All About Air Quality: How Safe Are You?
By Claudia Anrig, DC
In the past decade, recorded cases of asthma have increased exponentially. While studies are being done to connect this prevalence increase to diet and allergies, among other things, it's safe to assume that the culprit, at least in part, could be our increasingly poor air quality.
NASA's World Map
A new NASA world map released in September 2013 compares data from the past 150 years to show an increasingly "browning" world, with dark patches of toxic air concentrated mostly over the United States, Europe, China and India, the centers of the industrialized world.
NASA's Earth Observatory website states: "In most cases, the most toxic pollution lingers for a few days or even weeks, bringing increases in respiratory and cardiac health problems at hospitals. Eventually the weather breaks, the air clears, and memories of foul air begin to fade. But that's not to say that the health risks disappear as well. Even slightly elevated levels of air pollution can have a significant effect on human health. Over long periods and on a global scale, such impacts can add up."
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 2.1 million deaths per year are attributable to one form of atmospheric pollution: fine particulate matter or PM2.5. Car exhaust, smokestack effluent and other industrial sources emit PM2.5.
Additional NASA Research
In addition to measuring increasing outdoor air quality with satellite imagery, NASA has researched methods of cleansing the atmosphere in future space stations to keep them fit for human habitation. In its research, NASA found that many common houseplants fight pollution indoors. These common household plants remove significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air via the everyday process of photosynthesis. Some pollutants are neutralized in the plants' soil.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people spend 90 percent of their time indoors – but that indoor air quality can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and in some studies, more than 100 times more polluted. According to a study by the California EPA, adults and children breathe between 10,000 and 70,000 liters of air every 24 hours. As stated by WebMD, indoor air pollution is one of the most serious environmental threats to your health, yet no agency can regulate it and few studies have been done about its effects on your health.
What are some of these indoor pollutants? In a 2009 study published in Environmental Health Sciences, scientists identified 586 chemicals, including the pesticides diazinon, chlorpyrifos and DDT. Phthalates were found in very high levels. Even more disturbing, they detected 120 chemicals they couldn't even identify.
The deadliest three indoor air pollutants are 1) carbon monoxide: approximately 400 deaths and thousands sickened annually; secondhand smoke: 7,500-15,000 children hospitalized or sickened with respiratory tract infections, and older adults with cardiovascular or lung illness are at higher risk of health problems; and radon gas: silent, odorless, and found in many American homes, it is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoke.
Tips for Improving Air Quality
In its publication The Daily Green, the American Lung Association offers 25 tips on how to keep the air in your home healthy. Here's a small sampling:
Claudia Anrig, DC, practices in Fresno, Calif., and is on the board of directors of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, an organization that can answer your questions regarding the value of chiropractic care during and after pregnancy.