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Personal Pollution; A short introduction to the series

As public awareness and concern about air quality issues bloom so does the increasing complexity and confusion regarding just what constitutes pollution, how much, and what to do about it, especially with respect to indoor air quality and the factors contributing to it. This first series of articles will focus primarily on the very personal nature of air pollution, how we manage to tune most of it out most of the time, and how to change that to lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives.

Personal pollution is just that “personal”. That means it affects you or me on a personal level , pollution from any source at any time and anywhere that negatively impacts us personally either short or long term  whether we realize it or not. And, while we tend to generate our own brands of pollution in our most personal space, usually our home, pollution rarely exists in isolation instead tending to exist in overlapping spheres such that we cannot absolutely contain the pollution we produce and we cannot escape some degree of intrusive pollution from without, even in the North Pole or  Vegas for that matter…”what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. I guarantee that pollution produced in Vegas does not stay there anymore that it does anywhere else under the same circumstances.

And to confuse things more there are many definitions for pollution but I have adopted a short and broad concept of environmental pollution as “one or more factors in an environment that diminish or otherwise adversely affect  one or more of the otherwise healthful or benign properties  of that environment.”

I like this definition because it includes all forms of pollution and indicates that things that are not normally considered pollution may become so depending on the circumstances. But it also allows for the pendulum of impact to swing fully in either direction while including both qualitative and quantitative aspects. That is, such things as QOL or quality of life that is often disregarded because it is so difficult to “measure”. But the truth is that quite often our quality of life may begin to suffer long before we notice any quantitative physical complaints and ultimately one impacts the other, at least over the long run – it is just easier to measure the time from birth to death than how happy the person was in between even though how happy they were may have had a significant impact on their lifespan…and how healthy they were may have affected their happiness and pollution may have had something to do with it all.

But for those of you that prefer a more standard definition this one from a business dictionary (oddly enough) is one of the better ones:

Presence of matter (gas, liquid, solid) or energy (heat, noise, radiation) whose nature, location, or quantity directly or indirectly alters characteristics or processes of any part of the environment, and causes (or has the potential to cause) damage to the condition, health, safety, or welfare of animals, humans, plants, or property. (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/pollution.html)

Generally however,  when most people think of pollution in the home they first think of air pollution, and rightly so. For while there are many forms of pollution in our homes we are intimately and obligately bound to the roughly 3000 gallons of air we breathe during the roughly 20,000 breaths we take each day. Perhaps it is more correct to say that it is bound to us since it is the binding of oxygen to the hemoglobin in our blood that is used to sustain life.

 sinuses3But while the 20.9 percent oxygen and 78.1 percent nitrogen in the air are there by design and have specific beneficial roles there are most often other things lurking in our air that are not only unnecessary but may also be harmful, especially on a chronic or acute basis. For instance, off-gassing of chemicals from paint, particle board, drywall, insulation, and carpets and furnishings which can be released for years. Add to this the numerous cleaning products, cosmetics, pesticides, air fresheners, potential  VOCs (volatile organic compounds), CO, CO2, and other potential gases like radon and infiltration of pollutants from outside air, dander, dust, bacteria, viruses, mold, and frankly, just pieces of stuff, like insulation and who knows what else. And all of this may be in the  home where some people spend ninety percent of their time (and others wish they could). What you are exposed to at work may be a whole other matter to explore as well but many of the pollutants will be similar and depending on your job some may be far worse.

This is where we need to start sorting out some pollution facts that will help us to limit unnecessary exposure to these other things in our air. First we need to realize that there will always be some “other things” in our air and not all of these things are as bad as being stressed by the thought of them being there.

If you are a coffee drinker you know that part of what you love about coffee is the smell or so I assume. That smell means you are breathing  volatile molecules that leave the coffee and travel through the air and into your nose. I am somewhat personally attached to these particles, literally I guess. But the point is that smelling something means that you are taking part of that something (or a substance produced by that something), into your body…even some of the more benign but unpleasant smells in our daily lives that we prefer to ignore as much as possible. Too personal? That is why it is called personal pollution.

Like the oxygen and nitrogen in air, these odorant molecules generally serve a purpose in the body. They often convey information about the source of the smell,  like it is good to eat, it is not good to eat, it is harmful, proceed with caution, it is unidentifiable, run!, etc. However, there can also be mixed messages. That is, something can smell good and be inedible or toxic. Or on the other hand something can smell good and be edible but the process used to create the edible good makes the good smell harmful, it gets a bit tricky. For instance a cooking hamburger patty smells pretty good to most meat-eaters and this stimulates the appetite. But that good smell includes toxic fumes produced by the hot oil during cooking which can have adverse effects on cells of the body when inhaled, and under chronic circumstances this can produce chronic effects and disease.

