Clean Air Guide: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Unhealthy Air
What do you know about the environmental pollutants in the air you breathe? Probably not enough.
Results for scientific studies first carried out over the last decade are finally coming in. They show that nitrogen oxide is a key emitter circulating in the air, but is only one of a great many of the radical elements that are seeping into our atmosphere at elevated rates.
Here's what you need to know about air quality, and what you can do to improve the air your breathe.
What Is Smog?
If you've ever left your city to visit an area with less urban development, you'll have noticed the considerable improvement in the air quality. When you return home, the blanketing layer of gray haze is hard to miss, as is and the poor quality air saturating your lungs. What you're witnessing is smog.
Smog is a mixture of air pollutants that form smoke and fog in the air. It is generally formed when ground-level ozone, fine particles, and other chemicals react on hot days.
Ozone in the upper atmosphere protects the Earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, but at ground level, ozone is a highly irritating gas. It forms when two primary pollutants - nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - react in sunlight and stagnant air.
Most nitrogen oxides come from burning fossil fuels, while VOCs are gases that contain carbon, usually emitted by gasoline fumes and solvents, such as those found in some paints. Airborne particles, sometimes called aerosols, are microscopic particles of pollutants that can remain suspended in the air for a considerable length of time. Primary particles include windblown dust and soil, sea spray, pollen, and plant spores.
Smog is caused by a number of contaminants, including exhaust fumes from the millions of vehicles on the road each day, the hundreds of factories pumping pollutants into the air, and microscopic everyday activity that contributes to deteriorated air quality.
Further scientific studies indicate that it's not just smog that you have to watch out for, but organic material. According to a study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "the air you breathe is teeming with more than 1,800 kinds of bacteria, including harmless relatives of microbes associated with bioterrorist attacks."
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
While you can't do anything to protect yourself against outdoor air pollution, you can improve the indoor air quality in your home or office. Here are ten ways to make sure the air you are breathing is healthy air.
- Don't Allow Smoking Indoors
There is no safe level of second hand smoke. Each year, second hand smoke sends 7,500-15,000 children aged 18 months or younger to the hospital. Hundreds of thousands of children will develop respiratory tract infections from second hand smoke this year. It's not even good enough to allow smoking outside of doors or on balconies, as the smoke simply re-enters indoors. Try to designate a smoking area at least 20 feet away from the premises.
- Carbon Monoxide Detector
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that kills over 400 people each year. Carbon monoxide levels can rise very quickly in unventilated areas. Make sure you install a functioning detector in your home, preferably near your bedroom.
- Test for Radon
Scientists estimate that radon causes thousands of deaths annually. Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that occurs naturally in soil and rock and can only be detected through testing.
- Fix Leaks
Rain and high humidity can bring moisture indoors, creating dampness, mold and mildew. Mold aside, dampness is associated with higher risk of wheezing, coughing and asthma symptoms. Check your roof, foundation and basement or crawlspace once a year to catch leaks or moisture problems and route water away from the building's foundation.
- Air Conditioners and Dehumidifiers
Asthma is the leading serious chronic illness of children in the U.S. Help keep asthma triggers away by fixing leaks and drips as soon as they start. Standing water and high humidity encourage the growth of dust mites, mold and mildew, some of the most common triggers that can worsen asthma. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner when needed, and clean both regularly.
Pet allergies can come from an animal's saliva, urine, feces and dead skin cells, so no pet is "hypoallergenic." If someone in your family has pet allergies, keep your pet outdoors. Moving your pet from indoors to out can help reduce exposure to these allergens. However, cat allergens can stay in place for 20 weeks or more. If you must keep your pet indoors, keep it away from primary heavily trafficked areas. Note that toting pets around has become a new fashion statement. If you find pets at the work place or in public areas such as stores and supermarkets, do not hesitate to talk to the manager about these health concerns.
- Dust Mites
Dust allergies are actually a reaction to dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic pests that need moisture to survive. Dust mites feed on human skin, and live in bedding, pillows, mattresses, stuffed toys, upholstery and carpets. Dust mites can be controlled through intensive vacuuming, wood/linoleum floors (versus carpets), and keeping humidity levels below 50% (this can be achieved through a dehumidifier).
- Asbestos Control
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can still be found in many older homes. Inhaling tiny asbestos fibers can increase the risk of lung cancer and other lung diseases. Pipe coverings, flooring, shingles and roofs are likely places to find asbestos.
Proper ventilation is one of the best ways to improve air quality (provided that the outside air is not worse than indoor air). High levels of moisture in your home increase dampness and the growth of mold, which not only damage your home but threaten health. Dampness and mold are linked to increased wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks in people with allergies. Consider investing in a UV Air Purifier that removes allergens as well as odors and infectious microorganisms.
Avoid using carpet whenever possible. Carpet traps unhealthy particles - including chemicals, dust mites, pet dander, dirt and fungi - and vacuuming can make them airborne. If you do have carpets, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to ensure better air quality. Hard surface flooring, like wood, tile or cork can be readily cleaned by damp mopping.
With these ten steps, you should be well on your way to cleaner indoor air. To further protect yourself from poor indoor air quality, click here to see our selection of air purifiers.
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