards.
  • Research and Development: Nations work together to advance research in cleaner technologies and air quality monitoring.
  • Information Sharing: Countries share data and best practices to improve global air quality management.
  • Financial Support: Wealthier nations often provide support for pollution reduction initiatives in developing countries.

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