Mumbai pollution: BMC smog towers may cause more problems than they solve

Given apprehensions about the long-term effectiveness of smog towers and their adverse effects, the civic body is approaching IIT-Bombay for technical guidance

Highrise buildings seen through a dense smog in Mumbai (photo: Getty Images)
Highrise buildings seen through a dense smog in Mumbai (photo: Getty Images)

NH Digital

Smog Towers are offered as a solution each time a city's AQI or air quality index turns poor, and citizens begin to complain. Even as Bombay High Court took suo motu cognisance of the poor air quality in Mumbai, seeking answers from authorities, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has floated a proposal to set up mini smog towers around the periphery of Shivaji Park to address the issue of red dust in the air.

Nestled within the bustling neighbourhood of Dadar lies the sprawling 28-acre field, apparently undisturbed. However, its seemingly tranquil expanse is marred by a peculiar predicament — its fine grass cover and loose soil have transformed it into a dust pollution hotspot. For weeks, exasperated locals have voiced their concerns about the pervasive dust emanating from the loose sandy soil that stubbornly lingers in the air.

In response, BMC officials, joined by local MP Rahul Shewale, undertook a comprehensive survey of the entire periphery of Shivaji Park. Following their examination, a resounding consensus emerged — the urgent need to instal smog towers along the park's boundaries. Notably, even Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, a resident of Shivaji Park, was consulted by Shewale on this matter.

Civic authorities are leaving no stone unturned to combat the dust menace. To supplement their efforts, an expert committee of professors from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has also been formed. Their mission will be to deliver pragmatic solutions to effectively quell the insidious dust pollution that has plagued the area. As the BMC seeks to reclaim clean air, the IIT committee has been approached to deliver results within the next month.

In its last civic budget, BMC had declared a grandiose plan to instal 14 smog towers. This decision followed an announcement by chief minister Eknath Shinde regarding the introduction of smog towers in the city. Each of these 30-foot monstrosities is expected to cover a one-kilometre radius and purportedly cleanse the air using an enigmatic "radio wave technique".

But the BMC's decision to pepper the city with these towering solutions was met with a barrage of criticism. Citizens, incensed by the prospect, joined hands with sceptical members of the scientific community who lambasted the move. Their collective verdict: these smog towers have a track record of proving woefully ineffective in the long run, raising questions about the efficacy of this grand plan.

Past studies conducted by Illinois Tech, Portland State University, and Colorado State University researchers in the US have revealed how attempts to clean up one harmful air pollutant can inadvertently give rise to a host of others.

Through both meticulous chamber experiments and real-world field tests, it was discovered that the utilisation of ionising devices, while successful in reducing certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as xylenes, had an unintended consequence — a surge in the presence of other VOCs.

The most notable of these are the oxygenated kind, including acetone, ethanol, and toluene, substances commonly found in paints, paint strippers, aerosol sprays, and pesticides.

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