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Do You Know these 5 Myths About Air Pollution?

Do You Know these 5 Myths About Air Pollution?

Are you worried about the air pollution in your area? With the Californian wildfires decimating large areas of forest and grassland across the state, air quality was terrible for the residents of the Golden State in 2019 and 2020. However, it's not only in the US; Australia also saw rampant wildfires, and so did many dry regions of the world.

Couple this issue with problems from manufacturing emissions, and it's not surprising to see dangerous smog levels in cities like Los Angeles and Beijing. The problems caused by air pollution affect human health and the environment.

While the attention is one industry and manufacturing, more companies and experts are looking at air quality in the home and how it influences our health. Your home might not be as safe as you think it is, with local pollutants entering the air inside your residence.

So, what's the real deal with air pollution? What are its effects on the environment and inside the home? There's a lot of conflicting information online about air pollutants and how they affect our health. This post unpacks five myths about air pollution.

Myth #1 – You Can See All Air Pollution

When water is undrinkable, it has a cloudy look and a strange smell; if food goes bad, it develops mold and spoils. So, how can you tell if the air inside your home is bad? If you look out at the horizon and see smoke billowing into the air, it's easy to assume that the air is not great in that area.

However, VOCs and other pollutants in the home don't have any color or appearance. So, how can you tell if the air is in need of remediation? Invisible particles like carbon monoxide and ozone are too small to see with the naked eye, and unless you have a trained smell, you probably won't notice any odor either.

There are two types of contaminants in the air, and we'll take a quick look at them before moving on.

Biological Contaminants in the Air

The first category of air pollutants is biological. These particles typically occur seasonally, such as pollen and dust. It's relatively easy to spot dust and pollen clouds, but you might not see mold spores floating in the air.

Some of the hard-to-see microscopic particulate contaminants in the air include the following.

  • Fungal and mold spores.

  • Viral and bacterial organisms.

  • Allergens spread through dust mites.

 

Gaseous pollutants in the air

The second category of particulate contaminants is the gaseous compounds. These chemicals can collect inside and outside the home, causing health issues involving the respiratory and nervous systems.

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

This harmful gas affects the brain and nervous system, as well as the body. It's a byproduct of burning fossil fuels like gasoline and nat gas.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Gas stoves and heaters generate NO2, and it's a common outdoor pollutant produced by power plants and vehicles.

Dust and Particulate Matter

If the dust is under 2.5-microns in size, you're not going to spot it with the naked eye. Inhaling these fine particles into your lungs causes respiratory distress.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

VOCs occur in the manufacturing industry and in the use of consumer products. VOCs can come in products like hair spray or even in new clothes. Some VOCs, like formaldehyde, can have severe adverse effects on the body with prolonged exposure.

Ozone

This gas exists in the upper atmosphere. However, when some pollutants interact with the nitrogen present at ground level, it results in the formation of ground-level ozone. This compound contributes to the creation of smog in cities.

Lead

Consumer items like cosmetics and paint release VOCs into the atmosphere.

Myth #2 – Air Pollution in China is Worse than the United States

Many of us hear news reports about how bad the air quality is in China, especially in the mega-cities of Shanghai and Beijing. With heavy industry close to the cities, many of them suffer from the effects of smog and low air quality throughout the year.

It might seem like the air quality in the United States is much better than in China, right?

However, the reality is that air quality in the United States is, at times, worse than any Chinese city. For example, California's 2019 and 2020 wildfires turned the skies orange-red during the daytime, almost blocking out the sunlight.

Air quality in these conditions is far worse than anything experienced in Beijing or Shanghai.

Around mid-June to July, the Northwestern Saharan desert experiences the start of the weather conditions that lead to the onset of hurricane season in the US. The winds blow over the desert, picking up dust and sand particles, throwing them thousands of feet into the air.

The dust travels high into the atmosphere, where it travels all the way to Florida and the Eastern seaboard of the US. As a result of the dust, Floridians and other southeastern states along the coastline see a drop in air quality for a few weeks each year.  

To give you an example of the effect of wildfires on air quality, Seattle reached AQI (Air Quality Index) levels of between 150 to 200 for weeks as forest fires raged. In contrast, Beijing's air quality levels were in the 30s for the same period.

With the US government cutting back on budgets for cleaning forest floors, we can expect these seasonal fires to become the new normal each summer. The continuing drought along the western seaboard also means that there is a lot of dry fuel available for the next wildfire season.

 

Myth #3 – Seasonal Allergens Only Exist Outside the Home

Some individuals experience issues with seasonal allergies in the spring, summer, or wintertime. Typically, these allergies present as the seasons change, leading to the term "seasonal sickness." Pollen is an example of a seasonal allergen causing respiratory problems in people with sensitivity to the organic material.

It's common for some people to avoid going outdoors when pollen levels are high, or there's plenty of dust particles in the air. However, you might not be as safe in your home as you think. Research shows that air quality levels in the house might be even worse than those outdoors.

