Global project ‘paints’ evidence of air pollution in India

Global project ‘paints’ evidence of air pollution in India


Researchers and artists collaborated on an international project to make invisible air pollution visible in India, Ethiopia, and the U.K. by combining digital light painting and low-cost air pollution sensors.

GS-03 (Conservation, Pollution)


  • The project, published in Nature Communications Earth & Environment, used photographic evidence of pollution levels to stimulate discussions around air pollution’s impact among local communities.
  • The project highlighted stark differences in PM2.5 levels between an urban playground in Delhi and a rural one in Palampur, with Palampur’s PM2.5 values being at least 12.5 times lower than Delhi’s.
  • In Ethiopia, air pollution varied significantly, with PM2.5 concentrations in a biomass stove kitchen being up to 20 times higher than nearby outdoor sites.
  • In Wales, large variations in air pollution were noted around the Tata Steel Port Talbot steelworks, with PM2.5 concentrations measured higher than the hourly average value during summer evenings.
  • Particulate matter (PM) is identified as the leading air pollutant responsible for human morbidity and mortality, causing various diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancers. The project’s visual approach aims to make this information more accessible and understandable to the general public, fostering awareness and action against air pollution.

Particle Pollution:

  • Particle pollution are also known as Particulate Matter (PM).
  • It consists of tiny solid or liquid particles suspended in the air that includes: Dust, Dirt, Soot, Smoke, Liquid droplets, Sources of Particle Pollution.
  • Particle pollution arises from two main types of sources:
    • Primary Sources: These emit particles directly into the air.
    • Secondary Sources: These release gases that can form particles. Power plants and coal fires are typical examples.
  • Some sources can be either primary or secondary, such as factories, vehicles, and construction sites. Emissions from these sources include smoke from fires and pollutants released by power plants, industrial facilities, and vehicles.

Types of Particulate Matter

  • PM10: These are inhalable particles with diameters of 10 micrometers or smaller. They are relatively larger and visible as fine dust or smoke. Sources include dust from construction sites, pollen, and vehicle and industrial emissions.
  • PM2.5: These fine inhalable particles have diameters of 2.5 micrometers or smaller and are not visible to the naked eye. They often result from combustion processes like burning fossil fuels, vehicle emissions, and cooking. Due to their small size, PM2.5 particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, posing significant health risks.

Health Impacts of Particulate Pollution:

  • Respiratory Problems: Inhaling PM can cause or worsen asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections.
  • Cardiovascular Effects: PM pollution is linked to increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. Fine particles can enter the bloodstream and contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • Reduced Lung Function: Long-term exposure to PM can impair lung function, making breathing more difficult.
  • Allergies and Irritation: Particulate matter can trigger allergies and irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, leading to coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes.
  • Premature Death: High levels of PM pollution are associated with increased mortality rates, especially among individuals with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly.
  • Cancer Risk: Certain types of PM, such as diesel exhaust particles and some heavy metals, are carcinogenic and increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Developmental Issues: Pregnant women exposed to high PM levels may face complications like preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental issues in their children.
  • Impaired Lung Growth in Children: Children exposed to PM pollution may experience reduced lung growth and development, leading to long-term respiratory problems.
  • Aggravation of Existing Conditions: Individuals with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions are particularly vulnerable, with PM pollution exacerbating their symptoms and increasing the severity of their conditions.