If you already have heart or lung problems and live in an area with poor air quality or commute in traffic, air pollution is already making your life harder and injuring your health. If you are healthy, the damaging effects of air pollution will be evident long-term. Fear not. I have good news about how to make sure you breathe clean air and protect your health. I am living proof that the suggestions below make a difference.
First, a few words about why air quality matters. No matter how healthy we are right now, breathing the fine particles in air pollution has a cumulative negative effect, much as eating an unhealthy diet has a cumulative impact on our health, longevity, and quality of life.
Large particles in the air such smoke and dust are easily visible. Bad as they are, however, they are not the super dangerous stuff. It is the smaller stuff that gets us. These are known as fine particulates, or PM 2.5. Thirty times smaller than a human hair, PM 2.5 scars the tiny air passages in our lungs that transfer oxygen into the blood, permanently reducing our lung function over time. Even worse, they are small enough to move through the blood into the rest of the body. They travel to our heart, brain, and other organs, causing both short- and long-term damage.
Here is some good news: A landmark study published this week demonstrates that reducing air pollution in Los Angeles over the past two decades has had a statistically significant impact on children’s health. Scientists at the University of Southern California found that “Millennial children living in Southern California are breathing easier, have stronger lungs and suffer fewer respiratory problems than children who grew up with dirtier air in the 1990s,” writes Steve Scauzillo of the Los Angeles News Group (3/5/15). Said James Gauderman at the Keck School of Medicine, Between 1990 and 2010, air pollution decreased by nearly in the Los Angeles basin. During that time, the number of 15-year-olds with significant lung deficits decreased by more than 50%. Additionally, children’s lungs from the end of the study were larger than those of children from the early part of the research period. This is the first research to demonstrate such definitive results.
While all of us work on cleaning the air in our exterior environment, there is much you can do to make the air you breath in your home, office and car healthy. Taking the steps will keep you healthier and help you feel better. All of these (except #16) are part of my life now and make a difference. (Number 16 is beyond my budget.) Some can be found on brochures in doctors’ offices or on the links I have included. Others come from my experience and that of friends. If you have suggestions or links to share, please include them in a comment.
1. Best Low Tech: The Chimney Plug. Imagine a plastic pillow that snugs beneath the damper in your fireplace. When I read about this as a device for reducing drafts and saving on energy cost (winter and summer), I realized it could also improve the efficiency of my air purifiers by preventing particulates and air pollution from entering my house through the fireplace. Within one day of putting in chimney plugs, the air quality in my house was so good that I ate dinner and watched a movie in our family room, even with gross air outside. I bought the Chimney Plug for $55.00 on-line. (Also available on Amazon)
2. Best New High Tech Thing in My Life: The GoPure Car Air Purifier. This plugs into a 12v charger. It has medical quality HEPA and HESA filters that remove PM 2.5, VOCs, and odors. It is the only one I found with this quality of filtration and the only one that does not create ozone. It is pricey ($135.00), but worth it. This gadget helps you stay healthy and breathe freely no matter how much time you spend in traffic. Mark and I tested it recently by driving across Los Angeles to the coast when the AQI (Air Quality Index) was dangerously high at 167. The drive took more than 90 minutes each way, but our air stayed so clean that I was symptom free the entire time. Without a GoPure, I would have been ill within ten minutes. This gave me the freedom to linger over ceviche and beer at the beach, and make it home still feeling great. Freedom!
Other Steps You Can Take to Breathe Better Right Now
- Check your local air quality on-line regularly. Check Southern California here, or elsewhere in the United States, Canada, and other countries here.
- Sign up for air quality alerts if you live in an area with periodically high levels of air pollution.
- Buy HEPA filters for your home ventilation system and change them every two months. These remove PM 2.5.
- Encase your mattress and pillows in allergy barriers. Fine particulates accumulate in pillows and mattresses, then enter our lungs while we are asleep.
- Remove living plants from your bedroom. The soil generates stuff that can exacerbate breathing and heart problems.
- Buy a HEPA filter for your vacuum cleaner. HEPA filters are the only ones that remove PM 2.5, so always look for HEPA on filters and purifiers.
- Buy a HEPA room air purifier, at least for your bedroom. It does not have to be expensive, just make sure it Is HEPA standard, appropriate for the size of your room, and does not create ozone. These can be quiet and unobtrusive. Many have washable filters. They are available at Target, Best Buy, Sears, and on-line. I have seven and use them through-out the house on poor air days. When the air is poor, close your windows and turn on the air purifiers.
- Use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies.
- Replace wall-to-wall carpet with hard surface flooring. It is astounding how much dust, dirt, and dander accumulates in carpet. Work with a company attuned to air quality issues and VOCs. Make sure the new flooring does not contain formaldehyde.
- If you already have heart or lung problems, wear a mask when dusting, trimming the garden, or grooming your pets. I often forget to do this until partway through the project and then regret my forgetfulness. If I will be around VOCs and fumes, I use masks from the hardware store. Since I feel like I am suffocating in those, however, I prefer lightweight medical masks from the drug store for other tasks.
- If you insist on cycling to work when the air is gross, wear a lightweight medical mask such as above. A hardware store mask would not allow enough oxygen to get to your lungs.
- Keep your floors particulate free by using a Roomba (robotic vacuum) every few days. A Roomba keeps you from having to make time to vacuum constantly but eliminates the residue of air pollution. These are available at Costco and on-line.
- Have your chimney cleaned by a chimney sweep every few years.
- Don’t burn wood in your fireplace. Use natural gas.
- Eliminate all sources of mold in your home.
- Replace your air conditioner. Buy one that filters PM 2.5 and VOCs. The difference this makes is astounding and life-saving. (This one is still on my wish list. I have done everything else but this. All that stands in the way is ….. money.)
- Do your part to create clean air for everyone!
Photo credits: Gas Mask by Alex Carata; Los Angeles Traffic by Kevork Djansezian; Mountain Lion in Los Angeles by Steve Winter.