The Right Formula for Emission Reductions
Arne Berndt
SoundPLAN GmbH and
SoundPLAN International LLC.

Air pollution is a major risk factor for several serious conditions including heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema, and lung cancer. It has also been found to increase the risks of acute respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma.

The majority of chemical engineering procedures involve processing a combination of raw materials through a range of equipment to achieve the desired end-product or products. The calculations for these processes are usually very complicated, so you need a head for figures. However, sometimes it seems not all the outputs of the chemical equation are given full consideration which can be to the detriment of workers, nearby residents and the business.

Along with the many products and solutions developed by the chemical engineering industry there are also potentially harmful side effects from noise and air pollution emissions. At a formulaic level these emissions may seem inescapable. When you insert energy and material into a process, especially using large-scale equipment, there has to be an output; and that will always include noise and other emissions.

It is true that it is simply not possible to remove all the negative emissions from a process. However, using software to produce noise or air pollution maps can help facilities owners and managers identify the exact source of the problems, and assist in planning to mitigate it; helping to protect workers' health, the wider environment, and businesses' reputations.

Considerable problems

Thanks in part to economic growth in many of cities, noise and air pollution are commonplace in much of India, but steps are gradually being taken to try and address this. The federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare established a Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health-Related Issues to help tackle the devastating effects of air pollution on people’s health for example. It has proposed a series of measures to reduce exposure to air pollution, including a commitment of at least US$1.5 billion to address household air pollution through the provision of clean cooking gas to 50 million poor households.

The combination of traffic, dusty construction sites and use of solid fuels for cooking are major contributors to the pollution issues and air pollution is a significant health hazard and a killer.

The World Health Organization estimated that 1.5 million people died in India from the effects of air pollution in 2012. Its data shows that across the world, air pollution caused nearly seven million deaths (that's 11.6% of deaths in 2012), making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk, according to World health statistics 2016.

Air pollution is a major risk factor for several serious conditions including heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema, and lung cancer. It has also been found to increase the risks of acute respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma.

Exposure to excessive noise should not be overlooked either. The environment ministry has recently reported average levels of noise pollution generally exceed the permissible limits in seven cities, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. Appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators, as well as motor vehicles and events such as festivals were identified as major contributors to the problem.

Exposure to noise is more than just an annoyance; it can have a substantial impact on people’s health. Hearing loss, for example, is one of the most noticeable and clear impacts of exposure to excessive noise. The affected individual needs a large variation between the levels that they are trying to listen to and any background noise; that is if they can hear anything at all. Permanent hearing loss cannot be corrected by surgery or a hearing aid, so it is important to take action to protect people.

It’s important to remember that hearing loss doesn’t just affect a person directly. It also impacts on their family, friends and co-workers. People who suffer hearing loss often undergo social isolation, because they can no longer communicate in the normal way.

Other health impacts associated with exposure to noise include strokes, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. The impact on stress levels and other emotional responses such as disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance should not be discounted.

Chemical reaction

Exposure to noise and its impacts vary across industries, but it is worth noting that the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work reports that some chemical substances are ototoxic or 'ear poisoning'. It says, "Workers exposed to some of these substances and to loud noise appear to be at greater risk of hearing damage than those exposed to either noise or the substances separately. This synergy has been particularly noted between noise and some organic solvents, including toluene, styrene, and carbon disulphide. These substances may be used in noisy environments in sectors such as the plastics and printing industries, and paint and lacquer manufacturing."

Figure 1: Noise within a Building

Noise issues can also affect future generations, as exposure of pregnant workers to high noise levels at work can affect the unborn child, for instance. It is also believed that prolonged exposure to loud noise may lead to increased blood pressure and tiredness.

Studies have also shown noise has a negative effect on educational attainment levels. The NORAH (Noise-Related Annoyance, Cognition, and Health) Study in the greater Frankfurt area of Germany compared the effects of the noise from transportation (road, rail and aircraft). Primary school children were found to learn to read more slowly in areas subject to strong aircraft noise than in more quiet areas. A noise increase of 10 decibels was shown to delay learning to read by one month.

The health of children in very noisy areas has also been shown to be not as good as those in quieter locations. Parents also stated more frequently that their child had already been diagnosed with a speech or language impairment if they were in a noisier area.

Economic impact

Lower educational attainment levels can have an economic impact in the longer term as it could impact on young people’s employment prospects and therefore the country's competitiveness.

Noise and air pollution are also bad for the economy as they can result in workers taking days of sick with a resultant drop in productivity.

Management time is also taken up rescheduling tasks or arranging cover, and there are even more costly outcomes if litigation and fines follow workers becoming ill.

Be part of the solution

India is, of course, not alone is suffering issues with noise and air pollution emissions. London, England, breached its annual air pollution limits just five days into 2017 for example.

No government can solve these issues alone, so it is important that industries, including chemical engineering, play their part and look to clean up their own processes and procedures to reduce exposure.

A key way to do that is to use available data to accurately identify the sources of emissions through software produced noise and air pollution maps.

With mapping software it is possible to build a visual demonstration of emissions; including where they come from and where they go. The software can be used to generate maps for a single building or an entire country depending on information available and the scope of the project.

Figure 2: Noise around a Building

You don’t need a science degree, acoustic expertise or an engineering background, just a computer and the right bit of software. The maps produced are designed to be widely understandable – they are colour coded for instance and can be in 3D where appropriate so that every aspect of the sound's movement is demonstrated. The software can also animate the maps to show how the emissions move.

With this software at your fingertips, different mitigation options can be investigated. Unlike simple measurements, the software can help identify different sources and show how emissions travel. With measurements only the overall levels can be demonstrated.

As far as chemical engineering is concerned, mapping could help identify the noisiest equipment, whether that’s a reactor, absorber or distillation column or other site equipment. This gives the opportunity to establish whether replacement options could help or if mitigation measures would help.

Mapping can helps when designing chemical engineering processes before they are even begun. Different options to lessen the effect of noise and air pollution can be tried (and the cost calculated) so that the best option is chosen. This can mean trying different sizes or types of barriers for example or selecting different locations for equipment or changing the layout of a facility.

The mapping software can be used to demonstrate the impact of workers and visitors within a facility as well as one wider area around it. If the emissions can’t be sufficiently reduced then mapping can, at the very least, show the areas where personal protective equipment (PPE) is required. Knowing this can ensure safety and reduce costs as it could mean some areas do not need PPE supplied.

Opportunity to develop solutions
The chemical engineering industry has a responsibility to reduce its own noise and air pollution emission levels, to protect workers and their employers as well as the wider environment and economy. It also has a golden opportunity to play a part in developing the solutions to noise and air pollution by creating products that helps to control wider emissions in the future