How to breathe cleaner air, indoors and outside

A houseplant is seen in the window of an apartment with a gauzy white curtain that overlooks a city.The
best way to improve indoor and outdoor air quality is to stop the
pollution at the source. | Shutterstock.com

Protect yourself from what’s outside, but also make some
changes in your home

Air pollution is a fact of life in Los Angeles, where on the
really bad days it feels like you can almost chew the smog. That
hasn’t been much of a problem lately, as the novel coronavirus
pandemic has
cleared skies
. Now that I’m
spending more time inside
, however, I’m giving much more
consideration to the quality of the air within my front door. It
turns out there’s a lot we can do about both problems without
leaving home.

Worldwide, air pollution kills about 7 million
people
each year, according to the World Health
Organization’s Global Platform on Air Quality and Health. Poor
air quality can be attributed to such a wide range of premature
deaths—heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory disease, and
cancer—that epidemiologists have dubbed it the “invisible
killer.”

Living in LA, the brown band on the horizon serves as a
near-constant reminder of that danger, but I got a lot more worried
about air quality once I had kids. In 2018, the first-ever Global
Conference on Air Pollution and Health
released a report on
just how toxic air pollution is for children, noting that 93
percent of the world’s population under the age of 15 is
breathing dangerously high levels
of the fine particulate
matter known as PM 2.5, a pollutant that’s largely attributed to
vehicle emissions in the U.S.

Not only are children under 15 more likely to suffer adverse
effects from airborne pollutants, children under 5 are at a
heightened risk. Being exposed to particulate pollution at a young
age can trigger trigger respiratory illness and asthma, and
sustained exposure also puts children at risk for other
cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases later in life.

Living a little too close to a freeway here in LA with two kids
under 5, I wondered how much more I should be doing about the black
soot that accumulates on our windowsills. I knew exactly who to
ask: Adriano L. Martinez, an environmental lawyer who tweets about
air-quality issues at @LASmogGuy. As part of his case
work, Martinez often has to monitor indoor air quality for people
who live near major roads, industrial centers, or warehouses with
heavy truck traffic. He also has a 4-year-old whom he’s trying to
protect from LA’s worst air days.

A majority of air pollution deaths, about 4 million deaths
globally, are attributed to outdoor air pollution. But about 3
million deaths per year are caused by household pollutants that
originate indoors. Most of these deaths occur in developing nations
where people use cookstoves or heaters that burn dirty fuels. But
U.S. households have their own indoor pollution problem, says
Martinez:
our beloved gas ranges
.

A small air quality monitor that looks like a retro radio sits on a wood shelf with a succulent and a stylish wire chair nearby.Awair
In-home monitors can keep tabs on your air quality
improvement.

“One of the big things we’re starting to understand a little
more is the problems with cooking,” he says. A hood and fan that
siphons toxic fumes out of your kitchen can make a big difference,
even if you’re just boiling water, he says. “Try to run the fan
every time you’re cooking.” Better yet, he says, take advantage
of local rebate and incentive programs that might let you trade in
your gas stove for a cleaner, more efficient induction range.

Another good way to keep potential pollutants at bay is
cleaning—something else you might be doing a lot right now.
Wiping down surfaces and vacuuming frequently helps keep rooms free
of dust, pollen, and mold, all of which can impact air quality. But
as you’re cleaning, also
pay attention to labels
, as some cleaning products contain
volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs, which can end up irritating
lungs.

The next line of attack is preventing how much of that outdoor
air gets in. Continuous insulation,
including triple-paned windows,
is the best possible way to
preserve good indoor air quality, but retrofits are also an
incredibly expensive investment. Martinez says if you’re not
particularly well-protected from the elements, a
high-quality filter
on your HVAC system—look for a minimum
efficiency reporting value, or MERV rating, of no lower than
8—can go a long way in trapping airborne pollutants. Just
remember to change it frequently. (If you’ve changed that filter
in a high-pollution area, the grossness will traumatize you enough
to provide all the reminder you need.)

