Causes of bad air and how to avoid them

It’s widely accepted that burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil are causing significant damage to our planet. 

The process releases a combination of chemicals including Carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), nitric oxide (N2), hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals are contaminating the air that we breathe, leading to declining health and rising global temperatures.

Short-term exposure to these pollutants can induce various symptoms, including headaches and nausea, while long-term exposure can result in serious illness or death.

The everyday activities that are polluting your air

Whether you’re at home, at your desk, or getting some fresh air during your lunch break, you’re likely being exposed to a combination of these chemicals.

The traffic jam you sat in on your way to work exposed you to significant amounts of CO, CO2, SO2, NOx, VOCs such as benzene, acetaldehyde, and butanal, as well as fine particulate matter (PM 2.5)

That cigarette you smoked during your break filled the air with CO and hydrogen cyanide, as well as a combination of VOCs such as formaldehyde and benzene.

And when you return home this evening to cook yourself a well-deserved meal, you will also take in significant amounts of PM 2.5, hydrocarbons such as methane, and CO

In fact, researchers from the University of Colorado found that cooking a roast dinner can make the air in your home more polluted than the air in Delhi, India, a city known for its poor air quality.

To make matters worse, the farming of cattle to sustain humanity’s predominantly meat-based diet also impacts air quality due to the methane that cows create when digesting food. Livestock farming is thought to count for approximately 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Cooking is just one of many everyday activities that significantly impacts the quality of air around you.

Cleaning can also be particularly damaging. Studies have found that frequent use of cleaning products often leads to a decline in lung function. This is due to the presence of VOCs, compounds that turn to gas at room temperature and can damage health if exposure is prolonged, in many household cleaning products.

Dry cleaning your clothes and heating your home impact air quality too.

And while clearing your home of hazardous chemicals may improve indoor air quality, this can significantly reduce outdoor air quality in turn. In fact, in some parts of Europe, waste in landfill sites releases more methane each year than livestock.

How to decrease your exposure to bad air

Investing in an air quality monitor is a good start. AERIC’s smart device monitors pollutants such as CO2, VOCs, and PM 2.5, which helps to identify important changes to make.

If you’re being exposed to high levels of CO2, the solution could be as simple as investing in a houseplant.

If there is a high presence of VOCs in your home or workplace, then consider increasing ventilation by opening windows and clearing vents.

If you’re being exposed to high levels of PM 2.5, switch off the fan and switch on an air purifier instead.

Cleaning up humanity’s act will take a sustained, costly, and difficult global effort from governments, businesses, and citizens. You can’t singlehandedly halt climate change, but there is nothing stopping you from improving the quality of the air you breathe most, and reaping the benefits of improved health, mental wellbeing, and productivity.