Delhi’s got the most polluted air in the world, but I didn’t need a newspaper report to tell me that. Around the end of November last year, I began finding it difficult to breathe. I felt like coughing all the time, and would wake up tired in the morning, having felt as if I hadn’t slept at all. Work and productivity suffered consequently, and I had to take afternoon naps to have enough energy for work, and needed the lights in the room off, because my eyes wouldn’t be able to stand the light. It was terrifying.

1. The App

I chanced upon this app for measurement of air quality. I read up on air pollution and the PM 2.5 levels, which were hazardous, and forced my dad from going for his morning walks because pollution levels were the highest in the mornings. This might be because we stay near Ring Road, and the trucks ply on Ring Road towards the Azadpur sabzi mandi. It took some convincing to get dad to stop going for his walks. I would tell him the pollution levels multiple times a day, and finally got him to download the app, which he began checking regularly. I began avoiding stepping out, except between 3-7 pm when the pollution levels were tolerable.

The app no longer provides info on PM 2.5 and PM 10, and frankly, the lack of publicly available information on pollution in India – not just in Delhi- is worrying. We can’t hide the problem by hiding the data. By sharing the data, we can create consensus for policy change (for example, trucks that only pass through Delhi at night should be forced to take a different route, farmers in Haryana should be penalized for burning their fields to clear them, instead of manually removing stalks after crops have been reaped), and maybe encourage people to change their habits.

2. Pollution Masks

Looking at the post-Diwali smog, I decided to buy pollution masks, the kind I’d seen in China. I bought these. I found that there was an immediate effect. I’d find it easier to breathe with the mask on, and the coughing would stop. It would look funny, so I wore them indoors and in office, and in the car. Not something I was ashamed of – needing a pollution mask – but it would invariably divert from the conversations I was meeting people for. This is going to sound funny, but my glasses kept fogging up with the masks, and I hated that.

Then, it rained.

When I stepped out after rained without the mask, I could sense how fresh the air was. The rain had allowed the particulate matter to settle, and I can’t find words to explain what it felt like to breathe in that cold, fresh air without a mask on. It felt fresh. I stopped wearing the mask.

3. Air Purifiers

I began searching for air purifiers. Spoke to my brother who is in that business, but at an industrial level, and I still couldn’t figure out what to buy. Too many models, not enough people aware of what one needs and what helps. Last Sunday, I met Barun Aggarwal of BreatheEasy at a party, and he suggested two things: firstly, the this Air Purifier, which I have bought. It is expensive, but I have gone through a period of three months every year from March to May, over the last two years, where I find it difficult to breathe when asleep. I don’t think a Sleep Apnea machine is a solution. It an allergy and I intend to get a medical checkup this year, but it’s also important to have better air. I’m planning to buy an Air Purifier for office as well.

4. Plants

Barun Aggarwal also suggested that I install some plants like the Mother In Law’s Tongue in my room because it produces oxygen at night. His point way, and I’m not sure if I remember this correctly, but CO2 levels increase to 2000 ppm at night, and 1000 ppm is optimal. This plans increases oxygen in the room, and can help you sleep better, and have more energy the next day. I’m looking for ways to improve my productivity and energy levels, given that I work at a really fast pace, and if this helps, great.

While researching online, I remembered this TED video from Kamal Meattle. It was “interesting” then, but I never thought I’d need it. Now I do.

So, I’ve got four potted ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue’ plants in my room, and I’m putting some others as well. While searching for more info, I came across this NASA study which lists which plants do what, when it comes to cleaning the air. The ones I’ve chosen are ones I already have at home:

Mother in Law’s Tongue
Money Plant

Together, they address benzene, formaldehyde, tricholoroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia, and one of them produces oxygen at night. Apart from Mother in Law’s Tongue, I’m putting the rest in office as well.

Lets see how it goes.

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  1. Grab yourself a pack of 3M N95 masks. They have a layer of aluminium near the nose bridge and will be able to fit snug. You adjust the fitting to go along with your glasses.

    But the air quality improves dramatically with it. And the surgical masks with activated charcoal aren’t really able to stop small particles of the 2.5 micron size that you need filtered. You can get a 10 pack of the N95 masks and that should last you 2 months, if used judiciously.

  2. Where did you get lilyturf from? Local nurseries confuse the creeping lily turf with the regular variety? How were you able to make out the difference?

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