You probably know about air pollution but don't know what to do about the problem. If you've been reading my 3-part series on air pollution for a while now, then you've read the first two installments:
So here's the deal...
This blog post will finally give you solutions. In fact, I lay out 14 different strategies you can use to lower your exposure. I also tell you how to measure your exposure so that you can make a ballpark estimate of how air pollution is affecting you.
Ready for a tour de force? Here we go:
In this section I'll tell you why measuring air quality is necessary - at least, if you want to control and minimize the air pollution you're exposed to.
Remember that I laid out thirteen different air pollutant categories in the previous blog post. Measuring all these pollutants would be very time-consuming.
Don't worry though: you don't have to measure every air pollutant in your environment.
I'll tell you why soon...
Air quality is measured 24-7 in most of the developed world. That real-time data allows you can estimate the air quality in your environment.
Estimate is the key word there though...
Before reading any further, make sure you get an estimate of the air quality at your location.
(For nerds: besides local measurements of emissions, satellites, and air transport models of pollutants add additional predictive power to such measurements.)
That air quality index bright side is that many outdoor air pollutants I consider most important are taken into account in that index:
The bad news?
Not every station around the world is equipped to measure all pollutants. Only PM2.5 or PM10 are measured routinely, for example.
In almost all cases I recommend taking some measurements into your own hands.
Let me tell you why...
You cannot exclusively rely on the air quality index that's measured close to your working or living place.
The air quality map I've posted above only give you a general impression of what to expect in your living and working area. A general impression is just that: a general impression or estimate.
Why my recommendation?
Well, air quality can vary a lot within half a mile distance.
(Even though I've made the same argument in my guide about particulate matter, I'll include it here for completion sake.)
Don't believe me?
Look at the maps of different cities below. First London:
Observe that in the city center there's more than a 2-fold difference between the 23 and 56 readings, even though these readings are made a few blocks apart.
Then there's Bangkok:
Again, the difference between 53 and 129 is more than 2-fold within a two block distance. Then, lastly, there's Sao Paolo:
In this case, just one street makes the difference between a 34 and 59 reading.
All of these readings, moreover, also change quickly when the wind turns direction or wind speeds ramp up or slow down.
Sunlight that suddenly reaches the earth's surface (when clouds dissipate) create lots of ozone in an instant, changes in traffic may create new pollutant patterns (particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide), and industry that turns on affect almost all readings instantly in a given place.
Let me make it even clearer why the air quality index of your environment only gives you a general impression:
Air quality is thus a decentralized and local phenomenon.
A 28 - 59 air quality reading in Sao Paolo on the map above thus only tells you that overall air quality is good to average.
And if you look at Bangkok, you observe that no area is really safe.
To get real-time estimate of the air quality at your location, I recommend getting an air quality meter.
For a budget option, click the following picture:
PM2.5 is one of the most important air pollutants out there.
For a higher-quality option click the following picture:
That higher-quality air quality monitor measures particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), two VOC indications (formaldehyde and total VOCs), temperature, and humidity.
I don't recommend getting independent testing equipment for nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone.
In most cases, higher particulate matter levels are associated with higher nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone levels, and vice versa.
Most of these air pollutants have the same sources, such as industry, energy production, and fossil fuels used in transportation.
Of course, if you do want maximum certainty, by all means buy testing equipment for nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone.
More testing is always better, although I'm not describing how to do so in this blog post series. I'm just supplying you with an account that works for most people.
You're probably part of "most people", and this blog post series will this help you.
Moreover, I would only recommend testing for cadmium or lead - the heavy metals treated before - when you strongly suspect you're exposed to higher levels.
If you're living near industry where metal is smelted you could consider testing for cadmium. Battery production, mining, waste incineration other types of metalwork are other instances in which cadmium testing is advised.
You can buy a heavy metal test (to test blood levels) here.
Dictum: know thy environment (as opposed to "know thyself").
The air quality meter displayed above thus covers most outdoor air pollution instances. But what about indoor air pollution?
Let's find out...
Remember that the main indoor air pollutants (covered in this guide) are:
Let's go over these options one by one.
To test for radon, firstly, you simply need a radon testing kit.
Homes, school, and workplaces can be tested with such a kit. If you want to test (many) different locations, I'd recommend buying an electronic radon detector.
Secondly, indoor testing of carbon monoxide is highly recommended as a general insurance policy:
The best solution to carbon monoxide poisoning (or even breathing the substance without symptoms appearing) is to use carbon monoxide meters near critical places such as central heating systems.[52; 53]
Click the image below to find a carbon monoxide meter:
Measuring carbon monoxide output at critical locations prevents most of the damage from occurring in the first place. Remember that low exposure levels, once they becomes high enough, are damaging.
You may think: "but what I you do get poisoned?"
