What is air actually made of?

What is air actually made of?

Air - we breathe it in and out every single day without really thinking about it. Every living thing needs it to stay alive. But what is air made out of? 

Many people know that air is mostly gas made up of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. The official breakdown, according to scientists, is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. But there is an additional 1% of other components, for example, carbon dioxide, neon and other particles like pollen or dust. 

The air we breathe

So how do you absorb the gases and particles that are in the air? In some cases, it’s not as simple as just breathing it in. 

For nitrogen, how we absorb it is a bit more complicated, and breathing isn’t involved at all. Instead, we absorb it by consuming animals and plants that have nitrogen in their bodies. The nitrogen gets into the soil in three different ways: by diffusing from the air into the ground, with rainfall during a lightning storm and by using industrial fertilisers. The plants absorb the nitrogen, and the plants are eaten by other animals.

The process for absorbing oxygen is much more straightforward. Air goes into your lungs when you breathe in, and it gets transferred into your bloodstream. It is critical - without being able to breathe oxygen, we would die. We need it for changing the foods and liquids we consume into energy so we can function. Plants produce oxygen as part of photosynthesis, which is how it gets into the air in the first place.

Even though carbon dioxide is in the air, humans, animals and plants don’t absorb it into our bodies. We breathe in oxygen, and we breathe out carbon dioxide. There are other ways it can get into the atmosphere: when volcanoes release gases into the air, by burning fossil fuels and by the combustion of organic matter.

The particles

Most of the time, air particles and pollution in the air are unnoticeable. Although particles make up only 1% of the air, they can have a significant impact on human health, so the air quality should be measured. That’s where the air quality index or AQI comes in. It’s a way of measuring air quality. That is why AERIC measures the air quality in your building.

When you think about particles in the air, the most common ones that might come to mind are pollen, dust and dander. But there’s more to it than that. The particles fall into two categories: Bioaerosols and volatile organic compounds or VOCs. Both can have a substantial effect on air quality. 

A bioaerosol is either a particle that comes from a living organism, a virus or a bacteria, for example, dander, pollen or dust. They get transported by the wind, although they can’t fly by themselves. For example, if you sneeze without covering your nose and mouth, the particles go into the air. That is why colds spread so quickly and easily and why pollen makes people with allergies sneeze!

On the other hand, a volatile organic compound can come from household products like paint, solvents or cleaning products. These can cause health problems, especially when it comes to breathing indoor air. The air you breathe inside a building or inside your home have up to 5 times more VOCs in indoor air compared to outdoor air. The health problems it can cause are varied and include headaches, fatigue, and allergic skin reactions. 

To learn more about what the air quality is like in your office, and learn more about air, stay tuned on Slack!