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Air Quality Management: A Global Challenge Demanding Collaborative Effort

Air Quality Management: A Global Challenge

Demanding Collaborative Effort

 

Dr. Mukesh Khare                                                                                                   

Shraddha Gupta

 

The definition of air pollution, established and unanimously embraced by all nations during the inaugural United Nations conference on air pollution held on June 5th, 1972, in Stockholm, and later adopted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, can be articulated as: "transfer of harmful and/or natural/synthetic materials into the atmosphere as a direct/indirect consequence of human activity."

 

Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health. According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, in 2019, 99% of the world's population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met. As per WHO, the combined effects of ambient (outdoor) air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually; while ambient air pollution is estimated to have caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2019. Out of this, 89% of those premature deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), and the majority of it occurred in South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions. Policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient homes, power generation, industry, and better municipal waste management would reduce the air pollution impact on health from key sources of outdoor air pollution. Access to clean household energy would also greatly reduce ambient and indoor air pollution. Hence, by reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. Moreover, air pollution also contributes to climate change and causes instability, disorder, and discomfort to the ecosystem.

The intent of this article is to first shed light on the interdisciplinarity of the air pollution field and its collaborative essence; secondly, it explores how this interdisciplinary can create a multitude of impactful career pathways and opportunities across various fields.

Air quality is not just a buzzword; it has evolved into a worldwide concern as we grapple with the dire consequences of struggling for clean air. Governments, industries, and communities are actively seeking solutions to improve air quality, and this has given rise to a plethora of career opportunities in the field of air quality measurements, forecasting, control, and management where professionals collaborate and innovate to create a healthier and more sustainable living.

Traditionally, air pollution and quality have been under the umbrella of science and technology. There exists a range of career opportunities in the area of air pollution and quality as described below:

Environmental Scientists: Scientists having expertise in air pollution and quality are the ones out in the field, collecting air quality data and meticulously analysing it to decipher the sources, causes, and consequences of air pollution; they work on the frontline for the development and implementation of air quality monitoring programs; establishing the air pollution laboratories and operating them with various air pollution monitoring and analytical instrumentations; and performing their laboratory and field calibrations.

Environmental Engineers: They have to be visionaries as they plan, design, construct, and operate air pollution control systems to keep the airborne pollutants under the specified ambient standards; their innovative solutions range from sophisticated filtration systems to groundbreaking emission reduction technologies such as the use of radio waves, ionisation, adsorption, etc.; formulation and application of Decision Support System (DSS) using the latest mathematical tools and software programs are also carried out by the environmental engineers. In addition, they are also responsible for efficient and effective air quality management at local, urban, and regional scales, working collaboratively with panchayats, urban local bodies, state departments, central ministries, and pollution control boards (state and central).

Air Quality Data Analysts: They leverage data science and statistical techniques to uncover concealed trends and patterns pertaining to air quality. Their primary responsibilities involve compreh-ensive air quality data analysis and providing it to the concerned pollution control boards and ministries, which is then made accessible to the public. Additionally, they perform essential calculations to determine the Air Quality Index (AQI).

Technology Developers: They play a pivotal role in advancing novel tools and systems aimed at achieving more precise and efficient air quality measurement and control. Currently, there is ample opportunity for domestic innovations in the realm of air quality measurement instruments, which are predominantly imported from overseas, incurring substantial costs for users. Another promising avenue is the development of reliable technology for compact and affordable air quality sensors, designed to bolster ambient air quality monitoring and expand its spatial resolution.

Public Policy Experts: In tandem with scientists, engineers, analysts, and technology developers, public policy experts assume a significant role in the realm of air quality management, focusing on governance. Environmental engineers, in particular, can wield substantial influence as public policy experts by championing the efficient and effective enforcement of air quality regulations through the establishment of a Governance Framework grounded in a bottom-up approach, as opposed to the current top-down methodology. Furthermore, the crucial responsibilities of public policy experts encompass unceasingly advocating for policies that preserve air quality and educating the public on the paramount significance of breathing in unpolluted air.