Analyzing carbon monoxide in your breath can only yields information about your short-term exposure levels. Regular oxygen saturation tests are also useless for spotting poisoning.
A blood test is a better solution. But if you get above a certain threshold on that lab test, you'll only know that you've been previously exposed to carbon monoxide--you don't know for how long you're exposed or what the expected development will be...
The most important solution is to remove yourself from the situation and use oxygen therapy (at the hospital). Of course, also remove the source of CO poisoning (in your home)
Additionally, there's CO's cousin:
Thirdly, "how about carbon dioxide?"
You may think: " Sure, you can measure carbon dioxide levels but is that really necessary?"
Carbon dioxide detectors are not cheap, unfortunately, as they're not as widely used as carbon monoxide meters.
(You can buy a carbon dioxide detector HERE.)
But why measure your carbon dioxide levels in the first place?
CO2 levels give you an indication when you should open up your windows. Many people have no clue how high their indoor carbon dioxide levels get without actual measurement.
Gut feelings are not good enough...
Remember: you can increase brain performance and well-being by simply making sure enough clean air enters the building you're in. Taking care of CO2 in your indoor environment is one of the simplest air quality actions you can take...
Testing for toxic mold, fourthly, is more complex.
Visual cues are the best way of finding out whether buildings are water damaged.
Beware of false negatives when going off visual cues though: if you see water damage or mold, it's safe to assume that the environment is toxic. If you don't see water damage or mold, however, you cannot definitively conclude that you're 100% safe.
Mold diagnosis is highly complex.
Click HERE for a methodology that can be used to rule mold toxicity out (or in).
Lastly: in some instances you may want to test for asbestos.
Answer this question: can it reasonably be expected that asbestos is present in your building?
To answer that question you need to know that buildings constructed before the 1990s are prone to contain asbestos.
Always make sure to inspect older buildings.
The most important sign to look for is the degradation of building materials. Walls, pads on stoves, piping encasement, insulation, vinyl floors, may all have cracks or falling apart. Signs of dust near building material is also problematic.
If building materials are degrading then make sure to test for asbestos.
Never (further) disturb asbestos until it's safely removed from the building.
All basic air pollutant measurements you need to know about.
Now there's just one more air pollution area to cover: reducing your exposure as much as possible.
The good news:
Time to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Well, even in the city you can reduce your air pollutant exposure levels up to 90%.
Let's find out how...
By the way, want a no-fail strategy to reduce your air pollution exposure by up to 90%? Download my 10 air pollution laws infographic below:
I know what you're thinking:
"That list of 13 pollutants was overwhelming."
"There's no safe place on this planet unless I move to the North Pole"
"Air pollution is everywhere in my city so there's nothing I can do"
I know that feeling...
But there's no need to stress.
In this section I'll teach you solutions for air pollution reduction that are simple to understand. The more of these solutions you implement, the lower your exposure (and health risk) will be.
Don't get bogged down by the sheer amount of info: if you just implement two solutions instead of none, you'll still have enormous benefits...
I'll also tell you which strategy lowers which specific air pollutant.
Ready for one last tour de force?
"Abandon all fear, those who enter here..".
Here we go:
(Reduces exposure to carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), radon, and any pollutant associated with cooking or heating)
Yes, sometimes solutions are very simple...
This tip might sound like common sense, but ventilation is absolutely necessary to reduce toxic buildup over time.
Hopefully you've got a view like this when opening your windows...
If buildings are not ventilated gases accumulate over time. Examples are the aforementioned radon and carbon dioxide (CO2).
Just opening your windows a few times a day, for a short period of time, allows these gases to leave the building.
Without opening windows, indoor CO2 levels start to approximate dangerous levels such as 2,000 - 5,000 parts per million over time.
Opening windows thus brings those levels 75 - 90% down.
Opening up your windows all the time can be very damaging to the indoor air quality if you're living in a polluted area.
If you're spending time in buildings next to the highway or airport, opening up your windows will bring many new air pollutants inside (e.g., particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide).
So how should you deal with that situation?
There's a simple rule:
Get a CO2 detector and keep windows open long enough for its levels to come down. If CO2 levels go down radon exposure also goes down.
Once CO2 levels are low again, close your windows so that fewer outdoor air pollutants enter inside.With low CO2 levels you can also reasonably expect that oxygen levels are high again.
An additional situation also exists in which opening windows is highly recommended:
If the levels of indoor pollutants exceed the levels of outdoor pollutants, open your windows until indoor air pollution levels off.
Let's say you're using products that contain lots of VOCs, such as paint, household or "cleaning" products, or preservatives for wood. If you're painting the walls inside your house and you're keeping the windows closed, VOC levels can increase 1,000-fold.
Yes, that 1,000 fold is not a typo.
