Flickr Photo

Is Summer Air Better than Winter Air?

 

Summer is here, bringing with it clearer skies and certainly cleaner air. Right?

Summer always seems to drive out the dense clouds of pollution that suffocate many Indian cities. However, while summer air is in fact cleaner than air during other seasons, it’s still far from safe according to the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

During the winter, cold air traps pollutants close to the ground, a process called an “inversion.” Summer heat prevents this inversion, which does improve the air quality. However, average air conditions in India are still clearly not ideal.

Here’s a map of today’s pollution levels across India:

 

pollution levels
Source: https://aqicn.org/map/india/

 

On a day like today, when the AQI in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi is in the ‘unhealthy’ or ‘very unhealthy’ range, we often wonder at Smart Air if the pollution in summer really is any better than the winter.

We got to the bottom of it by analyzing the US Embassy’s data in New Delhi and US consulates’ data in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata. So is summer air really better than winter air? We took the data from the past two years (June 2014 to June 2016) and broke it down into four seasons: winter (December to February), summer (March to June), monsoon (July to September), and post-monsoon (October to November). Next, we calculated the average particulate pollution (PM2.5) levels for each season.

Across the five cities we looked at, PM 2.5 levels were 26% better in the summer—118 micrograms in the winter compared to 49 micrograms in the summer. That means summer air is better.

Let’s take a look at the difference in PM2.5 between the five cities during different seasons:

 

 

US Embassy Air Quality Data
U.S. Department of State Data, June 2014 – June 2016. Air quality data may not be validated or verified

 

But how good is “better?” Here in India, “better” is nowhere near “safe.” Over the course of the two years we analyzed, average annual pollution levels in all five cities never fell below even the WHO’s more lenient (24-hour) exposure limit (25 micrograms per cubic meter). In fact, the average pollution levels across all the cities we tested was about 500% the WHO annual limit (10 micrograms) and 200% of the more lenient 24-hour limit (25)!

 

The lowest summer pollution level we found was Chennai (31 micrograms). But even that lowest summer level still surpassed the WHO limits.

Below are the 2-year graphs for each city. You can see that each city has two distinct swells in PM2.5 levels during the winter, each followed by 2 clear dips during the summer. Interestingly enough, comparing the summer and winter levels of each city from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016 shows some cities’ PM2.5 levels improving, while others’ increase between years. Most notably, Chennai’s winter pollution levels dropped significantly between years as did Hyderabad’s, while New Delhi and Kolkata experienced clear increases. However, we’re not sure whether or not this improvement and worsening of PM2.5 levels can be attributed to cities’ environmental efforts (or lack thereof).

The conclusion? The evidence is quite clear: summer air is in fact better than winter air. However, despite all the blue skies and warm days we’ve been having lately, there’s still a need to protect yourself inside and outside the house. Don’t mistake “better” for “safe.” Neither summer nor winter air meets WHO health standards and summer air is still of significant concern to public health.

 

Chennai US Department of State
U.S. State Department Data – June 2014 to June 2016. Data may not be fully verified or validated.

 

US Embassy Air Quality
U.S. State Department Data – June 2014 to June 2016. Data may not be fully verified or validated.

 

US Embassy Air Quality Data
U.S. State Department Data – June 2014 to June 2016. Data may not be fully verified or validated.

 

US Embassy Air Quality Data
U.S. State Department Data – June 2014 to June 2016. Data may not be fully verified or validated.

 

US Embassy Air quality data
U.S. State Department Data – June 2014 to June 2016. Data may not be fully verified or validated.

 

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Q&A

joshuaw81 提问: Hi Thomas, just started one of your cannon kits earlier today and it’s already turning gray. Already a fan of your work! Two quick questions for you: 1- I received a foam/fiber square that is white on one side and light green on the other. I’m assuming this is packaging, and not part of the filter? 2- Are these HEPA filters washable? Many thanks!

 

Hi Joshua,

Good questions! We’re actually working on a pamphlet to go along with the cannon that will answer these two questions, so it’ll be clearer in the future! But here are the answers:

  1. What’s the pre-filter for?

1

The pre-filter goes behind the HEPA filter, and it catches the larger dust particles so that the HEPA will last longer. We don’t include pre-filters on the Original DIY because the fan isn’t as strong as the Cannon.

  1. Can I wash the HEPA?

Unfortunately, no. HEPAs are not washable. That’s one reason we try to keep our HEPAs as affordable as possible.

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Q&A

tmthyliu 提问: Just built a DIY air filter, pretty excited to have clean air in the house! I was wondering though, how does this work when the air conditioner is on? Does it make a difference at all? I don’t know how ACs work but it seems they pump more air into my room (where does the air come from, outside??). Would it make sense to strap a filter on the AC unit? When you ran your tests did you have the AC on in the same room? Thanks for the amazing work!

Excellent question! I long wondered whether ACs bring in dirty outside air. I tested that question with my particle counter and the answer is no:

http://particlecounting.tumblr.com/post/59177803065/does-air-conditioning-bring-in-dirty-outside-air

And a video test here:

http://particlecounting.tumblr.com/post/59177657783/is-your-air-conditioner-bringing-in-dirty-outside

To the two other questions:

  1. Does the fact that the AC is moving air influence purifier effectiveness? I suspect if you were blowing air around AND running your purifier, you might actually get slightly better performance because it’s taking that clean air and spreading it around the room. But that’s just a hunch.
  2. Would it make sense to strap a filter onto an AC? Yes! I wouldn’t strap a HEPA there because the AC isn’t strong enough for it, and you’d really weaken the cooling effect of the AC. But a weaker filter could help.

Q&A

passport4adragon 提问: Hi, I’m in Shanghai and recently put together your DIY purifier and bought the same fan and filter you suggested – I think it’s working! A couple of questions – 1. I bought the exact same filter you did on Taobao – how often should it be replaced if I run the purifier every night? 2. The filter came with 3 extra thinner, foamy filter pieces (if you revisit the Taobao page, I think it’s item #1, I don’t know about #3) – should I stick that in between the actual filter and the fan, or not? Thanks!

Great questions!

  1. I don’t have good data on how often the filter should be replaced. I’ve been replacing mine after the filter turns dark, but that’s just based on my intuition, not data. What I need to do is use the particle counter to test effectiveness over time and figure out at which point it starts to lose effectiveness. Hopefully I’ll have more on that later!
  2. You’re right! The filter comes with some “pre-filters.” I don’t use them, but you could use them. On the plus side, they’d probably help your HEPA last longer. On the downside, I’d be worried the pre-filters would cut down on the air flow too much, but I haven’t tested that possibility with the particle counter.