Sustainability Consultants: Environ-mental engineers and scientists can also play decisive roles as sustainability consultants, not only within the government sector but also with the corporate world. They partner with businesses and organizations to help them reduce their environmental footprint. Their expertise aids industries in adopting eco-friendly practices, ensuring the air pollution remains under the notified standards and limits. The environmental impact assessments (EIA) and associated risk assessments are also carried out by sustainability consultants.

Quite a few individuals working in esteemed educational institutions of India, research laboratories, corporate world, industries, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have made successful careers in the field of air pollution.

The journey in the roadmap of becoming an air quality professional begins with a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science/ Environmental Engineering/ Civil Engineering/ Chemical Engineering/ Mechanical Engineering/ Biotechnology/ Chemistry/ Biology. Advanced degree programs, such as Master's or Ph.D., further add to the expertise of an aspirant and open doors to senior and specialised roles. A diverse set of skills are desirable for thriving in this field beyond essential Bachelor's/ Master's/Ph.D. degrees in the above disciplines. These skills include data science and analytics, software programming; additional degree/training in environmental law; and effective communication skills.

The field of air quality measurements, forecasting, control, and management thrives on collaborations among professionals from the government, industries, businesses, and advocacy groups. Collaborations among these entities are essential for crafting and disseminating effective policies and regulations that safeguard both public health and the environment.

Government agencies play a pivotal role in the establishment and enforcement of air quality regulations. The expertise of scientists, engineers, and policy experts makes informed decisions for improvement in air quality. Industries contribute to air quality solutions by implementing efficient pollution control technologies and adopting sustainable practices. Sustainability consultants often collaborate with industries to develop strategies that reduce their environmental footprint while maintaining profitability. Advocacy groups and environmental organisations are instrumental in raising awareness about air quality issues and advocating for policy changes. They work closely with experts to collect and disseminate data, rally public support, and hold the polluters accountable. This collaborative spirit is at the heart of progress in achieving meaningful improvements in air quality while mitigating the impacts of air pollution, as partnerships, research collaborations, and governmental initiatives drive the changes and foster career growth.

The landscapes of air quality measurements, forecasting, control, and management are dynamic and ever evolving. Emerging trends, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), are opening new doors for innovation and specialization in the area of air quality. The integration of these cutting-edge technologies can process vast datasets more efficiently, identify patterns, and predict air quality trends assisting in effective and efficient implementation of air quality legislations and policies.

Furthermore, technology advancements bring new challenges as well. The practicality, novelty, effectiveness, efficiency, resistance to wear and tear, cost-effectiveness, and maintenance of the innovative technologies or created policies are some of the major points to consider and challenges to combat. For instance, considering the prevalence of electric vehicles as a greener option to replace the fossil fuel-driven vehicles, the environmental impact of their manufacturing, development of necessary infrastructure, and the disposal of batteries are major concerns. In order to ensure that the air we breathe remains clean and healthy, addressing these evolving challenges is need of the hour for the professionals in air quality management.

The careers in air quality measurements, forecasting, control, and management are not merely jobs but they are missions to create a healthier world for ourselves and future generations. Be it science, technology, engineering, or policy, there is a place for various professionals from different fields in this critical area of air quality measurements, forecasting, control, and management. By collaborations and staying attuned to emerging trends, one can become an agent of positive change, working to ensure cleaner air, better health, a greener planet, and sustainable future. A career in air quality, indeed is a rewarding and impactful path which starts with understanding that clean air is a precious resource, and contributions from collaborative visions and efforts of various different professionals for its preserv-ations are equally valuable. In the plethora of opportunities available to dive-in the ocean of air quality measurements, forecasting, control, and management to become an architect of change, one has to choose the path and prepare their roadmaps wisely.

The authors are Professor Emeritus, IIT Delhi, and Junior Research Fellow IIT, Delhi. Feedback on this article can be sent to feedback.employmentnews@gmail.com.

Views expressed are personal.