Wintertime evokes images of cheerful holiday celebrations, softly falling snow, and warm comfort food. Unfortunately, there is another component of the colder months that we don’t often consider…. Low air quality.
Though we often think of the pollen-filled days of spring or the smoggy heatwaves of summer as exposing us to the most pollutants, the truth is that the short days and long nights of winter may be even worse. That’s because we tend to spend more time inside in the winter and indoor air is filled with contaminants.
What are the most dangerous pollutants?
The State of the Air, the American Lung Association’s 2021 Report on air quality, uses the presence of two of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants in order to determine the nation’s air quality: ozone and fine particulate matter.
Ozone Ozone is a secondary air pollutant, meaning that most of it comes from chemical reactions between other air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, in the presence of sunlight. On the ground level, ozone is responsible for a range of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. It also can harm lung function and exasperate the symptoms of bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma, leading to increased medical care.
There are two ways ozone can enter your home. One is by seeping in through doors, windows, or tiny gaps in your home. The other is through specific devices such as ozone air purifiers, laundry water treatment appliances, facial steamers, and automated vegetable washers. The best way to avoid ozone in your home is to make sure that it is well-sealed and avoid any product that emits it.
PM are a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope. Particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to our health. Exposure to PM2.5 can result in heart and lung problems, and even premature death. In fact, the WHO estimates that air pollution “kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year” and their data “shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.”
How do PM 2.5 enter your home?
During the winter, when we are most likely to spend most of our time inside and keep doors and windows shut tight, the issue of PM2.5 can become even more severe. Not only do these tiny particulate matter seep in from the outdoors, they are also emitted by many of the things you do in your own home. Without proper ventilation, the levels of PM2.5 can reach unhealthy levels. Since there are no federal regulations on indoor air quality, it is up to individuals to make sure the air inside their homes is safe.
Some of the biggest sources of indoor PM 2.5 are:
Vented combustion appliances, which include most furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces, gas water heaters, and gas clothes dryers, usually vent the combustion pollutants directly to the outdoors. However, if the vent system is not properly designed, installed, and maintained, indoor pollutants can build up quickly inside the home.
Smoking indoors is extremely dangerous to the health of the smoker and the rest of the household. Both traditional cigaretttes and ecigarettes emit dangerous levels of PM2.5 along with thousands of chemicals, many of which are extremely toxic.
The truth is that any kind of cooking emits pollutants. Applying heat to food produces a range of fine and ultrafine particles that are very harmful to your health.
But, cooking with fossil fuels, including gas, presents even more dangers. Research suggests that gas cooking generates about twice as much PM2.5 as electric.
Are Ozone and PM2.5 the only pollutants we should worry about?
While Ozone and PM2.5 are the pollutants that the American Lung Association focuses on, there is another pollutant that is potentially harmful to your health. Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs are a large group of chemicals that are found in many products we use to build and maintain our homes.
Breathing in low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems.
Common symptoms of exposure to HIGH levels of VOCs include:
|Acute/short term exposures(hours to days)||Chronic exposures(years to a lifetime)|
|Eye, nose & throat irritation|
Worsening of asthma symptoms
Liver & kidney damage
Central nervous system damage
How do we keep our families safe?
Buy an electric stove.
The best way to keep pollutants down in your kitchen is to opt for an electric stove. But, if you already have a gas stove, there are some things you can do to make it safer to use such as making sure that it’s properly installed and opening windows or using fans when cooking.
Make sure your home is properly sealed.
Improve your home’s insulation, weatherstripping, caulking, and ductwork.
Replace your old furnace with a more efficient furnace.
Older furnaces are much more likely to emit unsafe levels of Pm 2.5.
Replace your wood-burning appliance
A vented gas fireplace or gas heater emit less PM2.5 than a wood burning stove.
Use an air purifier with a combination of HEPA and activated carbon filter.
Although the standard for HEPA filters is that they need to be able to filter out 99.95% or more of all particles which are 0.3 microns in diameter, they are actually capable of filtering out particles of almost any size. A True HEPA filter can even trap dangerous PM2.5.
For homes that are free of both PM2.5 and VOCs, look for a high quality air purifier that combines both HEPA filters and activated carbon filters. aeris purifiers have 3 to 5 times more filtration material than other air purifiers, making them the most effective way to keep your family breathing clean, healthy air all through the year.