I am very sensitive to hot oil cooking like broiling and frying (which I never do), even baking sometimes, so that even if it smells good my throat becomes irritated quickly and I develop an incessant cough for a period time.  Also, my Speck air monitor has increased to as much as 100 micrograms per cubic meter during stovetop cooking or broiling.  The caveat here is that in some cases a large number of ultrafine particles are produced and these are smaller than most home monitors are able to measure so they go undetected unless your body responds to them fairly rapidly – and you actually listen to your body. Added to this mix is the fact that not all oils have the same impact, some are considerably worse than others, and we again get quickly dragged down the pollution rabbit hole… which the rabbits like even less than we do. I guess that is why it is worth investing in a good vent system in the kitchen.

You can take a look at  a research article that is quite technical but the introduction has some interesting and valuable  information regarding particle production during hot oil cooking, some adverse  health effects, and cooking vents. According to the introduction “Epidemiological and toxicological studies have revealed that Chinese women who are exposed to cooking oil fumes (COFs) experience higher respiratory disease rates and mortalities due to lung cancer (Yang et al., 1998; Metayer et al., 2002; Li et al., 2003; Zhao et al., 2006).”

Eventually  we will also explore and factor in the effects of other common types of pollution like water pollution and less  recognized types like light, and noise, and energy  as well, which are generally easier to identify and fix when they occur in our own home as long as we are able to associate the cause and effect relationship.

The bottom line here is that pollution exists in our homes in many forms and at many levels that are ever changing. Some of this pollution is natural (like radon, where it exists) but most is not. And some of these we detect through natural mechanisms (like smell) and some, probably too many, we do not. While there is a learning curve to pollution identification, prevention, and management in and around the home and our extended personal spaces, common sense should always be the foundation that supports the process.

Next time we enter the fascinating and sometimes frightening world of particles; so crank up the air cleaner – because as we now know they also enter us.

 

AirVisual Pro Monitor

June 29, 2018 Friday

It has been sometime since I last posted about the usefulness of the Speck air monitor, created at Carnegie Mellon University, as a tool for monitoring home air quality.  In the interim I have acquired a new monitor that I have been using for the last several months and I  am quite pleased with it. It is called AirVisual Pro, formerly Air Node Pro, which is a product of IQAir and retails for $269, about $69 more than the  Speck but is well worth it for the quality and added information it provides and ease of use. It is also quite  sharp looking as well; in my opinion anyway.

https://www.airvisual.com/pro      https://www.amazon.com/IQAir-AirVisual-Pro-Quality-Monitor/dp/B0784TZFRW

I plan to write more in-depth about the monitor and my experience with it in the near future but for now I will present the nutshell view of it.  The Air Visual Pro monitors PM2.5 ug/m3, PM10 ug/m3, PM2.5 AQI both home and local stations (AirNow), and CO2 (ppm), temperature and relative humidity. PM10  values do not show on-screen but are logged in the on-board data which is very easy to access. I download my data every morning into a spreadsheet I created and use to make sense of it in the proper context. Once I had made the spreadsheet template for it I could download and have the results I wanted in 5 minutes or less. But I am unable to resist constantly seeking new ways to harness the data by  tapping into the underlying patterns woven as secrets into tapestries.

The data is also accessible as a real-time readout on computer or via the smartphone app. I am not overly impressed with the app but it gets the job done and is easy to install and use. I was impressed that I could get the app without having to go through Apple or Google.

The bottom line for now is that the AirVisual Pro is a really nice quality monitor that is quite responsive and provides  valid and necessary information that seems to be consistently accurate. And, while it is not cheap it is probably affordable for most health conscious and health curious people on a budget.

I am always interested in hearing about experiences and opinions that others have regarding air monitors / monitoring, so please share your experience and help everyone make better and healthier choices.

 

 

 

You Do This 20,000 Times A Day Without Thinking – Think About It

What is it you do, quite literally, twenty thousand times a day, more or less, and never think about? Breathe.  Yes, breathe. Most of us take a breath roughly every 4 seconds at rest so of course we breathe more when we are active and less when we are asleep, and children generally have a faster respiratory rate and the elderly generally breathe more slowly, but unless you have breathing problems you virtually never think about your breathing and there are good reasons for that – if we had to think about breathing to do it we would probably all be dead.

But it is not so much the rate or volume of our breaths, generally, that is most concerning instead it is the quality of the three thousand gallons of air that we take into our bodies.