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Delhi unveils new weapon in the fight against pollution: a smog cannon

Smog pictured over Connaught Place in New Delhi. Image credit: Ville Miettinen via Wikimedia Commons

Delhi unveils its latest weapon in the fight against the city’s air pollution crisis: a smog cannon.  It is an intervention that has failed everywhere else that it has been tried.

A trial run of the anti-smog gun, which is manufactured by Haryana-based firm Cloud Tech, took place on December 20 in East Delhi. Imran Hussain, Delhi’s environmental minister, was among those present.

The device, which is ‘shaped like a hairdryer’, was mounted on the back of a flatbed truck and stationed in the Anand Vihar area, one of the city’s most polluted areas.

Monitoring stations were erected in the area to measure its impact and explore if the $40,000 cannon will make a difference to the air pollution crisis in India’s National Capital Region. The situation became so bad at the end of 2017 that  it was dubbed a public health emergency by doctors and led to Delhi’s Chief Minister labelling the city ‘a gas chamber.’

Smog cannon: An effective solution?

Cloud Tech’s smog cannon operates by firing micro-droplets into the atmosphere at high speed to create a mist. This is in the hope that the mist will trap and suppress the particulate matter in the air. The cannon reportedly has a a firing capacity of 100 litres of water per minute. It can purportedly clear 95 percent of pollutants within its throw range.

So far, however, the smog cannon has not shown signs of being a success. Pollution levels remained at a perilous high, with concentrations of particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 continuing to be six to eight times WHO recommended levels.

The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) will continue to seek out new technologies in the hope of easing the crisis, including mist guns akin to that piloted on December 22. However, environmental campaigners are unimpressed by the government’s response to the crisis. Many are accusing the Delhi government of looking solely at short-term solutions and not addressing the root of the issue.

“Temporary measures”

“Instead of looking at temporary measures,” says Anumita Roychowdhury of the Delhi Center for Science and Environment, “the government should focus on a comprehensive action plan for more systematic changes in the city to combat pollution.”

Sunil Dahiya of Greenpeace India agrees, saying “this is definitely not the solution…the Delhi government should look at more sustainable solutions rather than creating business for a few companies.”

Sushant Saini of Cloud Tech argues the water cannon is not intended as a long-term measure, saying “it is only for instant relief.” He points to its use at construction sites and cement factories to prevent workers from breathing in toxic particulate matter and says it could similar use could made of such contraptions at hospitals and schools when pollution is particularly heavy.

An ineffective investment

34854870 - bird view at chengdu china. fog, overcast sky and pollution. Copyright: <a href=''>oceanfishing / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Air pollution over Chegdu, China, where smog cannons have been a popular investment in recent years.

However, whilst the mist cannons can be effective at cleaning PM10 from the air, they are believed to be less effective at getting rid of finer particulate matter such as PM2.5. These can be more toxic than their larger counterparts.

This has been found in China, where mist cannons are a popular investment by cities and provinces. Environmentalists note that, not only is there no evidence they are effective at improving air quality, they may even worsen the situation, as some particles could react with the water fired by the cannons and expand.

Other complications include the use of vast amounts of energy, water and money. The cannons could even inadvertently contribute to the air pollution crisis due to emissions from the large vehicles needed to transport them.

The need to invest in solutions to Delhi’s air pollution is clear. As many environmentalists have noted, there should be preventative, proactive measures taken by governments, rather than reactive ones which could cost a great deal of money and resources, without doing anything substantial to relieve the problem in the future.

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