Tracking what Bengaluru is breathing in

The ‘Breathe Bengaluru’ project, currently underway in BTM Layout, will track and disseminate emissions data from traffic, construction, waste burning and other location-specific sources.



Air pollution on Outer Ring Road. Pic: Mayur Channagere

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the fifth leading cause of deaths in India, resulting in about 620,000 premature deaths. Recent studies have largely focussed on Delhi, where air pollution is estimated to cause 10,000 – 30,000 annual deaths. What we don’t know with certainty, however, is the extent to which the quality of air in Bengaluru has been compromised and its impact, given the rapid and unchecked urbanisation, dramatic loss in tree cover, rampant waste burning all over the city and rising vehicle numbers.

To understand rising air pollution and study its impact on public health, urban environment, and its causality, ‘Breathe Bengaluru’, a project for assessment of the city’s air quality, is currently being undertaken in BTM layout. Breathe Bengaluru is taking a bottom up, ‘people first’ approach to tackling air pollution, bringing in multi-disciplinary perspectives and public participatory mechanisms.

It is a joint venture of ‘Sensors without Borders’ and ‘Sensing Local’, both Bengaluru–based organisations working on environmental issues such as air and water pollution, waste management among others. Sensors Without Borders, is a Karma Corps initiative that leverages commodity sensing technologies, devices and systems to collect high quality, bottom-up environmental data in the air and water domains to effect on-the-ground change.

Sensing Local is a practice of architects and urban planners with a core focus on making cities healthier, safer and more inclusive.

Researchers and experts working on traffic patterns, air quality, technology, urban planning and transport planning, as well as local communities that are an integral stakeholder, will come together under this project to provide suggestions, guidance and analysis of potential linkages between traffic emissions, air quality and health outcomes.

What’s the project all about?

Tracking emissions from nearby traffic, construction work, open waste burning and a range of other Particulate Matter (PM) causing outdoor pollution fills an important and vital gap in our understanding of the overall impact on public health within our neighbourhood urban fabric.

The larger goal of the experiment is to understand how data from air quality sensors, traffic patterns and weather can be gathered real-time using Internet of Things (IoT) technology in order to analyse complex, disparate datasets and disseminate the same into the public domain for wider public benefit.

At the same time, given that air pollution is a symptom of a larger planning problem, the study seeks to derive an understanding of how the design of a layout – the hierarchy of roads (that determine inter and intra neighbourhood traffic flow), presence of green/open spaces, tree lining on streets etc – affects air quality. Possibility of redesigning the cities to achieve better air quality for all is also being investigated.

The study currently being conducted in BTM Layout involves tracking air quality at a range of locations such as shops, schools and residential complexes near major junctions and traffic carrying roads using low cost sensors modified to capture outdoor air pollution and enable  understanding of the sources of (and reasons for) air pollution in an area. Air quality sensor readings will be corroborated against publicly available data from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) sensors.

One of the key attributes of the project is its engagement of local communities and leverage of the inputs they have been able to provide. Community involvement has largely been two-fold. The first is in sensor deployment where BTM residents have been very forthcoming in providing access to space, power and security for the sensors deployed around the neighbourhood, The choice of location of sensors is done so as to allow a diversity of exposure levels as experienced by the residents. The project  team members have been making multiples visits during the day to maintain the sensors.

Residents have also been supporting and providing valuable information through the surveys conducted by the project owners to understand air pollution and health impacts. The latter have had a continuous line of communication with key members of RWAs in BTM to update them on the progress of the study.

The team is currently trying to make its sensor deployment project methodology more robust through the trials in Bengaluru and wishes to make it available for other groups around India to replicate and share back with the community. Hourly data aggregation and analysis will be shared on an open-source basis in the public domain.

The pilot field study was completed in the third and fourth week of October 2016. The data gathered is being analysed and the one-hour data aggregates will be released early next year.A second study is due to begin from the second week of November until the end of the month.

An account online repository for all data captured through the successive studies will be published shortly, all on the same platform. While currently the project is screening for PM 2.5 and PM 10 in the locality, in the next phase of the project, with new collaborations, the team plans to account for new parameters which will help them better understand the correlation between traffic and air pollution.

“Breathe Bengaluru” wants to carry out studies at other localities as well and is looking out for volunteers to help in executing the project. Students, in particular those who are looking to engage with this urgent and complex issue, are encouraged to participate.

Anyone interested in the issue can get in touch with the project drivers at sensorswithoutborders@googlegroups.com and sensinglocal@gmail.com

Related Articles

Traffic cops, children worst hit by Bengaluru’s air pollution
KSPCB data shows improved air quality in six areas during Invest Karnataka
How you can contribute to reducing air pollution in Bengaluru

Comments:

  1. mohan dixit says:

    to reduce the air pollution we must save lakes, parks and open spaces in and around bangalore. There is a proposal to create a township for legislators in the midst of Kadugodi Reserve Forest. Forest Dept should fence it and protect it from encroachments. Lung space in white field area should be saved by not allowing the town ship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar Story

Study shows TNPCB ill-equipped to monitor the environmental impact of pollution

The scientific team of TNPCB is working at half its strength, affecting the Board's ability to carry out inspections in Chennai and other parts of the State.

The Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards are the primary custodians for preventing and controlling all forms of pollution in our country. Despite their significant role in environmental protection, the public is mostly unaware of the functions of these regulatory bodies, due to insufficient research. Therefore, we at Citizen consumer & civic Action Group (CAG) have attempted to understand the functions of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), through a study titled ‘The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in Retrospect: An Examination of Selected Parameters from 2017 to 2022.’ Read more: Fisherfolk lament as environmental…

Similar Story

Why the national programme for clean air failed a gasping Mumbai

Mumbai has seen an alarming decline in air quality. A look at the limited impact of the National Clean Air Programme on mitigating pollution.

October 2023 was a shocker for Mumbai. The coastal city has historically recorded lower AQI levels as compared to Delhi, which is notorious for its poor air quality. But the tables turned in October 2023, with AQI in Mumbai reaching dangerously high levels of up to 300, surpassing Delhi for several days. This led to a slew of respiratory ailments, more so among the vulnerable populations. PM2.5 levels have, in fact, seen a consistent increase in Mumbai over the past three years. Dr Jui Mandke, a paediatric surgeon practising in Mumbai, says, “In October 2023, we encountered the maximum number…