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No - air purifiers are not worth it

Better invest in a good mask.

 |  5-minute read |   01-11-2016
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Whether it was the firecrackers burst during Diwali, or just nature donning a really scary Halloween costume, the city of Delhi and its surrounding regions found themselves smothered in a blanket of smog on October 31. The air quality index indicated an immediate need to fix things before it was too late.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, PM 2.5 in Delhi went up to 999 in the US Embassy area and 702 in Anand Vihar. In RK Puram, PM 2.5 went up to 643 micrograms, which is almost ten times the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre and PM 10 stood at 999 micrograms per cubic metre - also well above the safe limit of 100 micrograms.

The air quality index for Noida and Gurugram have reached alarming levels as well. Gurugram, in the last 12 hours, recorded PM 2.5 at 617 and PM 10 at 449, while Noida Recorded PM 2.5 and PM 10 at 512 and 419 respectively. The AQI for both these regions are categorised under "severe", which means that it "affects healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases".

smog-2_110116032618.jpg It's better to invest in a good face mask than spending on ineffective air purifiers. [Photo: Reuters]

Whether or not one puts their trust in Arvind Kejriwal’s Odd-Even scheme, it is still a rather long-term solution, which is not going to put you out of harm’s way in Delhi severely aggravated AQI. A lot of people, thus, in a bid to save their own necks (and lungs), have resorted to the use of air purifiers.

What are air purifiers?

Air purifiers are devices which remove contaminants (including PM 2.5 particles) from the air in a room. These devices are commonly marketed as being beneficial to allergy sufferers and asthmatics, and effective at reducing or eliminating second-hand tobacco smoke.

The air passes through three layers of filters: the first one that captures the bigger particulates; a carbon-activated middle filter for gaseous pollutants; and, thirdly, the High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance (HEPA) filter to capture finer particulates.

How effective are the purifiers?

Doctors and medical experts usually agree that these devices could provide people with clean air; there, however, exists no proper research or peer-reviewed study on just how much an air purifier can help you. Especially in areas as heavily polluted as Delhi.

In an interview with Quartz, Dr Vivek Nangia, a pulmonologist at Fortis Hospital in Delhi, said “These machines might filter the air but there is no detailed research which suggests that this device would actually help reducing the incidences of asthmatic attacks.”

According to the Indian Express most international studies document a perception of improvement in air quality, rather than actual health benefits.

The same report quotes Dr TK Joshi, director of Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at Delhi’s Maulana Azad Medical College, saying, “The benefits air purifiers promise are largely restricted to particulates. While that may translate into benefits for many, right now these benefits are just anecdotal. We need more scientific studies to validate these claims.”

But can air purifiers be hazardous?

Ionic air purifiers produce ozone as a by-product. Ozone, though an essential part of our atmosphere, is a harmful lung-irritant and causes throat irritation and severe chest discomfort.

While some manufactures defend this by-product claiming that ozone is good for one’s health, others are quick to wash their hands off of this. Phillips, a known manufacturer of air purifiers, does not sell ionic purifiers for this very reason.

All lot of documented negative health effects arise from exposure to ozone and one must therefore do their research before buying an air purifier lest they end up suffering the health consequences.

So, are they worth it?

According to Quartz, the air purifier market in India has grown from almost nothing to over Rs 150 crore in the last few years. The industry is growing at an astonishing 45 per cent CAGR (compounded annual growth rate), and is expected to increase to 55-60 per cent CAGR in the next half a decade.

If one were so keen to invest in a good quality air purifier, they would have to choose between Phillips, Eureka Forbes and Blueair. Roughly, for all three brands, the products range from Rs 10,000 to Rs 75,000. Yep. Clean air is expensive.

But one spending money willy-nilly on a device that actually guarantees nothing is not exactly advisable. While standards for air purifiers are rather rigid in Europe and in the US, there is a lack of similar regulation in India. This forces manufacturers to get accredited by international regulators.

Air purifiers may be okay for small rooms, but in a place like Delhi, where pollution levels are almost toxic, you have to remember one thing: Purifiers do not chemically treat the air, unlike water purifiers. They only manage to remove some amount of particulate matter and that too rather ineffectively.

So, unless you want to be treated by something that acts more as a placebo than an actual drug, it’s better to not spend way too much on an air purifier. Wear a mask when you walk outdoors. That is genuinely way more effective.

Also read - Polluting in the name of Diwali is honour killing of the environment

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