If you don’t have a centralized air-filtering system, plug-in
air purifiers can protect you by using a high-efficiency
particulate air, or HEPA, filter that traps fine particles from
vehicles, industrial pollution, smoke, and allergens like dust and
pollen. Because we live so close to that highway, and especially
during wildfire season when I can smell smoke indoors, I felt
better having something that’s constantly scrubbing the air
perched next to my kids’ beds as they slept at night. We
purchased the highly recommended Coway
AP-1512HH Mighty
purifier that has a small air-quality monitor
on its display. This device serves a dual purpose in our home, as
it also creates exceptional white noise that helps everyone
sleep.

During the novel coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a great
deal of discussion around the ability of air purifiers to stop the
transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Scientists know that the virus is transmitted through droplets from
coughs and sneezes, but
they cannot rule out that the virus may also be aerosolized
, or
spread through airborne transmission, which is why
wearing face coverings
,
even homemade ones
, is
now recommended
. An air purifier
won’t necessarily offer protection from the coronavirus
.
However, it could help reduce other pollutants that would
exacerbate chronic respiratory conditions, like asthma, which would
make contracting a disease like COVID-19 more dangerous. In fact, a
new study shows that people who live in regions with high levels of
air pollution
might be more susceptible to dying
from COVID-19.

Beyond respiratory concerns, there’s also growing evidence
that simple in-room purifiers can clean air enough to boost
cognitive development and academic performance. A
remarkable study
was conducted in LA after the
Aliso Canyon methane gas leak
, where plug-in air purifiers were
installed in businesses and schools within a five-mile radius of
the gas facility as part of the mitigation process. These were
larger, industrial-sized units that run about $700, but just adding
them to school classrooms improved test scores, the study authors
say—the equivalent of cutting class size by a third. This alone
seems like an excellent argument for putting at least one purifier
in the same room as your child’s brain.

To keep tabs on your clean-air progress—plus provide a neat
science experiment for your soon-to-be-genius kid—you can buy an
air-quality monitor.
Awair
has a retro look that might fit better with your decor.
The
IQ Air
units can be configured to measure both indoor and
outdoor air quality, and your information feeds into a global
network of data anyone can access on the
IQ Air Visual app
, which is what I use. The app delivers a
reading for my neighborhood each morning that helps me plan outdoor
activities for the day. You may have a local environmental agency
that’s produced its own app or posts air-quality updates on
social media, which Martinez likes to
share
to keep the issue top of mind—and remind local
officials about their responsibilities on bad air days.

Even if you’ve taken steps to protect your family, the best
way to improve both indoor and outdoor air quality is to stop the
pollution at the source. That starts by being more aware of what
those sources of pollution are—and how we can all prevent
them.

While big local polluters like an oil refinery, fossil-fuel
storage facility, or
Amazon fulfillment center
might be obvious targets, chances are
that most of the pollutants Americans are inhaling are from
something far more pervasive: our own cars.

This is something that the coronavirus pandemic has made
abundantly clear, as
decreased vehicular travel
due to stay-at-home orders has

dramatically reduced emissions globally
. In LA—the
smoggiest metropolitan area
in the U.S.—we’ve seen an
unprecedented
three straight weeks of clean air
, something we
haven’t experienced since 1980
.

Recent clean air gains aren’t something to celebrate, as
they’ve come at huge social cost, but the federal government has
chosen to exploit the pandemic by pushing forward policies sure to
erase those gains once the economy starts back up. Just in the last
few weeks, the Trump administration has
changed fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles
and
relaxed environmental regulations for big polluters
. While
people like Martinez take on those legal battles, he recommends
keeping the pressure on local officials to continue air-quality
improvements in your own region, even after the pandemic. “Find
people on your local environmental board,” he says. “People who
are placing health over the profits of polluting industries.”

As we all gaze up at bluer skies, if only temporarily, it’s
also worth noting the connection between those airborne pollutants
and the larger, looming crisis facing humanity. Advocating for
cleaner air not only means your children will continue to breathe
easier tomorrow, it’s also the best way to prevent them from
inheriting a more dire future due to climate change. “The best
climate strategy is to meet clean-air standards,” says Martinez.
“That would be a fundamental shift from a combustion-focused
society to zero-emissions everywhere.”

Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
How to breathe cleaner air, indoors and outside