Alpine air at work? Delhi eyes novel ways to battle smog

|     Annie Banerji & Faisal Kamal     |

 

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Political apathy over the poisonous smog choking India’s capital has led many like businessman Kamal Meattle (pic below) to take matters into their own hands, with an office building he says pumps air as fresh as from the Swiss Alps.

From the outside, the Paharpur Business Centre looks like any modern office block. But inside it is a virtual jungle where rooms and corridors are lined with more than 7,000 potted plants and creepers.

The greenhouse terrace, with artificial grass and green walls, houses an “air washing” system that moves polluted outside air through a series of cleaning filters.

It is then pushed through the greenhouse where the plants remove bacteria, fungus, carbon dioxide and other toxins, before the air conditioning pumps it to workers on the floors below.

“It would be like working in Gulmarg in Kashmir or Davos in Switzerland in this building,” 73-year-old Meattle told AFP as he looked out at the smog from the protection of the lush rooftop nursery.

In this picture taken on December 27, 2017, employees play at the green house-come-cafeteria at the Paharpur Business Centre in New Delhi. From the outside, the Paharpur Business Centre looks like any modern office block. But inside it is a virtual jungle where rooms and corridors are lined with more than 7,000 potted plants and creepers

Indian employees eat in the greenhouse cafeteria at the Paharpur Business Centre
An Indian employee tends to plants in the greenhouse cafeteria. – PHOTOS: AFP

“You are actually right now sitting in an air tank,” he said, referring to the greenhouse where PM2.5 – the most harmful particulates in the air – registered nearly zero compared with 415 outside, according to Paharpur’s monitoring system.

The outside level is more than 16 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and trustee of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, Meattle began thinking about a clean office project years ago when he rejected doctors’ advice to move away from the polluted capital for his health.

“I wanted a solution for myself and I didn’t want to leave Delhi,” he said.

His centre, whose tenants include Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft, is now rated the city’s healthiest building by the Indian government, and Meattle says people who work there benefit from improved blood oxygen levels, better brain function, and fewer asthma and eye irritation cases.

Delhi chokes every winter as cool air traps a toxic blend of pollutants from crop burning, car exhausts, open fires, construction dust and industrial emissions close to the ground.

The annual scourge has been particularly bad this season, and short-term measures – such as shutting factories and restricting car use – have failed to have a significant impact.

In November, doctors declared a public health emergency and schools were shut across the capital.