Protecting public health: Why air quality monitoring at construction sites is critical
A 2017 study by Lancet found that India has a ‘disproportionately high mortality and disease burden due to air pollution.’ And while rapid infrastructure development may seem like the gateway to economic dominance, it’s critical to also understand the flipside: construction activities are a major cause of air pollution.
What is construction’s contribution to air pollution?
In 2018, a study jointly presented by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) found that in Delhi, dust (from construction activities as well as soil and roads) contributed 25% to PM2.5 levels and 17% to PM10 levels during winter. Another report stated that in Bangalore, construction dust and dust suspended on roads were to blame for 23% of the city’s pollution. More recently, Mumbai had a similar story to tell. Between October 2022 and February 2023, construction had a major impact on the city’s air quality, with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation granting permission to 2,500+ real estate and infrastructure projects in the span of a year. Yet another report found that ~71% of the city’s air pollution can be attributed to construction dust.
What’s equally worrying, is that this problem is spreading to tier II and tier III cities as well. One example is Indore. The cleanest city in India is witnessing deteriorating air quality, which is primarily a result of rapid construction, along with industrial activities and of course, ever-increasing traffic.And while this problem is often written off as the cost of development, the fact is that construction-linked air pollution is a serious threat.
How does construction pollution impact your health?
It’s a good idea to first understand just how much pollution a construction site can generate. First off, there’s dust. Practically every activity contributes to it, from land clearing and demolition to sawing, drilling, and screening. And dust isn’t limited to soil or gravel. Fine particles of wood, silica, toxic fibres, and other materials are also to blame.
The other aspect is the expulsion of hazardous chemicals. Generators, pumps, and cement mixers that run on diesel release harmful emissions, while commonly used materials like paint, glue and oils let out toxic vapours into the environment.
And, the impact of these construction site pollutants is alarming. They can cause headaches, sinus problems and respiratory conditions such as coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and asthma. Amongst construction workers—who are most at risk—these pollutants can also trigger Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), autoimmune diseases, silicosis, lung cancer, as well as worsening of cardiovascular problems.
Is anyone taking this problem seriously?
Regulations pertaining to construction pollution management are still a work in progress, but some state governments and bodies have made headway.
As of September 2022, the Delhi government has stated that it is considering making it mandatory for construction sites over 20,000 sq.m. to install air quality monitors to measure air pollution on an ongoing basis. The draft also mandates that this data be relayed to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) in real time. In addition, other measures have been introduced to minimize construction pollution.
- Installation of anti-smog guns
- Covering vehicles carrying construction material
- Building wind-breaking walls around the perimeter of a construction site to contain dust
- Providing construction workers with the right gear such as dust masks
- Covering all loose construction materials and soil
Moreover, in 2022, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) announced the draft of the Building Construction Environment Management Regulations. Applicable to projects over 5,000 sq.m. in area, the draft addresses air, noise and water pollution, as well as preservation of resources. With regards to dust pollution, it states that all materials brought in, or debris taken out of a construction site must be covered by plastic/tarpaulin sheets. It also necessitates sprinkling water on unpaved surfaces and loose soil, proper disposal of debris and construction waste, wheel washing, installation of screens, etc.
Besides meeting these regulatory obligations, it bodes well for construction companies to actively control construction-linked air pollution. This is because it impacts their ability to secure accreditations such as WELL Certification, which in turn help attract investors and improve the marketability of a project. WELL v1, specifically, addresses new and existing buildings, and takes into consideration ‘the full scope of project design and construction as well as aspects of building operations’. On the other hand, WELL v2 (pilot) lays special emphasis on construction pollution management. It addresses several aspects such as:
- Construction vehicle emissions
- Combative measures like regular air flushing
- Using barriers to limit dust from dispersing
- Choosing equipment that contains dust
What must construction companies do?
In the past, the government has curbed construction activities when AQI levels became unsafe. In the long run, this simply isn’t sustainable. So, construction companies must develop a more responsible outlook that prioritizes employee health, that of the community, and the environment. Instead of waiting for laws to be enforced, they must develop their own guardrails to minimize the negative impact of construction activities before it reaches alarming levels.
But, as always, it’s difficult to remedy a problem when you don’t know its extent. This is where ongoing air quality monitoring comes into play. Real-time monitoring and reporting allow companies to assess construction site air quality and take appropriate action quicker.
For example, Airveda’s air quality monitoring systems help measure air pollution levels in real time and report this data to relevant stakeholders and authorities. Besides LED displays showing the air quality at the site, these systems can be linked to regulatory dashboards, such as that of the DPCC. This allows for seamless, instant transfer of data from devices installed at the construction site to DPCC. Apart from making compliance convenient, it also ensures that there is no data tampering.
In addition to measuring air quality, Airveda’s resilient, reliable systems also help you act. Here’s how: automated buzzers sound off when a threshold has been crossed. Similarly, anti-smog guns are automatically triggered when the air quality deteriorates, making it easy for construction sites to comply with regulatory guidelines.
In this way, we have helped 20+ companies like Tata Realty, DS Consulting, Larsen & Toubro Limited, Girdhari Lal Constructions Pvt. Ltd., Neelkanth Automation, Parnika, Air Exchange and Raheja Developers Limited reduce dust pollution from construction at 40+ sites. Deepika Aurora, the Deputy General Manager at DS Consulting, shared, “Airveda's outdoor air quality monitoring system has consistently demonstrated exceptional accuracy and reliability.” She further added, “We are immensely grateful for our partnership with Airveda in delivering air quality monitoring solutions to our construction site clients. Their integration of data with the DPCC cloud has been immensely beneficial for our clients, enabling them to comply with government regulations and maintain a healthy environment. The devices and dashboards provided by Airveda take a proactive approach to addressing air quality concerns and enhancing construction processes. We highly recommend Airveda to any organisation seeking effective air quality management.”
Holistic action is the need of the hour
Integration of air quality monitoring systems is an excellent starting point, but there needs to be a larger shift. Construction companies must prioritize intentional action at every stage of the process, right from choosing equipment, to transporting material and segregating and disposing of waste. And while regulatory bodies build better policies, customers can do their bit and hold construction companies accountable. In addition to focusing on the product, we encourage you also to pay attention to these aspects to drive meaningful change.
If you’re a construction company committed to doing the work and being authentically environmentally responsible, explore Airveda’s air quality monitoring devices and learn how best to utilize them. Write to us at email@example.com to know more.