Using household products that contain VOCs can also increase indoor pollutant levels dramatically. In those cases, it's smarter to temporarily open up your windows to let air pollutants leave your home.
Indoor cooking and heating may necessitate having good ventilation in place.
Remember: most of the yearly air pollution deaths occur because of indoor air pollution.
Using a wood stove or fireplace is especially dangerous.
EPA-certified stoves and fireplaces emit 80-90% lower air pollutants. Additionally, always turn on your range hood when cooking and make sure you've got a chimney for your stove in the first place.
Wood stoves should always be well-maintained as they lose efficiency over time. More pollutants will escape if stoves are not kept airtight. You should be especially careful with burning plastic or waste products - doing so creates extremely toxic pollutants.
If pollutants originate through indoor heating systems they also need to be removed from buildings properly. Of course, opening up windows counteracts the goal of indoor heating-- it's thus important to strike a good balance.
You may think: "who burns wood anyway nowadays?"
Don't presuppose that everyone uses electric cooking methods on this planet.
2 million people are killed on a worldwide basis every year due to indoor cooking with open fires.
"Modern" gas cooking stoves can be dangerous as well, although some contradictory evidence exists.[390; 391; 392] Gas stoves are still widely used in the developed world--again: make sure to use a range hood.
And how about indoor mold? Opening windows won't work--I'll return to that topic soon.
Bottom line: proper indoor ventilation can prevent many indoor air pollutants from building up
And you've got lucky:
The second strategy is just as simple as the first one...
(Reduces exposure to all air outdoor pollutants, depending on circumstance, including nitrogen dioxide, PM0.1 and PM2.5, and carbon monoxide)
If you want to avoid air pollution, you should avoid getting near the smoke emitted from a campfire right?
The same principle applies when you want to avoid air pollution in cities:
Avoiding busy streets, industry, and polluted industry environments can dramatically lower the amount of air pollution you're exposed to.
Yes, it's that simple...
Plan your trips and exercise sessions so that you dramatically reduce the number of air pollutants you're breathing in.
But what if you've got lots of air pollution indoors precisely because you're living in a big city?
In that case:
(Reduces exposure to almost all air pollutants except a few gases)
In my previous blog post on particulate matter's disastrous health effects and strategies to reduce its damaging effects, I've integrated seven existing air purifier reviews. I.e., the outcomes of seven high-quality air purifier reviews were combined into one new review.
With that method I'm ensuring you're getting the highest quality product at the lowest price.
I'll use the results of that review's outcome in this blog post as well.
I've distinguished between 4 categories of air purifiers:
I'll cover the basics of my previous recommendations here--if you want to read the full details, consider the HEPA air purifier installment in my particulate matter blog post series.
Let's first consider what kind of air purifiers I've included in my recommendations:
All of the air purifiers under consideration use 1) "true HEPA filters", together with 2) "carbon filters".
These filters have different purposes. True HEPA filters are targeted towards particles and can capture up to 99,97% of particulate matter (when the filters are working properly). Carbon filters, on the other hand, filter out (most) gases (such as VOCs)
(Prices listed below as per 4 November 2018.)
I've listed the best air purifiers below, together with their testing scores and main features:
But let's say 300+ square feet filtering air purifiers are not good enough for you.
You may even want to filter an entire apartment with one air purifier...
In that case:
The best air purifiers that exist out there.
You want something even better? Get the EnviroKlenz Air Purifier, which is like a Batmobile to a Rolls Royce. Nothing is better but the device is more expensive per square feet that is filtered. The divice especially shines with gases, which is rare!
Again, for a full review and my complete methodology read the air purifier 3rd installment of my particulate matter blog post series. That section also contains many scientific references telling you why I think air purifiers are a great solution.
Oh, one more thing:
While air purifiers can reduce indoor pollutant levels up to 90%, you still need to use air purifiers correctly:
I do recommend buying an air purifier if you're:
If you're located in a smaller city or in buildings outside the city, the question of whether to use purification depends on how bad the air pollution is. In that case, again, you'll need to measure...
You don't need an air purifier if you're:
It's your call...
Your home? No need for an air purifier unless you're smoking inside or using a polluting wood stove.
That's it again...
So what's next?
I'll now tell you how to reduce your allergen, dust (mite), and particulate matter pollution even further:
(Reduces exposure to dust mites, allergens, smaller particles (PM2.5 and PM0.1)
Just like there's a quality difference between regular air filters and HEPA air filters, there's also a difference between regular vacuum cleaners and HEPA vacuum cleaners.
