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Knock out the NOx

Knock out the NOx

This title may sound like an ad for high-octane gasoline, but I’m talking about air pollution here!  In air purification “PM” or particulate matter often steals the show and drives the decisions behind purchasing this filter versus that filter and this purifier over that one.  But what about the gasses in air pollution?  Gasses are not particulates–they are harmful molecules in the air that cannot be filtered out by plain HEPA filters.  So what are they and how can we get rid of them?

NOx is one term for two nitrogen gasses commonly found in urban areas.  It includes nitric oxide (NO), which is a colorless, odorless gas, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is a reddish-brown gas with a pungent odor.  They are produced during combustion: in factories, in transportation vehicles, and even boilers for heating apartments, office buildings, hospitals, universities, etc.  They’re also produced indoors by gas stoves and furnaces when they are not properly vented. 

Nitric oxide in ambient conditions is not harmful, as it dilates (relaxes) blood vessels and improves oxygenation.  However in higher concentrations, it does two things: it will create a burning sensation in your throat and chest as it changes into nitric and nitrous acid, and it goes deep into your lungs to react with blood cells and eventually be excreted by the kidneys.   Nitric oxide in the air that is not breathed in is converted to NO2, the other dangerous nitrogen gas, or precipitated in moisture as acid rain.  (Poison Facts: Low Chemicals: Nitric Oxide)  

According to Clarity.io, a manufacturer of air monitoring sensors, nitrogen dioxide pollution stays mostly concentrated in the area where it is emitted, meaning that areas with high vehicle traffic like urban areas tend to have the highest NO2 levels. (Clean air cities: Innovative approaches to improving air quality in urban settings)  NO2 is a pretty nasty gas: it causes inflammation of the respiratory pathways, worsened cough and wheezing, reduced lung function, increased asthma attacks and is likely to be a cause of asthma in children. (Nitrogen Dioxide)  

If you’ve been reading our articles or have any experience with air pollution or wildfire smoke, you’ll know that outside pollution eventually makes it into our homes, because they’re leaky.  Thus, we don’t have a “safe place” to get away from air pollution unless we leave the city or take steps to make our home air cleaner.  As we already discussed, just buying a plain HEPA filter or making a DIY air filter (Corsi-Rosenthal box) will not take NOx out of your home.  There are ways to get rid of NOx, however: upgrade to a HEPA filter with activated carbon, AND eliminate the sources of NOx inside your home.

A 2014 study conducted in Baltimore, MD found that a two-pronged approach really helped reduce the NO2 in homes:  

  1. Replacement of unvented gas stoves with electric stoves reduced NO2 concentrations by 51% and 42% in the kitchen and bedroom, respectively, indicating that stove replacement impacts NO2 concentrations beyond the kitchen (even when the home also has a gas furnace or drier).

  2. Placement of air purifiers with HEPA and carbon filters in the home results in a nearly 27% decrease in median kitchen NO2 concentrations immediately (1 week after placement), and reductions were maintained at 3 months following intervention. 

Although the study also included the addition of a ventilation hood in some homes, it was unclear whether the hood helped lower NO2 emissions (ventilation does help remove air pollution, but it depends on strict use of the hood during and after cooking).  

Activated carbon adsorbs the NO2 and secures it in the filter, until the filter is changed.  Adsorption of NO2 can be enhanced by 38-55% by adding coatings to the activated carbon, such as potassium hydroxide (KOH).  (Development of an activated carbon filter to remove NO2 and HONO in indoor air)  Even wildfire smoke has NO2 in it; according to this Canadian government environmental webpage, wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases, particles and water vapour that contains pollutants such as: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and ozone.  Activated carbon can handle these gasses and VOCs, while HEPA filtration is used against PM2.5

Therefore, city dwellers, take note!  Whether it’s “business as usual” as pollution from downtown traffic penetrates your home, or wildfires hundreds of miles away turn the skies orange and hazy, a purifier with HEPA and activated carbon is your best bet to knock out the NOx.  Be on the lookout for purifier giveaways, too!   Here are some programs being offered at this time:

  • San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (California) is giving away air purifiers to keep residents safe from air pollution.  If you live in the area, you can apply for one here

  • The City of Philadelphia is giving air purifiers to early-childhood education centers and schools.  You can learn more and link to an interest form in this article.

  • Project N95, a national non-profit working to protect people and their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, has begun a donation pilot program of air purifiers for schools and other organizations.  You can fill out their form here.

Keep your eyes and browser open, as other organizations may spontaneously donate during events like the Canadian wildfires (the University of Connecticut gave away 100 DIY purifiers on June 8, 2023).  During such a time, it’s the neighborly thing to do!

