In January, AID partner Shweta Narayan of Community Environmental Monitoring joined a meeting with the Health Cell and introduced volunteers to an exciting new project that she is coordinating with the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh and an international organization called Heath Care Without Harm. In February Danvir Singh Sethi visited Chandigarh and met Dr. Ravindra Khaiwal, head of the Environmental Health Research Group and Principal Investigator in this project, and learned more about how it would work on the ground. He writes about his visit:
I went to meet Dr Khaiwal at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) which is the premier medical and research institute located in Chandigarh. Dr Khaiwal has been working on numerous aspects of public health, primarily from the risks being introduced through environmental degradation. For example, he has been studying respiratory disorders due to a thermal plant in Ropar, trying to create a correlation between particulate matter which causes pollution and the minerals which are prevalent in soil around the region, assessment of health risk of pesticides or cement industry. Most importantly, he has been pushing for setting up advisories for air pollution in conjunction with the media in Chandigarh and Punjab area, which would create awareness amongst the general community on the current state of affairs.
Shweta Narayan of Community Environmental Monitoring (CEM) and Health Energy Initiative is trying to collaborate with Dr Khaiwal and PGI in order to set up air quality monitors in various locations in Chandigarh. They are also working on backing up the data with awareness messages with local health advisories, concrete recommendations and communication via banners, videos, posters. PGI wants to focus on health impacts of pollution and creating awareness regarding the same, as a part of which they are planning to hold media training so that the journalists reporting on air pollution can do so accurately. The collaboration with Shweta would also allow them to perform multi-city comparison as the sensors would be the same as the ones setup by CEM in Chennai and planned in other locations.
There are other projects going on in the Chandigarh area to set up air quality monitors. The Department of Science & Technology in collaboration with Punjab Engineering College (PEC) is trying to build forecasting models and trends through data analytics, and they have set up 7 sensors across the city and are adding 5 more in the near future. Their plan is to build a large enough outdoor network with sufficient data points before setting up additional sensors which can also track pollution indoors. Multi Overseas India Pvt Limited is the company which supplied these sensors as of now, and ensures that the data comes up to dashboard which is going to be used by PEC students and professors for data analytics.
One difference that Dr Khaiwal mentioned is that the sensors that they have set up as well as the previous 2 sensors that PGI has set up across Chandigarh are not real time but show the data from past 24 hours. The collaboration with CEM is meant to set up real time air quality monitors. The next phase of the project from PGI side would be to set up rural ambient air quality monitors. Currently there is only one such sensor in the Punjab area.
Dr Khaiwal’s end goal is to build a health advisory for the air quality in Chandigarh and be able to show the path of least pollution on Google Maps, similar to the traffic patterns.
Danvir Singh Sethi volunteers for AID in the Boston MetroWest chapter and in the Health Cell, which has been looking into strategies to address the health and environmental impacts of air pollution in India.