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The benefits of living upwind

The benefits of living upwind

I can only think of a few times where being downwind was preferable.  If you’re a hunter, you’d want to be downwind of your prey so it won’t smell you and run away.  I didn’t mind being downwind of the coffee roasting plant when I lived in New Orleans because of the good smells.  In all other cases (maybe I’m missing one?), being upwind is the place to be. 

In several articles we’ve described the ways that nanoparticles and pollution can infiltrate our homes, and the effects that it has on our health.  Therefore, we advocate for “living upwind” of the many potential pollution sources in our cities and country today.  It’s just fresher, cleaner, and healthier.  Here are some reasons why:

  • Major cities: many of the world’s largest cities (including London, Paris, New York, Toronto, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford, Glasgow, Helsinki and Casablanca)  have poorer “east ends” because the prevailing winds blow pollution from west to east. (study)

  • Fossil-fuel power plants:  In a study surrounding a coal-fired power plant located in Pennsylvania, it was found that infants born to mothers living as far as 20 to 30 miles downwind from the power plant were 6.5% more likely to be born with a low birth weight (i.e., birth weight below 2,500 grams) and 17.12% more likely to be born with a very low birth weight (i.e., birth weight below 1,500 grams).

  • Refineries and oil wells:  In 2020, 13 refineries in the US released benzene, a cancer-causing toxin, in amounts above EPA action levels.  (environmentalintegrity.org).  Unfortunately refineries have emergency releases of chemicals at various times, sometimes just because of a power failure.   In our post on emissions from oil wells, we reported that harmful VOCs and particulates are being released continually, and these increase the risk of respiratory and other illnesses.  

  • Ports and airports: The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates that there are 3,700 premature deaths per year directly attributed to the ports and goods movement activities statewide and approximately 120 deaths per year associated with diesel particulate matter emissions from activities at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The economic cost associated with these deaths as well as for medical care for illnesses and missed school and work days is an estimated $30 billion annually. (The Impact Project, 2012 paper).  Noise and light pollution are also results of living near a port.

  • Major highways: there are “statistically and economically significant effects of exposure to near-roadway pollution on mortality amongst the elderly” according to one study, however the pollution is also harmful to people of all ages, such as young children, who are susceptible to asthma, and adults, becasue exposure to fine particulate matter is associated with high symptoms of anxiety and antidepressant use. (discoverymagazine.com)

  • Volcanoes: volcanic vents can emit gasses on an ongoing basis that contain toxic components such as sulfur dioxide (SO2: smells like a struck match or fireworks), hydrogen sulfide (H2S: smells like rotten eggs), hydrogen fluoride and hydrogen chloride (HFl and HCl, smell strong, irritating and pungent), and carbon dioxide and radon, which are odorless but also dangerous. (International Volcanic Health Hazard Network)

What if you can’t live upwind?  Then try to employ some techniques to prevent the outside pollutants from penetrating your home:

  • Mitigate the stack effect by sealing the building envelope.  Contrary to popular opinion, just adding more insulation will not stop air leaks, because they are propelled by air pressure differentials, not just temperature differentials.  Pressurized will find a way through insulation if there is a leak in the building envelope.

  • Make green your favorite color!  When possible, surround yourself and your property in trees and/or plants because they absorb VOCs and particulates, and create a myriad of health benefits for your mind and body.

  • A 2011 study entitled “Improving Health in Communities near Highways” hosted by Tufts University suggested filtration as the number one method to reduce ultra-fine particles indoors.  Filters for residences and schools near busy roadways should be Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 14 or above, mainly because the ultrafine particle removal efficiencies of filters with lower MERV ratings are not reported.  Another method was to relocate building intake air vents to the downwind side of the building.  

  • Bipolar ionizers like The Whole-Home Polar Ionizer, Germ Defenders and Air Angels  cause small nanoparticles to stick together and drop out of the air, to help you avoid breathing them in.

In the future, more electric vehicles may reduce the noxious fumes from roadways, and barriers like these may help keep roadside exhaust channeled away from pedestrians and buildings.  In the meantime, do your best to stay “upwind” of all the bad stuff, for a longer, healthier life! 

Photo by Oliver Hihn on Unsplash