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

The Epidemic of Asthma

The Epidemic of Asthma

If you don’t suffer from a certain disease or know someone who does, it can often evade your concern or thinking.  Asthma is one such disease for me, and aside from drug commercials on the internet and TV, I didn’t give much thought to it.  “Pandemics” seem to have taken over our health radar, while asthma continually advances in cases every year. 

Asthma is a chronic disease that causes airways to become inflamed, making it hard to breathe. Although it is incurable, asthma can be managed so that it doesn’t recur by avoiding triggers, taking medications to prevent symptoms and preparing to treat asthma episodes if they occur. (aafa.org) About 300 million people worldwide have asthma, with projections for it to increase to another 100 million by 2025 (The Global Asthma Report, Auckland, New Zealand, 2018). 

According to Oxford Languages, an epidemic is “a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.”  Asthma is not an infectious disease, yet it is called an epidemic because of the sharp increase of cases since the 1960s in many developed countries.  This sparked a number of studies in the 1990’s, confirming that “asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases across the globe in all age groups and there is substantial variation in asthma prevalence worldwide.”  (2019 study on the Epidemiology of Asthma)  It is difficult to define, but the research community finds it helpful to define it by observable traits (phenotypes) which are composed of symptoms (such as wheeze or cough) and objective measures (such as lung function and biomarkers in blood, exhaled breath, sputum, and/or urine). 

What causes asthma?

Researchers prefer to use the word “trigger” instead of “cause”.  However, some of the airborne triggers are House dust mite (HDM), Animal hair and dander, Pollen exposure, Mold (fungal) spores, and  Thunderstorm asthma (most prevalent in Australia where high pollen counts are released during a unique type of thunderstorm).  Habits like parental or personal smoking tend to increase risk for asthma.  Occupational triggers such as cleaning agents, paints, or dust may increase risk (a comprehensive list can be found here), and there seems to be genetic predisposition for it also. 

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), asthma tends to peak in September in the US due to a confluence of several risk factors.  This month peaks in ragweed pollen, a common fall allergy; more falling leaves mean more mold spores in the air, and the return to school causes more respiratory illness in families. In particular, the third week of September is usually the highest in numbers of doctor visits and hospital stays due to asthma attacks, and children are the most affected.  (aafa.org)

Asthma is a problem in children because their lungs are still developing, and continue to develop until they become adults.  Asthma may impair airway development and reduce their maximum lung function, and these deficits may persist into adulthood.  When occurring first in adults, asthma may accelerate lung function decline and increase the risk of fixed airflow obstruction, especially for smokers with asthma.  People with asthma are more susceptible to infections and non-communicable additional chronic conditions (comorbidities) such as diabetes, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, and issues with mental illness such as anxiety and depression. (2019 study)

Asthma can’t be cured, but it can be controlled.  It’s controlled through avoiding triggers, and/or the use of medication.  Because avoiding triggers could be potentially be better for your body and your budget, here’s some advice on how to do that (adapted from mayoclinic.org):

  • Use air conditioning to establish a clean, comfortable environment in your home.  Air conditioning allows you to control:

    • Humidity: most sources set the optimal humidity between 30-50% (if it goes well above that, use a dehumidifier).  At this range, dust mites are lower in concentration.

    • Pollen: with air conditioning, you’re able to close the windows on high-pollen days

  • Use filtration to keep airborne contaminants low!  You can do this by regularly changing your HVAC home filters (and possibly increasing the MERV rating on them), or adding a standalone HEPA filter to one or more rooms in your home.  In addition, bi-polar ionizers like our Germ Defender and Whole Home Polar Ionizer will cause larger contaminant particles to clump together and be more easily filtered or vacuumed.

  • Clean your home regularly, once a week, with a HEPA vacuum cleaner and non-toxic all surface cleaner like TotalClean.  If you can’t keep your home clean by yourself, ask someone to help you.

  • Prevent mold from growing in your home by monitoring wet areas like bathrooms and under sinks.  Mold can also intrude if you don’t clean gutters or remove debris from around the house on a regular basis, so try to keep your gutters and the area directly around your home clean too.

  • Keep pet dander under control by brushing pets outside and bathing them regularly with a moisturizing shampoo.

  • Remove hard-to-clean surfaces like carpet and deep rugs, and avoid down-filled pillows and furniture. 

  • Consider avoiding perfumes and heavily-scented personal products, candles and cleaning products.

  • Because cold air can trigger asthma, cover your mouth and nose when you go outside in cold temperatures.  

In addition, since asthma can be exacerbated by excess weight and heartburn, it’s important to take care of yourself with moderate exercise (your doctor can help with advice) and medication if acid reflux is an issue.  

If you are among those who deal with asthma on a regular basis, remember that surrounding yourself with a clean, comfortable environment can be the best investment in your health and life.  Changes like removing fragrances and adding an air purifier can make a big difference in the way you feel.   You are definitely your best advocate in minimizing the effects of this disease!

Photo by Sahej Brar on Unsplash