Namita Gupta is the founder of Airveda, which is helping people control theÂ air they breathe and create a citizen’s movement against air pollution. An IIT Delhi alumnus, she has worked many years in theÂ US atÂ MicrosoftÂ and Facebook, and wasÂ CPO at Zomato after she returned to India. She is also a proud mom to two little girls.
After living in the U.S. for 13 years, I moved to India with my family in Dec 2013. In 2014 Delhi was declared the most polluted city in the world. Asthma runs in my family. My dad, myself and my daughter are all asthmatic. We tried to find a paediatrician to create an asthma plan for my daughter like she had in the U.S., but were shocked to realize that doctors here treated her asthma like a common cold. I soon realized that every child in Delhi around me was suffering from respiratory issues and were on nebulizers and inhalers all winter!
This is when I started researching air pollution. I realized that our children are the most affected by air pollution because, for their body size, they breathe more air and also spend more time playing outside. Pollution can causeÂ irreversible damage to their lungsÂ which are still developing.Â Studies have shown that 40% of children in Delhi have reduced lung capacity.Â It alsoÂ affects their brainsÂ and can lead to autism and lower IQ. Many continue to feel that it is important for children to be exposed to air pollution to develop immunity, unfortunately we are dealing with carcinogenic toxic particles here and not germs. 24-hour exposure to air pollution in Delhi is like smoking 10 cigarettes. Smoking more cigarettes, unfortunately, does not help you develop immunity to smoking.
The more I learned about air pollution the more I panicked. I bought air purifiers and plants. Did they help? Were my children safer now? I felt helpless. I had a choice. Move back to the U.S. or do something about it. I decided to do something about it.
I started looking for air quality monitors. When I couldnâ€™t find one in India, I decided to build one. With a monitor in hand, I felt in control. I started doing some extensive studies to understand this invisible danger better.
Air quality during the day in Delhi
- 6-8 am is by far the worst time of the day. This is also the time that all our kids are going to school, standing at the bus stop, sitting in diesel buses and then lining up to get into their classes â€“ all mostly outdoors.
- Noon-5:00pm is by the best time of the day. Best time for the kids to be out playing.
- The exposure at night from 9pm to 9am is about twice as bad as the day from 9am to 9pm. So your kids are much more exposed at night in their beds, than in the school during the day.
- There are significant variations in air quality day to day.
So what can you do to protect my child? This is what I do:
- Measure air pollution.
- Use purifiers at night. Protect your child from 9pm to 9am.Â Note that children breathe deeper when they sleep.
- I make my daughter wear an N99 mask on her way to school.
- Afternoons from noon- 5pm is the best time of the day so try to focus outdoor activities during these times. Also on days that the pollution levels are significantly higher, I get my children to play indoors.
- Filters: When picking a purifier, make sure it has a HEPA filter to protect against PM2.5. My first HEPA got clogged within a month, I realized that a pre-filter was essential to catch the bigger particles to prolong the life of your HEPA. Purifiers come with several filters today, but really those two are essential.
- Coverage area of your purifier:Â If you have a large living room of 600 sq ft then an air purifier for 200 sq feet isnâ€™t going to cut it. I use 2 purifiers in my living room to keep my PM2.5 levels under 20. Make sure you make the vendor run the purifier in your room and ensure that it works and gets the numbers to where you feel comfortable before buying.
- Fan Speed: I noticed that the purifier is barely effective at lower fan speeds. I always run my purifier at top speed.
- Leakage: The more you can keep the bedroom doors closed, the better your purifiers will work. I also keep air purifying plants like snake plants in the bedrooms to ensure more oxygen at night.
- Maintenance: Maintaining the purifier is just as important as buying the right one. I do weekly maintenance on my purifier â€“ wash and clean the pre-filter and vacuum the HEPA. In addition, the HEPA usually has a life of about 3-4 months in winter, longer in theÂ summer.
Indoor air pollution
I noticed that, on many occasions, air pollution was significantly higher indoors than outdoors. Several activities like cooking, cleaning, room fresheners, lighting agarbattis or candles can significantly increase PM2.5 levels in the house. Keep the exhaust on when youÂ cook, try to keep the children out of the kitchen, or else open windows so that the smoke can dissipate quickly.
Once I had my house in order, I started thinking more broadly. I posted in our society group about the high air pollution numbers during Diwali last year. The numbers got everyone to sit up and take notice. We didnâ€™t do a fireworks show in our complex last Diwali.
BattlingÂ air pollution has to be a citizen movement. I request each one of you to first protect your children and then start thinking about what you can do about air pollution. I request you to take a pledge at www.airveda.com/ibreathe to be part of the solution and not the problem. Because change begins with us.
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