Monday, September 07, 2009

5 things for “Urban Air Quality Management”

For any pollution control board, where air pollution is increasingly becoming part of the urban talking points, there are many examples to learn from and lessons to follow. However, there is a vast information gap, especially to know the priority areas to support and implement an effective air quality management plan for a city. While it is obvious that there are no cookie cutter solutions that fit all the cities, there are some simple steps that a city should follow in order to improve their respective capacities.

5 things that a city should plan to do are


Monitoring is the key for better air quality management. This is probably the easiest of the steps that a pollution control board can undertake at various stages. The term “easiest” is relative and refers more to the easiness of the possible logistics involved in setting a monitoring station compared to the logistics involved in the following steps. A number of monitors are available for monitoring a variety of pollutants together or separately, and yet there is a serious lack of scaling this step in many of the cities in the developing countries, including the megacities.

The monitoring of air pollution is crucial not only for the regulatory bodies, who are responsible for the clean air, but also for the academic and other supporting agencies who can help in the later stages, by calibrating the models and providing necessary inputs for better air quality management. The pollution control boards should work with academia and other officials to the lower monitoring costs and expand the ability to track pollutants. Recent mitigation and clean air activities in Beijing for the Olympic Games and similar upcoming events in Shanghai for Expo 2010 and Delhi for the Commonwealth Games 2010, there is a renewed interest in knowing more about the air quality in the cities and possible impacts during the event.

Knowing the sources and the geography

Being able to identify different air pollution sources accurately is a key element in an effective air quality management system. This brings together the scientific activities of determining air pollution emissions, ambient concentrations by pollution type, and resulting health impacts with political and regulatory aspects to formulate a society’s reaction to air pollution. There is an acute need for source apportionment analysis in developing countries, and with proper training and capacity development (both technical and financial) source apportionment can make a valuable contribution towards air quality management.

Also, it is important to understand the geography of the cities, which is an integral part of understanding how the emissions from various sources will interact and impact the observed air pollution patterns.

Emissions database – baselines

Ideally, any institution concerned about the particulate pollution (responsible for most of health impacts) is expected to have an emissions inventory, but due to inherent challenges in collecting the necessary data, disclosure issues with the industries or handling agencies, or lack of institutional and technical capability to handle the knowledge base, leads to an incomplete or inconsistent emissions inventory.

While a detailed emissions inventory covering all possible sources is desired, it is important that an effort is put in place to start the process of establishing the same, even if it means starting with averages, gross consumption levels, and borrowed factors.

Most often, the non-existence of an emissions inventory is primarily due to the lack of this first step and waiting to develop 100 percent capacity and delays the institutional capacity building aspect.

As much as it is important to establish a baseline, it is also important to acknowledge the uncertainty of the factors in use. If average numbers from similar experiments in a different city or nation are being used, that should be noted and when the local capacity is developed to study more, the factors should be corrected for the local numbers. This is a “learning while building” exercise and only by establishing a baseline with what is available that what is lacking and how to improve is better understood.

Modeling analysis - sources and alternatives

The importance of the emissions and dispersion modeling, the effect of the long range transport of various pollutants along with their possible chemical transformation was briefly discussed in the past studies and this takes the next step. Similar to the emissions inventory development, the modeling is also an intense exercise, which requires both computational power (nowadays, which is not a problem) and the data assimilation.

The modeling systems are plenty, with varying capacity and complexity. However, selection of the modeling system should be based on the objective of the program and institutional strength to absorb the analytical challenges.

Dissemination of information

While the availability of the relevant data on air pollution is a challenge, there is a growing challenge with the dissemination of the information. I had my share of experience on reporting last week, but the problem with possible unreliable data is high in the developing countries and can be better managed with more dissemination of information and proper public awareness (see Photo Dairy of Pollution from Beijing).

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