We’ve all had one of those moments where, for whatever reason—be it painting the house, varnishing the floors, or hanging out on a farm—we leave an area of unclean air, and suddenly we can breathe deep again. The feeling of fresh, clean air in our lungs is one of the great pleasures of existence. Intuitively, most of us understand that having clean air to breathe is essential for our wellbeing and health.
Many of us are also aware of how pollution and other airborne toxins and fumes can disrupt breathing. We know that we should cover our nose and mouth with a cloth in the case of a fire, so we don’t breathe in the smoke. We know that jobs like coal mining or extermination result in breathing in chemicals that are bad for us, and extra precautions are needed.
This being said, not all of us are aware of the increasing levels of contaminants and pollutants in the air we breathe every day. The following will explore some of the things you should know about clean air and the solutions available to help protect ourselves and future generations from harm.
What Is Unclean Air?
Air pollution refers to particles or gases that can reach harmful concentration levels either indoors or outdoors. The most apparent pollutants are mold, methane, soot, smoke, pollen, and carbon dioxide, but there are actually thousands of possible contaminants in the air depending on where you live, work, and what industries are close to you.
To help you understand this article and others, the United States measures outdoor air pollution by the Air Quality Index (sometimes referred to as AQI). This metric rates the condition of the air based on five significant categories of pollutants:
- Ground-level ozone
- Carbon monoxide
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Particle pollution (sometimes also called particulate matter)
These are the five primary outdoor pollutants, but of course, they can also be found indoors. Studies have consistently shown that the air is five to ten times more polluted inside our homes and workplaces (both urban and rural) than outdoors. Indoor air pollution tends to be thought of as the following, but there are many other types of indoor pollution:
- Cigarette smoke
- Volatile organic compounds (sometimes also called VOCs)
What Effect Does Unclean Air Have?
Unclean air has many severe health implications and can, in some cases, lead to death. In 2016 it was estimated that there were 4.2 million premature deaths due to bad outdoor air quality. The majority of these deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries. Indoor smoke continues to be a major factor as billions of people cook and heat their homes via burning coal, kerosine, or biomass.
Air pollution has been connected to long-term issues like higher rates of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. Studies conducted by the American Lung Association have estimated that in the United States, almost 134 million people (that’s over 40% of the population) are at risk of disease or premature death due to air pollution. In the short term, air pollution can cause problems such as headaches, dizziness, coughing, sneezing, and eye irritation.
What Can Be Done?
On an individual level, there are two ways to reduce your risk. First, seek out and use products (especially when it comes to home projects or cleaning) that have lower levels or no volatile organic compounds.
Ensuring adequate ventilation, installing radon and carbon monoxide alarms (in addition to your regular smoke detectors), running exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom, and avoiding smoking indoors can also help. Experts at topairsystems.com recommend specialized equipment if your workplace is dealing with chemicals or solvents that release fumes. Air filtration systems are a fantastic option for everyone, but in particular, those who suffer from allergies and asthma.
On a large scale, governments and agencies around the world are working to reduce pollution on a global scale. Changing energy sources and updating regulation to require better testing and measurement of emissions are a few of the methods being employed. Nonprofits and charity organizations are also working on bringing cleaner cooking options to homes where dangerous cookstoves are being used. Results have been varied.
The above information should be enough to get you started learning about clean air solutions. If for any reason you feel like the air where you are is contaminated (if it smells or tastes strange, if you get sudden headaches or dizziness, or if you have trouble breathing without congestion), it is advised that you leave immediately and contact your local poison control center from a safe location.