Air Pollution … the silent killer lurking in your home
8 Minute Read
As we segue into the season of staying indoors (a.k.a., my least favorite 6 months of the year), there’s something we gotta discuss. It’s invisible. It’s everywhere. And you simply can’t live without it. But depending on the quality of it you’re surrounding yourself with, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way. I’m talking about . . . air. Or more specifically, air pollution.
Clean air is something that most of us in the developed world take for granted. But just because we can’t see something, doesn’t mean it can’t hurt us.
Did you know that 1 out of 9 deaths is caused by air pollution?
(Source: The World Health Organization)
That’s a lot.
And the tiniest of airborne particles can penetrate your lungs and bloodstream. This leads to bronchitis, heart disease, heart attacks, throat/eye irritation, lung cancer, asthma, and stroke among other things (NRDC).
The World Health Organization has even labelled air pollution as the biggest environmental risk to health. Which is a pretty big statement considering all of the other life-threatening things all over the damn place.
And since this isn’t something people are talking about, I wanna make sure you know what you’re breathing in and potentially being exposed to, so you can take steps to surround yourself with the cleanest air possible. And to encourage you to reduce your contribution to local air pollution.
There are different types of air pollution, but to break it down real simple, we’re gonna group them into 2 main categories: outdoor and indoor.
Outdoor air pollution
Outdoor air pollution is caused by fossil fuel emissions (things like cars and factories), construction sites, greenhouse gases, dust, ash, dirt/gravel roads, and fires.
The scary part about outdoor air pollution is: it’s hard to tell if you’re being affected by it since it’s “found everywhere – not just in haze, smoke, and dust, but also in air that looks clean” (Environmental Protection Agency). These small particles can also travel pretty freakin’ far, so it’s sometimes hard to even know where they’re coming from.
Now I know that outdoor air pollution can seem like a problem that’s out of your control since. After all, it comes from sources you have nothing to do with. But what you can do is minimize your contribution to local air pollution by carpooling, using public transportation, or switching to a vehicle that has little-to-no carbon emissions (like an electric car or a hybrid).
Side note: You can find out what the air pollution is like in your area by heading to the Air Now website. It isn’t a huge site, so it doesn’t have data points for everywhere. But it’s worth looking at if you wanna see if local air pollution is something you need to be concerned about.
Household or indoor air pollution
This is the second category you need to be aware of. You’d probably be surprised to learn that indoor air quality can actually be much worse than outdoor air, even in the most developed cities.
And the scary thing about indoor air pollution is that it often comes from products we think are safe. The most common sources are fragrances; cleaners; pesticides; insecticides; the burning of wood, charcoal, and coal; and formaldehyde (found in things like paint, hairspray, rug cleaners, and even in your furniture). And, to top it all off, outdoor air pollution also finds its way into your home through doors, vents, and windows, creating a nasty cocktail of air pollution just waiting for you to suck it in.
The other day, I was sitting in my living room and streak of direct light was shining in through the south-facing window. As the light shone in, I saw these little flecks of dust reflecting off of light, swirling all over the place. And it got me thinking, because here I was, chilling in my living room, thinking I was breathing in clean air. There were no smells; no smoke or smog. But this streak of light showed me all of the hidden particles floating in that air.
There are so many construction sites around my apartment right now. And a renovation is going on in the apartment downstairs. And so seeing what was *harmlessly floating in the air* really freaked me out. There was a lot more under the surface than I thought. And it made me realize that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I think that’s what scares me the most.
We’re exposed to so many things on a daily basis without even knowing it! Like: do we really know what’s in our food, the air we breathe, or the water we drink? We like to think we can trust the government to regulate our exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins, and to protect us from anything that could hurt or even kill us, but there are so many silent killers in the products and foods that we surround ourself with.
In bringing it back to indoor air pollution, the good news is that it’s something you have control of, so there’s more opportunity to take precautions and make sure that the air you’re breathing in your home is clean and safe.
Here are some tips for minimizing indoor air pollution:
1. Open your windows and doors as often as possible to create more air circulation (yess . . . even in the winter!).
2. Get some indoor plants . . . they’re more than just pretty. They clean that air like a motherf***er! Bamboo palms are one of the best air-purifying plants, but so are pothos, spider plants, and the plant with the best name in the world: mother-in-law’s tongue. You gotta wonder who the hell came up with that name, but they musta had an intense mother-in-law!!
3. Before buying anymore cleaning supplies, check out this article from the American Lung Association for things to avoid and look out for when buying and using cleaning products.
4. Avoid chemical cleaners like the plague, and opt for natural, non-toxic ones instead. Seventh Generation, Dr Bronner’s and Benefect are safe, trustworthy brands. I’ve also got an entire blog post dedicated to eco-friendly cleaning products that you might find helpful.
5. Mop your floors with water to trap indoor air particles.
6. Don’t underestimate the power of ventilation when you’re cooking or using your fireplace. That kitchen vent above your stove is more valuable than you think. I know I definitely don’t use mine as much as I should, but I’m definitely gonna do better – starting now!
7. When using cleaning and household products, make sure you’re properly ventilating the area you’re working in and are opening up windows whenever possible.
8. Make sure to properly the close lids on paint cans, household cleaners, and any other chemicals to keep them from evaporating into the air.
9. Finally, an easy but more expensive way of getting rid of indoor air pollution is by investing in an air purifier or ionizer.
Air Purifiers vs. Ionizers
Air purifiers and ionizers are a great solution for reducing indoor air pollution. An air purifier sucks air in and filters it, while an ionizer sends out charged ions to bond with contaminants, which are then removed from the air. Generally, an ionizer can cover more area and costs less because it doesn’t require frequent filter replacements.
When considering an air purifier, it’s important to know that not all air purifiers are created equal. Some purifiers actually produce ozone, which is a molecule that can cause lung damage, respiratory issues, and throat irritation. Back in the day, ozone was believed to be good at purifying air, but recent research shows that it’s a major health hazard. Before buying an air purifier, make sure to cross-check your top pick with this California Certified Air Cleaning Devices chart by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Here’s one by Honeywell that’s CARB certified and gets great reviews across the board.
When looking for an Ionizer, you should buy one that either doesn’t have an ozone generator (which is rare and hard to find for ionizers), or one that has an ozone generator that can be manually turned off. The Ivation ionizer fits the bill as it allows you to turn off its ozone generator. Added bonus: you never have to replace any filters.
So, now that you’ve got some different hacks for lowering the air pollution in and around your home, what’s the one tip you’re gonna implement starting today?