Air Pollution: Greatest Threat Facing Mankind? – Part 2

Air pollution - environmental issues and concepts word cloud illustration. Word collage concept.

In part 1 of this blog, we discussed what you needed to know about indoor air quality along with the 6 most common air pollutants. If you missed it, you can read it here.

What Diseases are caused by Air Pollution?

Improved methodologies for measuring data has created a better understanding of how health is affected by airborne particles and gases. World Health Organization data factors both indoor and outdoor air pollution, which results in 4.3 million and 3.7 million deaths respectively, for a combined mortality rate of 8 million.

Diseases that result from pollution are ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and acute lower respiratory infection in children. Looking at outdoor air pollution, heart disease and stroke combined account for a staggering 80% of deaths. With indoor air pollution, heart disease and stroke combine to make up 60% of deaths, while COPD and acute lower respiratory infections in children become more concerning.

Those are startling numbers especially when considering indoor air as the greater health threat than outdoor air. It does however correlate with EPA research that states indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, with some factors placing that number at 100 time greater. In certain parts of the world, particularly in low-income nations where people use coal or wood burning stoves, the likelihood of contracting a pollution related disease is far greater than in developed nations where modern gas and electric stoves, along with properly ventilated heating systems limiting exposure to harmful particles and gases.

How Can We Improve Air Quality?                                                                      

Improved data collection methods and continued monitoring of human and environmental health is the driving force of environmental policy change. According to the EPA, in the U.S., the implementation of programs designed to improve health, longevity, the quality of life, and emissions of air toxins (187 pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects) declined 62 percent from 1990 to 2008. Yet it remains important to recognize that 75 million people in the U.S. live in counties with pollution levels above national ambient air quality standards. Likewise, 200,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution in the U.S. each year.

It is important for individuals to be informed about air quality where they live. If you reside in the United States, is a good resource for monitoring air quality and taking steps to limit outdoor exposure in poor conditions. This includes but is not limited to closing windows, less time spent outdoors or reducing heavy exertion, and turning your car’s air conditioning system to recirculate to limit exposure to exhaust gases and other harmful airborne particles.

Research done by the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection agency, among others, reminds us why clean air is crucial to living well. As environmental policies improve, outdoor air quality will improve. Until that happens, we can at least take steps to improve indoor air quality. That is why is committed to meeting the needs of homes and businesses with quality air filtration products.

We also provide numerous resources on our Filtered Files blog discussing Air quality FactsBenefits of Air Purifiers, and Information about Air Filters.

Air Pollution: Greatest Threat Facing Mankind?

Air pollution - environmental issues and concepts word cloud illustration. Word collage concept.

Imagine a tree-lined horizon where a smoke stack rises into the sky with grey smoke pouring out over all the greenery. This is a view I saw when playing outside my family’s house as a child. There is an eerie appreciation to be gained at the sight of nature being pushed aside for industry that provides the products and services we consider essential to everyday life. So we might consider pollution to be an unfortunate but seemingly necessary by-product of human progress. The effects of which have been wide and far reaching since the start of the industrial revolution during the 1700s up through much of the 20th century as factory output was unregulated and its impact on human health went unchecked for a long time.

Over the last half-century our understanding of air quality’s affect on human health, wildlife, and climate patterns has improved. Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in America seek to control emissions to protect human health by dictating safe levels of outdoor and indoor pollution. Still, there remains controversy regarding the actual costs associated with the creation of more strict pollution standards versus the realized human and environmental benefits.

But there is more to it than just cost. If we view global morality statistics we can estimate 56 million people die each year from various causes. According to a 2012 World Health Organization report, 1-in-7 (8 million) yearly deaths are directly attributed to air pollution. This marks air pollution as one of the single greatest environmental risk factors that humans currently face.

What do we Need to Know About Air Quality?

Nations are free to enact their own environmental laws to limit or reduce the output of harmful particles and gases. In developed nations with economic stability and greater access to innovative technologies, industry can often exist while limiting environmental impact. But for all our advancements into renewable energy and zero emissions, we live in an era where many nations are now undergoing a sort of industrial revolution of their own. Explosive growth has benefited many once small economies primarily in India and eastern Asia. It is in these regions where leaders struggle to balance economic demand with air quality and the health of their citizens. Knowing what we know now it might seem prudent to demand other nations fall in line with our environmental polices, however no country may impose such rules on another. As is, there are global frameworks in place designed to promote new environmental rules and regulations that won’t infringe too greatly on economic development.

The World Health Organization writes that a lack of awareness of the international evidence from both developed and developing countries linking ambient air pollution exposure and health is under-appreciated, and the potential solutions that can be taken to improve air quality would greatly benefit public health and reduce burdens on local populations and governments.

To understand the problem of air pollution, we need to examine a few different elements and their impact on human health. In America, The Environmental Protection Agency lists 6 common air pollutants that pose the greatest harm to human and environmental health. They are refereed to as criteria air pollutants because the EPA uses science-based guidelines for setting permissible levels of each. The sources of these pollutants primarily result from vehicle emissions and fossil fuel power plants.

Ozone (O3) – A chemical reaction created when oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) react in the presence of sunlight. This is not the same as the ozone layer around Earth. Asthma is often the result of unsafe ozone levels.