One study shows that pollen concentrations found inside the home are up to 2.5-times higher than those outside. Pollen can travel in the air for great distances, entering the home through open doors and windows where it settles on clothing, surfaces, and furniture.

Some common allergens found in the home include pet dander, dust, dust mites, and mold. These allergens can create havoc with your health, and there's no way to detect if they are present in the home.

If you have allergies, you can prevent attacks by following the following tips.

  • Clean your home regularly to prevent mold growth and accumulation of dust and pet dander.

  • Keep the doors and windows closed during the allergy season.

  • Wash all your clothing after use, as allergens can stick to clothing.

  • Keep your pets off your bed and couch.

Some particulate matter can cause severe problems with your health. Mold is a real problem inside the home. This pathogen is microscopic, and you can't see it floating in the air column. As a result, it might end up settling in an area of the home, like a dark basement, and start spreading.

If you notice that the air in your home smells musty, there's a good chance you have a mold infestation. Breathing in mold spores can cause severe adverse health effects on you and your family. The mycotoxins found in some mold varieties, like black mold, can cause problems with the organs, respiratory system, and central nervous system.

The only way to be sure if you have a mold pr0poblem in your home is to use a mold detection service. The team at MI&T offers you a world-class mold detection service utilizing the latest technology. They'll inspect your home and give you a report on anything they find.

While MI&T isn't a mold removal company, they can help you with instructions to remove the mold yourself. As a third-party, unbiased mold inspection team, they don't contract with mold cleaning companies. The result is a clean, impartial report on the current status of the air quality in your home.

Myth #4 – Air Quality in the Countryside Is Better than in Cities

You might think that climbing a mountain peak or getting out onto public land allows you to enjoy better air quality. However, research shows that this might not be the case. 

Even national parks and public land located miles away from cities can experience low air quality. A 2018 study shows that the air quality in 33 of the country's National Parks, including Yosemite and Yellowstone, was only marginally better than the air quality in cities. 

The same study also shows that ozone levels in these rural areas are actually higher than those in cities. The pollution drifts out from the cities, wandering onto public land and into National Parks.

Myth #5 – Air Quality Indoors Is Better than Outdoors

When you're sitting at home, staring out of the bay window, it's easy to get a false sense of comfort. If you see smoke pollution on the horizon, you're probably grateful you don't live anywhere near that location.

However, research shows that the air quality inside your home can actually be worse than outside. As mentioned, according to reports from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), air quality in the house could be 2.5-timers worse than outdoors.

Particle pollution from dust, mold and other sources may dramatically lower air quality. These pollutants enter the home in the air brought in from outside. They hang around in the air column inside the house where they accumulate.

The release of VOCs from new construction and consumer products also contributes to elevated levels of VOCs in the home and lower air quality. Fortunately, as the home is a closed environment, you can control the outcome of the air you breathe.

Here are a few easy steps to take to improve the air quality in your home.

Sources

Identifying the sources of pollutants entering your home is the first place to start. Controlling humidity in the home and stopping habits like smoking inside the home can dramatically improve air quality. Use consumer products with low VOC emissions, and keep windows and doors closed when there's pollen or dust in the air.

Ventilation and Airflow

Improving the airflow and ventilation in your home is the best way to control the air quality. Installing an HVAC or air-conditioner is a great way to ensure you get high-quality air inside the home. However, these devices require periodic maintenance of the air filters and components to keep them running effectively and efficiently.

Regular Maintenance and Cleaning

Make sure you keep the surfaces and unseen areas around your home clean. Mold spores can float into the home and take up residence in places where you might not find them. Make sure to check your home periodically for signs of mold, or call an inspection service to review the air quality.

How Can I Reduce VOCs and Other Airborne Chemicals Inside My Home?

As mentioned, controlling the air environment in your home is possible using an air conditioner or HVAC system. However, reducing your consumption of products like air fresheners and other aerosols that release VOCs is a great option.

Many consumer products now feature labeling telling the consumer if they have low VOCs. Cosmetics and personal care items are some of the biggest causes of VOCs in the home.

If you're moving into a new home, make sure you call MI&T for an air quality inspection. If you walk into your home, and it smells like vinegar, it means that there is a large concentration of VOCs in the air. The inspection team gives you a report on the air quality and suggestions on how to remediate the air.

If you're painting the interior of your home, choose paint brands with low VOC emissions. VOC emissions can even come from new clothing or unrolling new mattresses for the first time. The solvents and glues used in the manufacturing process take time to gas off.

Add "air-scrubbing" plants to the rooms inside your home. The snake plant is an excellent example of a plant that cleans the air while providing the space with a visual enhancement.

How Can I Create Better Air Quality At a Community Level?

Responsible individuals can change their behavior to reduce the amount of pollution they create. Walking or biking, or using public transport saves on gas emissions. Planting trees and other plants help to absorb CO2 and other pollutants out of the air.

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