Public Health Indoor & Outdoor Air Quality Tips
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, the average American spends 87% of their entire life indoors and six percent of their life commuting or traveling, leaving seven percent spent outdoors. That’s about one half of one day a week, spent outdoors. However the quality of the air we breathe, both indoors and outdoors is equally important.
The air we breathe feeds our lungs — a vital organ fundamental to human function. The lungs are made of a series of tubes that branch out from your nose and mouth (trachea to bronchi to bronchioles) and end in the alveoli thin-walled air sacs of the lung. If you picture little soap bubbles blown at the end of a straw, you can envision alveoli, surrounded by small, thin-walled vessels called capillaries. Between the capillaries and alveolus, a thin wall only .5 microns thick is where the air we breathe passes. But what exactly is in the air we breathe? And what air quality should we strive for, in order to maintain healthy lung function and overall good health?
Indoor Air Quality
Clean indoor air can prevent many environmental health hazards such as asthma, lung cancer, and even rare diseases such as mesothelioma. Preventing the inhalation and exposure to the following common airborne contaminants and pollutants can save lives:
Asbestos: Asbestos is a natural silicate mineral that is fibrous in composition. Found naturally in the environment, asbestos was previously mined and used commercially to build homes and buildings prior to 1980. Once asbestos fibers become airborne, inhaled or ingested, health concerns such as pleural mesothelioma affecting the lungs, peritoneal mesothelioma affecting the abdomen, asbestosis, laryngeal cancer, asbestos warts and more can develop up to 10-50 years following exposure. If your home, workplace or any other public facility has asbestos, look into having the asbestos removed by a trained professional or abatement company as there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Radon: Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless radioactive gas produced from the breakdown of uranium in stone, rocks and soil. Radon enters working or residential living spaces by way of passage through the ground, groundwater or building materials. Prolonged inhalation or ingestion of radon gas, is the leading cause of lung cancer following cigarette smoke. The EPA estimates that eight million homes or one in five homes, contain elevated levels of radon. If you have not checked your home for radon, visit radon.com for more information
Cigarette smoke: Both first and second hand cigarette smoke are extremely detrimental to health. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer causing (carcinogenic) compounds among 400 other toxins; nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT, to name a few. Most of the chemicals inhaled in cigarette smoke, stay in the lungs, damaging the lungs over time. Cigarette smoke is the leading cause of lung cancer, taking the lives of 480,000 Americans each year aged 18 and older.
Outdoor Air Quality
With outdoor air quality, we refer to air pollution in the ozone as well as particulate matter. Depending upon the quality of air where you live, air toxics can have negative impact on human health, causing cancer, reproductive effects or birth defects. Preventing inhalation of the following pollutants, can improve quality of life and save lives.
Particulate matter (PM): Tiny mixtures of solid particles and liquid droplets, make up particulate matter. Some particulate matter is visible to the human eye, categorized as coarse particulate matter (PM10), with diameters of 10 microns and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) with a diameter of 2.5 microns. Particulate matter inhalation leads to respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, stroke, nervous system impairment, asthma, respiratory infections and allergy symptoms. Visit the Texan Commission on Environmental Quality website to learn more about particulate matter levels near you.
Nitrogen dioxide: Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) combine in the air and are headed by the sun to form ozone. Petrochemical refineries, chemical plants, construction equipment, power plants, breweries, restaurants, bakeries, dry cleaners, marine vessels, planes, trains, automobiles, even trees and plants emit some of these chemicals.
Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill you once inhaled. CO Is found in found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges or furnaces and can build up indoors and poison both people and animals that breathe it in. Be aware of CO poisoning symptoms (headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion) to protect yourself from poisoning.
Sulfur dioxide: Sulfur dioxide is an invisible gas, but known for its odor. 90% of sulfur dioxide in air is a result from human sources. The main source resulting from industrial activity such as the generation of electricity from coal, oil or gas that contains sulfur. The burning of fossil fuels also produces sulfur dioxide, as do motor vehicle emissions. When sulfur dioxide is inhaled, it irritates the nose, throat, and airways causing cough, wheezing, shortness of breath or a tight feeling around the chest, in as little as 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in.
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