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Smart cities may help combat air quality issues: scientists

Wednesday, Apr 20, 2016,14:18 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

London | Indoor pollution from smoke, spores and building materials kills millions of people each year, say researchers including one of Indian-origin, offering insights into how new smart cities may help combat air quality issues.

Lack of real-time air pollution data hinders simple safety precautions that could improve health and wellbeing, researchers said. An international team of researchers led by University of Surrey in the UK assessed the harmful effects of indoor pollution in order to make recommendations on how best to monitor and negate these outcomes.

When we think of the term ‘air pollution’ we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling grey smoke, said Prashant Kumar from University of Surrey. However, there are actually various sources of pollution that have a negative effect on air quality, many of which are found inside our homes and offices, said Kumar.

From cooking residue to paints, varnishes and fungal spores the air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than that outside, he said. In 2012, indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths globally, compared with 3.7 million for outdoor air pollution.

Urban dwellers typically spend 90 per cent of their time indoors, and this has been linked to ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ where dwellers exhibit a range of ill health effects related to breathing indoor air. Whether the use of coal and wood for cooking, to microbial contaminants including bacteria and viruses these effects include respiratory disease and reduced cognitive function.

It is essential that we are able to effectively monitor indoor air pollution so that we can better understand when and where levels are worst, and in turn offer solutions to make our air healthier, said Kumar.

Our work looks at the use of small, low-energy monitoring sensors that would be able to gather real-time data and tell families or workers when levels of pollutants are too high, he said. According to him, sometimes the solution is as easy as opening a window but without knowledge these simple steps are often missed. With this research we are calling for greater importance to be placed on ensuring buildings are built with indoor pollution monitoring in mind, said Kumar.

As we enter the age of smart cities this is one way in which technology will actively benefit health, he said. Most people may not even consider what they or their children are breathing when they sit down at their desks each morning, Kumar said.

A combination of policy and technology will help ensure that while we are hard at work our buildings are also working to protect us from harmful pollutants that affect both mind and body, he added.

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