Let me explain why a HEPA vacuum cleaner may yield indoor air quality benefits:
Some particles stay in the air for longer periods of time, such as smaller particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM0.1) or pet dander. These smaller types of pollutants are best cleaned with a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
If you've got allergies, or a lung or heart disease, a HEPA vacuum cleaners also become more important (to maximally lower your particulate matter exposure). And if you're cleaning a home or office because it has leaded paint, then a HEPA vacuum cleaner is highly recommended as well(combined with respirators, which are treated later on).
But note: not everyone needs a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
Don't waste your money...
Being more precise:
Some particles quickly settle on the floor, such as dust (and their resulting dust mites). For those types of pollutants you just need regular vacuum cleaner.
Vacuuming is one of the most important methods to reduce dust mite numbers.
(Unfortunately, casings on pillows and mattresses are proven not to work conclusively in preventing dust mites.)
If gases or heavier particles (PM10+) are your main indoor pollution problem, you don't need a HEPA vacuum cleaner either.
Again, please realize there's no universal solution for dealing with air pollution...
Bottom line: if you're living in a polluted city or if you've got pets in your home, a HEPA-vacuum cleaner gains a higher priority.
(Remember that most particulate matter is emitted in cities (transportation), industry, or through polluting types of energy production - that stuff is everywhere)
In terms of HEPA-vacuum cleaners, you've got two options:
Just as with using an air purifier with HEPA filter, using a HEPA vacuum cleaner correctly is paramount. If you don't replace filters over time, efficiency will go down.
(Reduces exposure to all outdoor air pollutants such as particulate matter and different gases (ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide)
Remember I told you that buildings in the develop world are insulated so that they have low levels of ventilation nowadays.
So you may say: "wait a second, don't allergies generally increase with poorer building ventilation systems?"
"And now you're recommending insulation, which decreases ventilation...?"
So why do I recommend to decrease ventilation (in some instances)?
I'll tell you in a second...
Let me first sketch a background:
In the developing world, buildings often have better ventilation, but through indoor cooking lots of pollutants are emitted - it's not just ventilation that matters...
You see, ventilation can help you or work against you.
If you're living in a metropolis, increasing ventilation entails that more air pollutants enter the interior of your home all the time - which is a bad deal.
It's probable that no extreme insulation is needed
against outdoor air pollution protection in this case...
Principle: with poor ventilation (and thus good insulation) it's possible (and smart) to stay indoors at moments when air pollution levels are very high.
Let's consider why insulation works:
On average, closing all windows alone can reduce air exchange by 50%. Making all windows and doors airtight will lower air exchange much further - my guesstimate is upward of 90%.
Of course, the only reason you'd want to stay indoors is that you'd lower your air pollution exposure that way.
Spending time in an insulated building at peak pollution times dramatically lowers your exposure to pollutants. Of course, if your indoor environment is tremendously polluted as well, then staying indoors to avoid outdoor air pollution won't be of much help.
If lots of indoor air pollutants in the form of VOCs are emitted from your furniture, you may also be worse off being insulated. Burning incense, using detergent, or stir-frying, for example, can already have small but noticeable effects on your health.
The best solution combines insulation, moving indoors and using a high-quality air purifier (which was the third strategy mentioned above) at strategic moments. Remember: to know when you should move inside you need to measure air quality...
And while it's common sense the following advice bears repeating: avoid smoking inside the house. Smoking is one of the worst ways to pollute your indoor environment. Of course, other people's health will also be negatively affected if you smoke indoors.
Another reason why highly-insulated places are better is that humidity will not build up as quickly there.
Higher humidity levels, due to improper insulation, increases the chances of mold buildup - a topic I'll get back to soon.
Of course, improving insulation on an existing home takes time and money - which is the downside of this strategy.
While it's not a quick solution, it's nevertheless a strategy you should consider if you live in a polluted environment and don't want to move. Proper insulation of buildings is a necessity in air polluted environments, as without insulation you're exposed to that pollution 24-7.
The following strategy also (often) has to do with insulation:
(Reduces exposure to radon)
Fortunately, you can always control how much radon enters buildings.
Keep in mind that having a newer building type does not exclude you from testing radon levels. The structural integrity of the building is what fundamentally matters, as well as whether radon levels are high around the building in the first place.
Homes are the most common source of radon exposure.
Yes: even if you're exposed to low radon levels I recommend doing something about the problem.
The first action to take is to test indoor radon levels. If radon levels are elevated you can take action for reducing them.
Testing for radon exposure can be really inexpensive. Again, you can buy a radon testing kit for basic testing. If you want to investigate many environments for their radon levels, however, buy an electronic radon detector.
A problem with testing for radon is that levels vary throughout the year, with seasons, and by changing weather. Radon is thus ideally tested for longer periods of time to get a complete picture of your exposure levels.
You've got several options if high radon levels are detected: a building might need an anti-radon barrier in the basement, increased ventilation under the floor or on ground level, better insulation between the basement to the main floor, etcetera.
