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Shining a light on five common air quality myths

Poor air quality is an issue that affects everyone, with wildfires and severe allergy seasons seeming to worsen as each year passes. 

While the topic of air quality – both indoor and outdoor – is being increasingly discussed, the volume of information can be overwhelming and lead to confusion about the facts. Lack of awareness around the subject can impact our health, as well as further decrease the quality of our air. 

Read on as we round up and debunk five of the most common air quality myths out there.

Delhi fog via Bloomberg

1. You can always see or smell air pollution

The thought of air pollution often conjures up images of north Indian cities or the Great Smog of London: urban areas covered with a grey blanket of fog that impacts visibility. Although pollutants that we can see or smell are a good indicator of poor air quality, most airborne pollutants cannot easily be detected by humans. 

Invisible pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and monoxide, ozone, and PM2.5 can severely impact our health. They can worsen existing lung and heart conditions, cause or exacerbate respiratory issues. On top of this, biological pollutants, such as mould spores, bacterial and viral droplets, dust mites, and pollen are present both indoors and out, and can trigger severe allergic reactions. 

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

2. Air quality indoors is always better than outdoors

Vehicle exhaust fumes, wildfires, and factory emissions may cause us to think that air pollution is an outdoor problem. However, indoor spaces can harbour as much – if not more – air pollution. Use of beauty products, such as perfume and deodorant, toxic cleaning products, dust, furniture, and cooking are all common sources of pollution in our homes and offices. 

If a building is located in a heavily polluted area, open windows and gaps in walls can mean that outdoor pollutants can be introduced, and trapped, indoors. Indoor air quality (IAQ) can be impacted further by burning candles and the use of open fires or wood burning stoves

According to NICE, UK residents spend an average of 60% to 90% of their time indoors. And this figure is likely to have been even higher during the past year due to lockdowns and advice to stay at home. This means that long term exposure to these indoor pollutants can have significant effects on our health, worsening conditions like asthma and causing irritation of skin and nasal passages. 

If you want to learn how to improve your IAQ at home or in the workplace, read these articles. 

Photo by Zac Porter on Unsplash

3. Only major cities have polluted air

Leaving a built up city seems like the obvious solution to living with poor air quality. While rural areas do offer respite from congested traffic, there are still numerous other sources of pollution in the countryside. Agricultural activities, crop burning, and the use of pesticides create serious air pollution issues in rural areas. In hotter climates, green areas are also susceptible to huge amounts of air pollution due to wildfires

Another issue is that pollution from large cities often drifts hundreds of miles and becomes trapped in countryside areas. A study published by Science Advances looked at air pollution in many national parks across the US, and found that key air quality indicators in these parks were only marginally better than in urban areas. While urban areas are flatter, clearing air pollution more quickly, large rural areas often trap pollutants in steep mountain ranges.

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

4. Air pollution only affects those with existing respiratory problems

The conversation around poor air quality usually focuses on the health impacts for people with underlying or existing respiratory issues, such as asthma. However, when toxic air pollutants are inhaled and enter our system, they can weaken the immune system of any human – even someone who is perfectly healthy. 

Exposure to air pollution can also increase the risk of a stroke, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that it causes an estimated 29% of adult deaths from lung cancer, and 24% of adult deaths from heart disease. 

Air pollution definitely causes issues for those with respiratory issues, but healthy adults and children of all ages can suffer equally bad health impacts from exposure to poor quality and toxic air. 

Photo by Yolanda Sun on Unsplash

5. Individuals can’t make a positive impact on air quality

The presence of air pollution outdoors and in our homes, schools, and workplaces can sometimes lead us to feeling hopeless. Air pollution is such a widespread problem that it can seem like as individuals, we’re too small to make a difference

However, it’s the small changes around our homes and streets that will cause much larger, positive knock-on effects. 

Introducing new habits into our lifestyles, such as reducing the use of petrol and diesel vehicles and cycling more, will impact air quality on a much wider scale. In our homes, quick fixes can include opting for natural, non-toxic cleaning products and personal hygiene products, like deodorants. 

Individuals also hold a huge amount of power through their ability to influence large corporations. As consumers, companies rely on our support and custom; likewise, governments should actively respond to the concerns of their country’s citizens. By making small changes to positively impact the air quality around us and demanding more from large organisations, companies will be forced to demonstrate their commitments to improving air quality: this is where we’ll see the biggest impact.

Taking steps to improve your air quality is a great start, but the best way to really understand the air around you is to invest in an air quality monitor or obtain an AirScore. Want to find out more? Get in touch.