Air pollution is rising in the world’s biggest cities, and health risks are growing with it. There are multiple ways living among chronic air pollution can put you in an early grave, and the consequences are just as dire for those who haven’t been born yet. In China, where air pollution persists at shocking levels, plants, even food crops, are being attacked by the low air quality, adding another dimension of risk to the issue.
In March, the ”World Health Organization (WHO) released new estimates on air pollution, revealing that seven million premature deaths in 2012 are the result of air pollution exposure,” reported Care2′s Michelle Schoffro Cook. “This staggering number is the equivalent of one in eight deaths around the world and more than doubles the previous estimates. The WHO data confirm that air pollution is now the world’s most severe environmental health risk.”
So what are we doing to protect ourselves from air pollution? In many cities, there are initiatives designed to get people out of their cars and into more eco-friendly forms of transportation. We’ve also recently seen the EPA crack down on big polluters, like power plants and industrial facilities, ensuring that those who profit from pollution pay a hefty price for their actions.
But these measures only go so far. Many designers and engineers feel that technology can be a sword in the fight for better air quality as well. Keep reading for some of the most promising ideas.
7 More Unexpected Ways to Fight Air Pollution
Scientists at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Peru are on a mission to turn every sky-blocking billboard into a tool that fights air pollution. The prototype has been installed in one of the most polluted parts of Lima. According to Gizmag, “the billboard works by combining polluted air with water, using basic thermodynamic principles to actively dissolve the pollutants (such as bacteria, dust and germs) in water to release fresh air.” The designers say a single billboard can do the work of 1,200 trees, purifying 100,000 cubic meters (3.5 million cubic feet) of air daily in crowded cities.
2. NASA Air Filter
It might surprise you to learn that indoor air can be far more polluted than the air outside. After 12 years of rigorous scientific research, NASA recently launched the Airocide, a filterless air purification system that’s been proven to remove the worst indoor air pollutants. As I wrote previously for EcoSalon, NASA tests revealed that the Airocide can wipe virtually 100 percent of the nasty Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)–the harmful gasses emitted by products you have around your home–out of the air.
3. Smog-Eating Concrete
Italian chemist Luigi Cassar [PDF] recently garnered international praise for inventing an innovative cement coating that neutralizes pollutants and improves air quality–all while making cities look more beautiful. In addition to threatening our health, air pollution discolors building. To combat this, Cassar and his team of scientists developed a cement mixture that contains substances known as “photocatalysts.” This photocatalytic principle in the cement uses sunlight to break down pollutants into less harmful substances. They are then simply washed away by rainwater. The added bonus: the new material not only cleans concrete but also the surrounding air.
In the future, it’s likely we’ll go far beyong photocatalytic coatings when it comes to air-cleaning building design. This year’s eVolo Skyscraper Design Competition featured several pollution fighting concepts, including the Hyper Filter. “Located in the big cities between skyscrapers surrounded by busy traffic roads, stations and factories, the structure soaks up CO2 and other harmful gases and releases clear concentrated oxygen into the atmosphere,” reported Inhabitat.
You’re probably already aware that common houseplants can help improve indoor air quality, but a new gadget from The Lab Store dials up your plant’s pollution-fighting power. The Andrea Air naturally purifies air by drawing it in with a whisper quiet fan to propel it through the leaves and root system of a plant, then out through the water and soil filtration and back into the room. “This living filter accelerates the removal of harmful VOC’s and toxins through the active infrastructure system of a plant to continuously clean and oxygenate the rooms ion your home or foccie,” explains the designers.
6. Super Tree
A few years back, a Peruvian company called Tierra Nuestra debuted an air cleaning technology called the “Super Tree.” According to blogger Levi Novey, the Super Tree “basically sucks in outside air, then under thermodynamic pressure combines the toxic elements in the air with water, and then pumps out clean air. Byproducts of the process include some mud and non-potable water that can be easily pumped into sewer systems. The Super Tree (“super arbol” in Spanish) cleans about 200,000 cubic meters of air per day, eliminating polluting gases like carbon dioxide, as well as germs and bacteria.”
Facing pressure from environmentalists and its own citizens, China recently announced a truly unexpected method for fighting air pollution: chemical-spraying drones. “The state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China using parafoil drones to release chemicals that will enable air pollutants to fall to the ground. These drones have a paragliding wing that can carry three times more weight (up to 700kg) than the fixed-wing version,” reports Inhabitat.