Enter the Clean Air Zone!

Politicians and lay people alike both talk and argue about the effects of the environment on Americans. Clean air and clean living have become trendy issues in the past decade. Green homes, recycling, and hybrid cars are just a few of the ways that people can help make our air a little bit cleaner. With harsh effects of polluted air such asthma and other respiratory problems, it is now more important than ever to protect yourself against the dangerous effects of polluted air. One organization, the Clean Air Task Force, is doing just that.

The Clean Air Task Force is based out of Boston and was formed in 1996. Their primary goal is outlined as such: “To enact federal policy to reduce the pollutants from America’s coal-fired power plants that cause respiratory death and disease, smog, acid rain, and haze.” This group of researchers, advocates, and private sector contributors are working towards getting the American people to truly understand the negative health effects that coal and diesel emissions have.

For example, diesel trucks can pose a serious health risk to pedestrians as it is emitted at ground level. As the CATF explained, “Diesel exhaust is comprised of microscopic carbon soot particles that act to absorb metals and other toxic substances in the exhaust. When inhaled by humans, these tiny, toxic-laden particles cross the blood barrier from lungs into the bloodstream, delivering the toxics to internal organs and leading to inflammation and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases…”

Diesel exhaust leads to approximately 400,000 asthma attacks a year. To get an idea of how much diesel exhaust is released by a local school bus, check out these videos. The first shows an ordinary school bus, while the second is fitted with a diesel filter.

The diesel filter makes a huge difference in the amount of emissions released into the air. The same goes for your indoor air quality. As the CATF has shown us, air pollution is a serious problem and has significant health effects on Americans today. If you are concerned about pollutants and allergens in your home, it is important to equip your home with the proper filters. It is paramount that you change your HVAC filter regularly, and a higher MERV rating, the better. These filters will help to remove particles and mold spores, keeping them out of the air you breathe.

Another way to protect the air you breathe inside your home is to use an air purifier. These will assist in the removal of bacteria and germs that are found in your home, protecting you and your family from sickness. While solving the world’s pollution problems may be very far off, cleaning the air in your home is an inexpensive way for you and your family to stay healthy. While the CATF does their part, it is important that we do ours!

Is Your Building Sick?

Sick building syndrome or SBS refers to situations where “building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified,” according to the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality website. This can occur either in a specific room or area, or throughout the building.

Symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • eye, nose, or throat  irritation
  • dry cough
  • dry or itchy skin
  • dizziness and nausea
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • fatigue
  • sensitivity to odors

Although the cause of the symptoms is usually not known, sufferers usually report feeling better soon after they leave the building. Poor ventilation, as well as heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) not effectively distributing air throughout the building, seems to be a major contributing factor in SBS.

Indoor and outdoor pollution sources can also contribute to SBS. Indoor air pollution sources include:

  • adhesives
  • carpeting
  • upholstery
  • manufactured wood products
  • copy machines
  • pesticides
  • cleaning agents

These sources can emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde.  Tobacco smoke emits high levels of VOCs, as well as other toxic compounds, and breathable particulate matter. The products of combustion, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and breathable particles come from burning sources like unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Outdoor pollution sources such as motor vehicle exhausts, plumbing vents, and bathroom and kitchen exhausts can contribute to indoor air pollution. Also, biological contaminants including bacteria, molds, pollens, and viruses may breed in standing or stagnant water in various locations throughout a building.

Removing or modifying the pollutant source when it is known and controllable is perhaps the best way to resolve an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) problem. Also increasing ventilation and air distribution can help the problem.  Another method is to use air cleaners. Finally, using furnace or air filters, especially high performance filters that capture smaller, breathable particles is a great way to alleviate SBS.

Greenguard School IAQ Tour

Without the proper precaution, schools can be a breeding ground for illness among the millions of children that attend each year.  It is perhaps with this in mind that Greenguard Environmental Institute recently launched an interactive school indoor air quality tour on its website. The tour takes place inside a graphic representation of a school with cartoon-esque teacher and student figures. There are three discussion topics: “IAQ Impacts Health”; “Maximize Fresh Air”; and “Create a Healthier School”. Clicking on each topic takes you to a screen with plus-sign markers located on different areas of the school room shown. Each marker provides a unique fact about school indoor air quality, as it relates to that particular topic. According to the information provided in the tour, indoor air pollution  affects the health of students in various ways: it leads to higher rates of asthma and health problems which increases absenteeism and productivity and lowers teacher retention.

Higher indoor air quality standards must be in place to ensure the success of students and teachers. The tour suggests several ways to minimize indoor air pollutants in schools, including opening windows to increase ventilation and natural light (both of which increase productivity), using air filters with the highest MERV rating available for the school’s HVAC system, and maintaining proper humidity levels. In addition to several discussion topics, the tour also features a quiz on minimizing pollutants.

Children spend the majority of their days in school, but home indoor air quality is equally important. Take our Home IAQ quiz to further ensure the safety of your indoor environment.