Particulate Matter (PM) – A complex mixture of small particles and liquid droplets that persist in the form of nitrates and suflates, organic chemicals, metals, soil, and dust. The concern over these particles are due to their small size. A particle whose diameter is less than 10 micrometers can pass through the throat and nose to enter the lungs.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) – Emitted during combustion processes, the colorless and odorless gas is common in urban areas where a greater number of cars reside. CO reduces the bodies ability to transport oxygen to the heart and brain. High CO levels can result in death.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) – A group of reactive gasses known as oxides of nitrogen, or nitrogen oxides (NOx) that is commonly referred to as smog and is associated with acid rain. NO2 contributes to ground-level ozone formation, and fine particle pollution, both of which are linked to adverse respiratory problems.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) – Highly reactive gasses known as oxides of sulfur that are primarily a product of fossil fuel combustion at power plants and industrial facilities. While unsafe to inhale, the Center for Science in the Public Interest lists SO2 as a safe food preservative.

Lead (Pb) – Naturally found in the environment and manufactured products, its emission from the transportation sector has declined 95 percent between 1980 and 1999. In that same period lead in air levels decreased 94 percent. Effects on humans range from high blood pressure and immune disorders, to neurological and behavioral problems often seen in infants and young children.

In part 2 of this blog, we’ll discuss the diseases that are caused by air pollution, and ways we can improve air quality in our lives for a healthier and happier future. Read part 2 here.


Water Crisis: Seeking Answers to our Sewage Problem

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How appealing does drinking poop water sound? Your answer is not very likely, and if offered a glass you would say no. But for 750 million people in the world today, that is a question answered every day as communities collect their water from rivers or streams where sewage has contaminated the water. The cause of this problem is 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. Additionally, 2 billion people use toilets connected to septic tanks which are improperly emptied into areas where water contamination can occur. The World Economic Forum ranks the water crisis as being the number 1 risk currently facing society. Its apparent in all our lives that clean water is important which is why Bill Gates, one of the world’s most widely recognized innovators and philanthropists, wants us to say yes to the poop water question.

In emergency preparedness literature, they explain that if your home is connected to a municipal water source you could drink from the water tank (not from the bowl) on your toilet if absolutely necessary. After all, the water entering your toilet is the same water you get from your faucet. Think about that for a moment. Our toilet water is cleaner than the waterways that 750 million people access to drink. If those people had the same quality water going into our bathrooms, we could prevent an estimated 700,000 child deaths every year.

When thinking about where we get our drinking water it is important to know that 2.5% of total water on Earth is freshwater, with less than 1% of that being readily accessible to humans.  With news reports focused on lingering droughts and ever increasing demand for resources, safe water becomes all the more important. For many countries who can’t afford the infrastructure to control the flow of waste and fresh water, a need for new solutions are required using practical technologies that are both cost effective and efficient.

Fueling the Future of Sanitation

Sewage contains 20% biomass and about 80% water. Now imagine a machine that burns biomass as fuel. In this machine raw sewage is dried. The resulting sludge is boiled to separate out the water. As the process continues, an incinerator burns the remaining solids to produce high-temperatures and high-pressure steam which drives an engine to generates electricity which in turn runs the machine. The resulting water vapor is then filtered to remove additional substances. The by-product of this entire process is purified drinking water, excess power for use in local communities, and ash that can be used as fertilizer. That is exactly how Janicki Bioenergy’s Omni Processor works, and it is being pioneered by Microsoft creator Bill Gates. You might have seen Bill’s appearance on Jimmy Fallon where he challenged the Tonight Show host to pick and drink one of two glasses of water then guess whether it came from a bottle or was poop water, a term coined to bring attention to the concept of converting sewage to safe drinking water in about 5 minutes. After Bill and Jimmy each downed a glass it was revealed both were filled with water sourced from the omni processor located in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, where the prototype is currently located.

For Bill Gates, the pursuit to reinvent how we deal with waste began in 2011 when the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation challenged eight universities to the Toilet Challenge. Each university was given $400,000 to develop a toilet that: Removes harmful waste and recovers resources such as energy, water and nutrients; operates ‘off the grid’; costs less than 5 cents per day; promotes sustainable and financially profitable sanitation services; and is a next-generation product that both the wealthy and developing nations want to use. Each university approached the challenge in unique ways. For example, The California Institute of Technology (who won the top prize) used solar panels to power an electro-chemical reaction that breaks down waste and stores excess energy for night-time operation.

While new toilet technology can reduce the harmful effects of waste, it didn’t solve the infrastructure problem many countries face. Bill Gates and his team at Janicki Bioenergy are betting on the success of the omni processor as it aims to meet the needs in both rural and urban environments. The first prototype, the S100, is a proof of concept that costs about $1.5 million, significantly less than sewer lines and processing plants. The machine is capable of handling sewage for a community of 100,000 people and produces 2,800 gallons of drinking water and between 100 and 250 Kw net electricity per day. Each machine requires only one or two operators at any given time and could pay for itself by selling excess electricity and fertilizer. A second prototype, the S200, will processes around 7 times more sewage while only being 20% bigger in size.

The Clean Water Conclusion

It is said that for every $1 invested into better sanitation, $5 in social and economic benefits are created through the reduction of healthcare costs and increased productivity. This is especially true for women and children who spend an estimated 140 million hours a day searching for and collecting water. Economic benefits are great but saving lives is better. Cutting down on disease and making clean water less scarce presents new opportunities to parts of the world struggling to meet their most basic needs.

The goal is to roll out thousands of omni processors in the near future combined with newer toilet technology to drive community entrepreneurship and innovate the way we currently deal with sewage. Not only in developing countries but within all communities regardless of region or socio-economic status as we look to a sustainable future.

Would I drink poo water? Yes.