Most of these alterations entail making changes to the construction of the building. Bringing in a radon expert can help you with this problem.
Again, 100% of buildings can be fixed for radon exposure. The quintessential problems are that radon levels are not universally measured or that problems are not proactively solved.
Just measure and take action.
The following strategy is simple again, and yet, not universally applied:
(Reduces the negative effects of all air pollutants)
If you're eating at MacDonald's and Burger King twice a day, air pollutants are simply going to hit your health harder.
Let's go through these foods and nutrients one by one:
Couunter-intuitive air pollution harm-reduction strategy...
Don't get too bogged down on the specific food recommendations above though: many food sources high in antioxidants such as dark chocolate or berries have not been studied yet.
I do expect that many other healthy foods, which may not be listed above, still help you reduce the negative health effects of air pollution.
Your favorite oysters, spices, and spinach probably all contribute...
On another note:
The effects of nutrition on reducing air pollution's effects go really deep: the skin is an additional mechanism by which air pollution affects your health.
Eating a nutrient-rich diet thus becomes more and more important with greater air pollution levels...
Next, an indoor air tip:
(Reduces exposure to VOCs, heavy metals)
Yes: your furniture is likely polluting your indoor air.
New furniture very often emits formaldehyde, an example of a VOC. Household and cleaning products, drapes, cushions, laminate flooring, varnishes, and scented products also commonly emit VOCs.[477; 478; 479; 480; 481] Even printers and copying machines emit VOCs.
Because thousands of different VOCs exist, I'm not going to consider them all individually.
I just have this recommendation instead:
Reduce your VOC exposure by mainly mostly buying natural products.
A hardwood or stone floor is better than laminate, for example. Cushions from organic wool or cotton are better than cushions with a coating.
I know furniture and indoor products that do not emit any VOCs are much more expensive so the goal here is to slowly transition to more natural products.
One strategy to get more natural products is to live smaller: perhaps you don't need a gigantic house and can opt for a smaller house while affording more natural in-home materials.
Just look around, natural alternative are almost always available...
And keep this principle in mind:
The number of VOCs emitted by new furniture is initially high but levels off after time.
It's thus recommended to remove packaging from furniture outside so that VOCs are not released in your home. You can even leave furniture outside for a while so that the most damaging gases are gone.
Make sure to store any products that emit lots of VOCs - such as regular paint - sealed and removed from your living areas.
And let's move to another paint-related topic:
Heavy metal levels in paint have been very high but have been dramatically reduced in the last few decades.
Selling paint with lead has been forbidden since 1978. Nevertheless, realize that that exposure to leaded paint is possible: if you're considering buying a home that's built before 1978, I'd be very wary of the paint there.
Let professionals remove that leaded paint first.
Conclusion: unnatural in-house materials will give your home unnatural air - avoid like the plague.
The following air quality tip is indoor quality-related as well:
(Reduces exposure to mold)
Remember mold toxins?
These toxins are produced by fungi and are dangerous if emitted by damp walls or bathrooms that remain wet.
And you know what?
If you're susceptible to negative health effects of mold then just getting a HEPA air purifier will not fix your issues.
In such cases you might need to fully remove yourself from the toxic situation, leaving (almost all) your belongings behind.
The problem is that most possessions inside a building are almost certainly contaminated if mold is found there.
Material such as paperwork or pieces of clothing, insofar they are porous to water, are usually lost forever when infested. Even washing belongings will not always remove all the mold toxins as washing machines can re-introduce mold into clothing or bedding.
If you do bring material with you, make sure that material is stored airtight so that no potential mold can be released.
Only some possessions can be de-contaminated from mold over time - these belongings are often made of "inert" materials such as glass or metal.
So what's next? What if you do decide to move?
In that case you'll have to live in a mold-free environment for some time.
If you're mold sensitive, a few weeks outside a toxic environment is often sufficient to realize your environment was damaging. Beware: removing yourself from the toxic environment can make your symptoms worse initially.
If you do get re-introduced to mold after a mold-free period, your symptoms will generally be more extreme. The upside is that such re-introductions solidify your understanding that mold is truly the culprit and that mold-illness is not "all in your head".
Staying in hotels or having a tent in your backyard is often not radical enough of a solution if you're really mold-sensitive.
Yes: mold issues can be that extreme...
If you're mold sensitive you'll often have to live in an RV or an environment that's verified as mold-free.
To determine whether a location is "safe" for you to spend time in long-term, it's best to live in that location for a couple of weeks, but if and only if you've been fully symptom-free previously.
A great way to test for mold susceptibility -
if you've got the cash for an RV. I certainly don't (yet)...
If you're really susceptible to mold's negative health effects you might need to avoid (strong) mold pollution for the rest of your life - in the most extreme case scenarios.
