While air quality in parts of India has not deteriorated to the levels witnessed around Diwali last year, air pollution continues to be a problem. It’s responsible for one in nine deaths worldwide and accounted for 6.7 million deaths in 2019 alone, according to a recent report from the US-based Health Effects Institute. India also has one of the highest death rates due to toxic air from burning fossil fuels, a study from Harvard University found in 2021.
While you can still control indoor air quality at the home and workplace, ambient air is a different matter. What you can do is track the air quality, with some online tools and apps.
But how do you read the AQI, or air quality index, in India? Different countries use different scales, based on local pollution and health considerations. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards in India has six categories: good (0-50 range), satisfactory (50-100), moderately polluted (100-200), poor (200-300), very poor (300-400) and severe (400-500). According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (which falls under the Union ministry of earth sciences), the categorisation is based on the ambient concentration values of pollutants—like PM2.5, PM10, carbon monoxide, or CO, O3, or ozone, nitrous oxide, or NO2, etc.—and their health impacts. Some apps have their own categories: hazardous, unhealthy, very unhealthy and so on.
Companies like Apple and Google have also started including AQI data more prominently in some offerings. On iOS 16, the Weather app shows the current air quality conditions in your area and how it could impact your health. On Google Maps, you can tap the map type button (it will be towards the top right on your Android app) and choose the “air quality” option in map details. It shows location-specific AQI data. You can even run a simple Google search—“air quality near me”—for this information.
There are dedicated apps too to help check air quality and plan activities. Here are three options.
AirVisual by IQAir: Still one of the best in this category, this has a simple design that tells you not only about the AQI but also wind speeds, temperature and chances of rain. You can toggle settings to receive daily notifications and personal alerts. The app tracks most of the key pollutants, including PM2.5, PM10, ozone, NO2, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide (SO2). AirVisual is available for both Android and iOS.
Windy: Originally a beautiful weather app, it has some interesting air quality filters. By hitting the hamburger icon, you can choose to see any of the four air quality layers available: NO2, PM2.5, aerosol and ozone. The layers are visualised on the basis of data from the European Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, or CAMS, for a location. The website is also a good source for this information. The app is available for both Android and iOS.
BreezoMeter air quality app: This award-winning app has real-time maps that can show what outdoor air quality looks like at the street, block or country levels. It also gives information daily on pollen and personalises health recommendations to minimise your exposure to ambient air pollution. The app, available on Android and iOS, gathers air quality, pollen and weather measurements from more than 7,000 official monitoring stations worldwide.