Tag Archives: Environment

In Praise of Breathing

imagesW12DCB8TNo, I do not wear a gas mask.  But … air quality is a life and death matter in my life.  Literally.

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.

Atlanta-traffic-is-bad-but-LA’s-is-the-worst[1]PM 2.5 cause a statistically significant increase in heart attacks, cardiac disease, asthma, lung cancer, and C.O.P.D.  They exacerbate high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure and even dementia.

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.

The Best New Things in My Life for Health Lungs and Freedom on Bad Air Days
(and my reason for writing this post in the first place)

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)


GPC20GPX1-IMS-en_US[1]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

  1. Check your local air quality on-line regularly. Check Southern California here, or elsewhere in the United States, Canada, and other countries here.
  2. Sign up for air quality alerts if you live in an area with periodically high levels of air pollution.
  3. Buy HEPA filters for your home ventilation system and change them every two months.  These remove PM 2.5.
  4. Encase your mattress and pillows in allergy barriers.  Fine particulates accumulate in pillows and mattresses, then enter our lungs while we are asleep.
  5. images5L4WWW18Remove living plants from your bedroom.  The soil generates stuff that can exacerbate breathing and heart problems.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Have your chimney cleaned by a chimney sweep every few years.
  14. Don’t burn wood in your fireplace.  Use natural gas.
  15. Eliminate all sources of mold in your home.
  16. 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.)
  17. Do your part to create clean air for everyone!

P22-LA-Skyline_steve-winter_479x238[1]Please add share your experience and tips by posting a comment.   Good health and good breathing!

Photo credits:  Gas Mask by Alex Carata; Los Angeles Traffic by Kevork Djansezian; Mountain Lion in Los Angeles by Steve Winter.


My New Best Things in the World

New best things don’t have to be big.  Small ones can still make a big difference or just make us hugely happy.  MIne fit into both categories.

#1 New Best Thing:  Special eyeglasses made for the exact distance between my eyes and my cumputer screen, and well as the music on my piano.  I even picked a super fashionable set of frames.  I call them my “writing glasses.”  They reduce my eye fatigue–and therefore my overall fatigue–and make it possible for me to write for three times longer each day than I’ve been able to do for the past couple years.  Hooray!  They’ve changed my life radically.  Small change…big difference.

#2 New Best Thing:  Replacing carpet with wood floors.  This is always #1 or #2 on doctors’ list for people with respiratory problems but I couldn’t believe it would make enough difference to be worth the money.  Last month we took a bite out of of checkbook and replaced the carpet in half the house with wood floors.  Within days, I could breath better.  On days with dangerously bad air quality (for me), I no longer had to be sequested to a little room with a purifier running.  I could be in my family room, eat at the kitchen table, help cook meals, look outside at my garden.  My quality of life improved 800%.  I’m eager to pull up the carpet in the rest of the house but the checkbook needs to recover first.

Of course, neither of these best new things will bring about world peace, or the second coming of Christ, but my life way better and for now, that’s good enough for me!

Learning:  Even small changes can make a huge difference.  Keep trying small tweaks and be surprised.

Life in a Bomb Shelter

Pantry Shelf in My Bomb Shelter House

O.K., my house isn’t really a bomb shelter.  But for ten days, it felt like it was I’ve wanted strong pollution standards for a long time, but now it’s gotten personal.  Maybe it has for you, too.  If so, here’s help.

In addition to air conditioning, three room air purifiers, and a HEPA filter on my cold air return.  I just added two new Austin air purifiers(www.austinair.com).  The new ones make it possible for me to live in my whole house–although often I can’t stay in the kitchen long enough to do the dishes! Sometimes, I’m still stuck in just one room to breathe without complications.

I can do everything in my control to be healthy, and still risk my health when I go outside if the air quality is poor.  I’m eager for everything we can do to cut air pollution, including the newly approved standards on clean air.  Air quality affects both quality and length of life for many of us.

Right now, everything I do outdoors–running errands, watering my garden, or meeting a friend for lunch–depends on checking hourly updates from the Air Quality Management District (www.AQMD.gov).  On the air quality index, zero-50 is good; 51- 100 (yellow) is dangerous for highly sensitive people (that includes me); 101-150 is dangerous for young children, the elderly and those with respiratory or heart conditions.  At 151-200 (red), everyone should limit outdoor exertion, and 201-250 (maroon) is dangerous for everyoneCheck out the website: the info’s good and the animation’s fun.

According to my doctor, many of us begin having trouble when the index reaches only 70.  Wow!  At 70, I turn on my air purifying technology, and at 100, try not to go outdoors at all.  Add the negative impact of high temperatures for heart patients, and I’m cooked!

I had no idea that air pollution could cause such problems until they landed on my doorstep with myasthma and heart issues.  As a claustrophobic extrovert who loves being outdoors, I can’t stand it!!!

A rose in my garden

Good news:  I came out of my bomb shelter Monday and took deep breaths of clean air.  It’s lasted all week.  I took my dogs for a walk one day, partied outdoors one evening, and gardened today.  I kept the windows open every night.

I plan to go wild this weekend! I’ll drive with my windows down.  I’ll live at an outdoor café.  I’ll visit my favorite stream and listen to water run off the mountain.  I’ll read on my chaise lounge, and linger over meals on the patio.  It sounds really tame, but compared to last week, it’s sheer decadence!

I’ll retreat to my bomb shelter next week and go nuts again.   Maybe I’ll decorate my facemasks with colored ink or sequins this time.  I gotta find a way to make this fun!

Learning:  Inside the bomb shelter or out (whatever your bomb shelter is), be creative with it.  Life’s better that way.