Many people who have successfully removed all mold from their lives still get extreme reactions to minute quantities of mold if they're re-exposed.
Let me explain:
It may be unimaginable but even spending 30 seconds in a mold-infested building can cause extreme immune reactions in the most mold-sensitive people.
Such reactivity is a sign of poorer overall health, but fortunately, that reactivity may improve in time.
Overall, if you suspect mold toxicity, it's better to be safe than sorry at first...
Years of your life can be spent being negatively affected by mold if you don't act proactively. Again, mold grows in insulation or drywall, and is not always visible to the naked eye.
Without testing you'll never know for sure whether your health issues are caused by mold.
On another note:
There's (anecdotal) evidence that the combination of electromagnetic frequencies in the environment (WiFi, cell towers, smart devices) makes mold much more aggressive. Placing a WiFi router in a mold infested cabinet may thus create exponentially more toxins.
Still want to undo mold damage?
In that case it's best to get a qualified mold inspector (and cleaner) to investigate your house or office to make sure it's fully cleaned. DIY bleach, vinegar, or other store-bought products do not solve the problem completely and may make issues worse long-term.
Just realize that the topic of avoiding mold is enormously complex.
Keep in mind that I'm doing no justice at all to the complexity of avoiding and treating mold issues here. Exhaustively treating the basics of mold probably needs a 500 or 1,000-page book.
I'll probably be writing a full blog post on this topic in the future.
For now, I'd strongly recommend you visit the "mold avoiders" Facebook group if you're suspecting any issues mold-related in your life. That group has tons of free information that help you overcome mold problems.
Successfully dealing with mold takes building up lots of experience. As a mold-sensitive person, you'll slowly learn what types of exposures trigger you and which don't. Mold toxicity is not a problem which you can usually beat in a week...
Let's now consider a simpler strategy:
(Reduces exposure to dust mites, toxic mold, VOCs)
Both very high and very low humidity levels are not optimal for your health.[462; 463] I'm talking about "relative humidity" here, which is water vapor measured as a percentage of the total amount of vapor in an area.
Controlling indoor humidity levels is a great way to reduce indoor air pollution...
And by lowering humidity to 0 - 35% for just a couple of hours a day you can reduce dust mite numbers up to 95%. Additionally, a longer-term 50% humidity level is great for countering dust mites buildup.
Lower indoor temperatures - such as 18-20 degrees Celsius - are also protective against dust mites compared to higher temperatures (such as 21 degrees).
Very long soaks of clothing and bedding in warm water with laundry detergent and bleach can also kill dust mites, but that "solution" will expose you to more VOC chemicals.
More good news:
An indoor humidity level of around 50% is great for preventing mold growth.
Fungi grow best if humidity levels reach 60%. Building materials also damage more easily with higher humidity levels. Paint may peal with high humidity, for example, and moisture is more prone to build up between walls.
That moisture feeds mold buildup in turn.
In general, avoid exceeding the 60% humidity level. Optimal humidity levels can have big health benefits - you'll improve work performance and may even improve sleep quality.
To reach that 50% level, you would need some air humidification during the wintertime in colder climates. Steam humidifiers are the best - they do not emit pathogens into the air.
The problems with remaining high humidity levels during the wintertime, however, is that windows can start freezing - you'll need to strike a good balance.
But let's consider the opposite end of the spectrum:
With humidity levels under 40% people begin to show those symptoms. Bacteria and viruses also spread more easily at lower humidity levels.
Keep in mind that I'm only giving guidelines:
The effects of different humidity conditions are extremely complex. In the wintertime, low humidity increases the amount of particulate matter in the air, for example. During the summertime, the opposite happens.
Each pollutant is individually affected by humidity levels...
There's thus "no one size fits all" solution for all circumstances. In most situations, a 50% relative humidity is best.
But let's consider some red flags in relation to controlling indoor humidity:
Having a basement that has lots of water, pipes that leak, or a damaged roof may all contribute to humidity problems inside the house. (Central) heating systems can also be sources of higher humidity levels.
Simply put, structural damage to any building is dangerous as humidity levels can easily get out of control - an issue I considered with mold earlier.
Additional solutions to lower humidity levels are ventilating buildings, avoiding hot showers, , using your kitchen exhaust, removing rugs, and ventilating rooms where washing machines or dryers are placed. For the worst-case scenarios, use a dehumidifier.
So what's next?
I'll now help you prevent air pollution from showing up at your doorstep in the first place.
Let's summon the forest gods (or vegetation in plain English)!
(Reduces exposure to all types of outdoor air pollution)
No shit Sherlock!
This strategy is extremely simple:
The more plants around your residence or workplace, the lower exposure levels to air pollutants will be. Depending on what study you look at, the effects of vegetation are either really minor or extremely large.
