Indoor Pollution Levels at Low- and High-Income Households in Delhi

Source: Indoor Air Quality, Information, and Socioeconomic Status: Evidence from Delhi, AEA Papers and Proceedings, May 2021

It is a common belief that the world’s environmental burdens fall on the shoulders of the poor and not the rich. In Delhi, India, one of the world’s most polluted cities, the rich live far from city centers and largely work indoors. But is it really true that the rich are breathing clean air?

AQLI Director Ken Lee, PhD student Harshil Sahai and EPIC Director Michael Greenstone decided to investigate. They measured the amount of indoor pollution Delhi residents were being exposed to in their homes. Between 2018 and 2020, they measured the indoor air quality in thousands of Delhi homes, drawing from a wide range of socio-economic groups. In nearly every neighborhood they visited, average levels of wintertime indoor air pollution were more than 46 times the World Health Organization guideline. Not only that, but indoor pollution levels were also consistently higher than those reported on the nearest outdoor government monitors. And pollution levels inside homes in Delhi’s richest neighborhoods were just 10 percent lower than those found in poorer neighborhoods. Simply put, very few in Delhi are breathing clean air even from the safety of their homes.

As one would expect, the higher socio-economic status (SES) households surveyed were more likely to own an air purifier compared to lower SES households. But still, only 20 percent of wealthier households owned one—despite the remarkable ability of these machines to filter nearly all pollution. While this suggests that households are simply not aware that indoor air pollution is a problem, when the researchers distributed air quality sensors to higher SES households, they did not in turn purchase air purifiers. One remaining challenge, the researchers concluded, is not only to make people aware, but to also make them care.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
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