In some instances, vegetation can increase the level of air pollutants though.
Vegetation, and trees more specifically, reduce ventilation. Planting lots of trees next to a road will entrap some of the air pollution emitted by cars, increasing air pollution levels at that road while reducing air pollution in adjacent areas.
That principle should teach you an important lesson:
Plant as much vegetation around your house as possible.
Pines and conifers are especially effective. Even green roofs will help reduce air pollution levels.
The levels of some of the worst outdoor air pollutants types, such as ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), can be reduced dramatically. Heavy metals such as lead or cadmium can be captured by these plants as well.
That's great news...
Up to a whopping 90 kilograms of PM10 and 35 kilograms of PM2.5 per year alone by covering more than 90% of the roof by Pinus mugo var. pumilio (Dwarf Mountain Pine).
Other good pine options are:
Additionally recommended plants are:
The Japanese Maples have been tested as excellent reducers of ozone (O3). Magnolias are great for NO2 reduction.
Why plants such as pines?
Pines effectively reduce air pollutant levels because of their large surface areas - pines become a "living wall" between outside air pollution and the buildings you're spending time in.
Blue dwarf pines: excellent particulate matter
Some regular ground-level plants such as Spiraea japonica (Japanese meadowsweet) and Philadelphus pekinesis are also helpful. These plants have only been tested in Chinese studies though...
The lesson is that ground-level plants should be really dense (again), which increases their filtering capacity.
The difference in how well different plant species capture air pollution varies many-fold, so it's essential to buy the right types...
Keep in mind that rain or wind will lower the amount of air pollution that's captured by vegetation. I do not see great methods to reduce plant's exposure to rain or wind (yet), however.
But let's further simplify my message:
Your best bet for dramatically reducing in-home air pollution levels is to combine several strategies:
Evergreen plants are also better than plants that leave their leaves during the wintertime. Fortunately, pines are evergreens.
And even if air pollutants enter your home, use another line of defense: indoor plants
Indoor plants have been proven to lower the amount of VOCs and ozone, for example.[482; 484; 485; 489] Make sure to treat your indoor plants well: giving plants more light will increase their filter-ability.
The following plant species have been tested to reduce VOC levels:
Spider plants, moreover, seem to be specifically effective in removing particulate matter from the air.
Bonus: indoor plants also reduce CO2 levels.
More light for plants also improves their CO2 reduction. Consequence? An indoor air quality improvement due to plants translates to fewer symptoms if you have lung disease.
And in case you're wondering: no, I don't remember all these Latin names from memory--but these names may nevertheless help you get the right plants into your home when you ask the gardener.
You may have one question left:
Should you massively "abuse" this vegetation strategy?
I think you should...
In fact, you don't have much of a choice if you're living in a big city: using more vegetation is one of the only ways to save yourself.
Quick tip: use HEPA vacuum cleaner from a distance on indoor plants. Air pollutants accumulate on the plants' leaves and can only be fully removed by vacuuming.
In the next strategy, you'll learn how to combat outdoor air pollution if you have to be in a disastrous environment anyway:
(Reduces consequence of all the negative health effects of air pollution)
I already hear the excuses coming: "I'm going to skip my sprints today and stay inside - the air pollution is too extreme today".
"No need to take my bike, the air quality index is bad today"
That's a recipe for disaster...
Air pollution is not an excuse to avoid exercise. In fact, the better your physical shape, the more protected you will be against the negative effects of air pollution.
When to exercise?
In general, early morning exercise in less polluted areas is safest.
Ozone levels usually peak in the evenings because of the effect of sunlight. Other air pollutant levels - such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, drop off during the nighttime.
There's another reason why you should exercise anyway, even in polluted air:
The benefits of exercise still outweigh the downsides of air pollution for most people, even in air-polluted areas.[427; 428; 429] Wear a respirator, if necessary, and avoid toxic environments when doing so...
Only if you've got severe lung or heart issues or in poor general health would I recommend to exercise exclusively at non-air-polluted locations:
The perfect place to exercise: even if you have lung problems...
Bottom line: move your body...
Just two more solutions to go:
Reading all the above solutions would almost gives you the impression that you should never ever breathe in anything else than 21% oxygen and some CO2.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Complete sterility is probably devastating to your health.
Drinking raw milk may also be protective against allergies. If you've exposed to a lower number of pathogens causing infections may also have an increased risk of developing hay fever and other allergies.
Unfortunately, the research into optimal exposure levels and patterns to germs such as bacteria and viruses is still in its infancy today. Nevertheless, overly clean environments are almost certainly not conducive to your health.
So let's zoom out and look at the difference between germs and modern pollutants:
Not all modern air pollutants are problematic: their type, nature of the exposure, and the number of pollutants are the problem.
In modern society you're exposed to much more ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and mold than our ancestors were ever exposed to.
The bottom lone is this:
If you do create a sterile environment in your home or workplace that's completely free of air pollutants, you'll probably need to compensate by getting natural exposure levels up. You'll want to breathe in air that's found in forests and other (relatively) clean natural environments.
You cannot spend 24-7 in an environment that contains air purifiers...
Let's explore that concept of sterility a little further:
The germs you're exposed to today are totally different from the ones your ancestors were exposed to
With the onset of human civilization roughly 10,000 years ago, our relationship to viruses and bacteria changed forever.
Let me explain:
When you begin to stay in one place practicing agriculture, that environment becomes more conducive to spreading certain germs. Increasing population densities also change the dynamic of spreading germs even further - high population densities become hotbeds for some types of germs.[458; 459]
Consider this 30,000-foot view on air pollution:
In modern society, you're thus exposed to many pollutants that are completely unnatural from an evolutionary perspective, such as lots of fine particle matter PM0.1, ozone (O3), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
You're also exposed to different germs than your ancestors 100,000 years ago and you almost never breathe the air that's found in locations that are unaffected by human action - such as Northern Canada or Scandinavia.
Air pollution is thus a complex problem. I highly recommend spending at least a few hours a week in nature, to make sure you're breathing air that's ancestrally normal.
Play with your kids in the sand...
Both an underexposure to substances that can be helpful in the long-run, and an overexposure to harmful substances can also explain the wave of allergies and lung problems that's plaguing developed countries.
Of course, the overexposure part of the equation is precisely the main topic of this blog post. I nevertheless assume that overexposure and underexposure go hand-in-hand here...
One last strategy:
This strategy is simple but has to be mentioned...
Remember: if you're young, old, have existing lung or heart problems, then you're especially susceptible to the negative health effects of air pollution. The fetus is very susceptible to air pollution's effects as well.[434; 435; 436; 437; 438; 439]
If you've got asthma, for example, you have to be especially careful when exercising outdoors in polluted environments - and be more careful with indoor pollution.
The more susceptible you are to the effects of air pollution, the more action you need to take to reduce air pollution's effects on your health.
In the worst-case scenario, if you cannot reduce your air pollution levels at all, then there may be one solution: move.
Of course, moving should (almost) never be your first option...
Nevertheless, if you've got severe lung or heart problems and living in an extremely polluted city in Asia, I'd seriously consider moving to a less polluted environment when you've got cash...
There are other cases as well:
If you want maximum (mental) performance, I'd also minimize your air pollution exposure.
If you're a professional athlete or high-performer then you might want to avoid spending two weeks in a metropolitan city - even if your health can easily handle it...
Let's consider why:
Polluting your lungs can be the difference between reaching the first place or second place on a 400-meter sprint. You don't want to spend two weeks in a polluted place if performance is your goal...
But let's say you're in pretty good health and you don't care about performance.
Should you not worry about air pollution at all in that case?
Not at all: air pollution will always do some damage to your health, independent of circumstance.
Less is more with air pollution.
Over the course of 10 or 30 years, the health effects of air pollution will slowly degrade your health.
So let's conclude:
After reading all of these solutions, I caution you against being optimistic about air pollution.
Don't assume the problem is going to take care of itself. My introduction of this blog post tells you why:
After air pollutants are identified, governments and institutions take decades to remove them from your environment. The health damage these air pollutants do affects your health right now.
Sure, some bright spots exist.
In developed countries the emission of several types of air pollutants have been declining over the years. Ozone, lead, or particulate matter emissions come to mind.
But don't get too comfortable though:
If you're already susceptible to heart disease, just spending time in a car, the inner city, or near a factory already massively increases your risk for a heart attack.
Also remember that 20,000 people in the UK die every year because of nitrogen dioxide. And 8% of diabetics in Germany, which are a jaw-dropping 500,000 people, have the disease because of that same air pollutant.
Let's put those numbers into context:
If a dictator would kill 20,000 people in Europe, everyone would be protesting the street tomorrow--no, tonight...
But air pollution?
Nothing seen, nothing heard...
And I get it...
You may have become somewhat depressed when understanding all the negative health consequences air pollution can have.
You don't have to feel down though:
You can exert control over your air pollution exposure...
Fifteen solutions are enough to save yourself.
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in a year you can implement many of them and dramatically cut your risk for disease.
Do the world a favor:
Save yourself first...
And if you save yourself, you can save other people during the rest of your life as well.
Spread the news. You'll make the world a better just one action at the time. Making the world a better place does not have to cost any money.
A few words can change a lot of hearts. I hope my words do - and yours can do so as well. Become your own hero, and become a hero for others in turn...
The world needs you.
Spread the message, and help people save themselves...
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