- Indoor air is 100 times more polluted than outdoor air.
- Bad, stale air in your home can cause:
- eye, nose, throat and lung irritations
- colds and flu, sneezing and wheezing
- headaches, fatigue, asthma and allergy symptoms
- waking up with puffy eyes, a sore throat, or a stuffed up nose
What you can’t see CAN hurt you.
99% of pollutants are so small that they are invisible to the naked eye!
Germs… and more
Dust contains 2% aluminum. There are over two million dust mites in every double bed. Ozone can kill mold.
A human hair is .75 microns thick. Bacteria is .22 microns. A virus is .01 microns. The NT cartridge filters down to 0.03 microns.
Scientists believe that while air pollution probably doesn’t cause asthma, other respiratory conditions or heart problems, it certainly aggravates them. And new research suggests that some of the smallest pollutants (too small to be measured until recently) may be linked to lung cancer.
U.S. POLLUTION IS PART OF THE PROBLEM
BUT HOMEGROWN HAZARDS ARE ALSO TAKING A TOLL ON HUMAN HEALTH.
By Pat Moffat
First published in Chatelaine’s October 1996 issue.
© Pat Moffat
Every breath I take hurts,” says Judy LeBlanc, one of Saint John’s most vocal campaigners for clean air. Stricken for more than 10 years with a severe respiratory disease, bronchiectasis, and maintained by medications whose side effects include heart palpitations, nausea and weight loss, the 43?year?old mother of two teenagers continues to fight local air pollution despite
her doctors’ warnings to slow down. She knows the air is making her sicker.
Part of LeBlanc’s motivation is to fulfill a pact she made with her friend and fellow
campaigner Cynthia Marino, who died during an asthma attack in May 1995. “Cindy and I
promised that if one of us died, the other would continue the work,” says LeBlanc.
In several urban trouble spots – Vancouver, Saint John and the Quebec City and Windsor corridor – air pollution is taking a toll on human health. Studies are showing that people with respiratory and heart conditions are at risk of premature death in polluted cities and that children can be seriously affected. Some of the most dangerous pollutants are ozone (which contributes to smog and comes primarily from vehicles), sulfate (an acidic aerosol formed largely from industrial and powerplant emissions of sulfur dioxide), carbon monoxide (largely from vehicles) and very fine particles (primarily from industrial emissions) that penetrate deeply into the lungs. This “particulate matter” is measured in microns as PM10 or PM2.5; a human hair, by comparison, is 100 microns thick.
Saint John receives hefty amounts of pollutants from the United States. But it’s a local problem that’s made the city’s air notorious. In Saint John’s east end, an oil fired electricity plant, a pulp and paper mill and the biggest oil refinery in Canada, owned by the Irving family, all emit sulfur dioxide, which, in the city’s frequent fogs, becomes sulfuric acid. “Saint John is certainly not the most polluted city in Canada, but it has the most acidic air we’ve ever measured,” says Health Canada scientist Rick Burnett. Unfortunately, neither Environment Canada’s air quality index nor our supplemental data fully reflect the amount of corrosive sulfuric acid in the air. That’s why Saint John scores higher than it probably should in our air quality rankings (see “The regulatory haze.”)
In southern Ontario, on the other hand (where up to half the air pollution comes from the United States), and Vancouver (where most is homegrown), ozone and fine particles are of greatest concern. A study by Burnett and Haluk Ozkaynak at the Harvard School of Public Health, which correlated nonaccidental deaths with daily levels of ozone and other pollutants over 20 years in Metro Toronto, concluded that 30 deaths each month are related to high levels of air pollution.
“Among asthmatics and people with allergies, even a low exposure to ozone can increase their sensitivity to allergens,” says Dr. David Bates, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of British Columbia and an authority on air pollution and health. “Studies are also showing that PM10 has a long?term and highly significant health impact, not only for asthma but possibly also for lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases.” People doing aerobic exercise in peak smog times, the elderly, infants and children are especially susceptible. Health Canada’s Rick Burnett has found that 15 percent of the summer hospitalizations of babies in southern Ontario are linked to high levels of air pollution.
In the west, Calgary and Edmonton contend with hydrogen sulfide from the petroleum industry and traffic exhaust. Winnipeg’s wheat stubble burning in the fall and swirling sand in the spring (from winter deicing) help explain its mediocre position in our air quality rankings. And in near pristine Saskatoon, which scores among the best on the pollutants Environment Canada reports, teacher Judith Benson is seeing more children with “puffers” for asthma. She also worries about cancer from pesticide residues. “In the summer, there’s grit on my furniture,” says
Benson. “If we’re getting topsoil as household dust, we must be getting the pesticides too.” So far, there are no studies to ease or confirm her fears.
Compared with much of the world, Canada enjoys enviable air quality. Yet the fact remains that Canadians are getting sick and dying from air pollution. And unanswered questions beg for better regulations and monitoring. It’s citizens who often drive change. In Saint John, Judy LeBlanc is proud of what “two housewives” and other volunteers in the Citizens’ Coalition for Clean Air have helped accomplish in two years: a new Clean Air bill before the legislature and a toughening of the provincial standard for industrial sulfur dioxide emissions. And now that LeBlanc no longer lives in the pollution plagued east end her family moved last winter she has more energy to campaign for a respiratory clinic.
THE REGULATORY HAZE
First, the bad news. Our guidelines are old, our laws have no teeth and change is a political
football. The good news? There’s a committee studying the problem…
By Pat Moffat
First published in Chatelaine’s October 1996 issue.
© Pat Moffat
Last year we had egg on our face. Our ranking of Saint John as top city for air quality triggered a torrent of protests, including a letter from 14?year?old asthmatic Amy Evans.
What went wrong? Our rankings relied entirely on Environment Canada’s air quality index, the main source of national pollution data, reporting acceptable or unacceptable levels of ozone, sulfur dioxide, total suspended particulate, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide in most Canadian cities. According to the index, one of the worst cities for people with respiratory diseases came out on top.
“Many things have a greater effect on health than what’s in the air quality index,” says Tom Dann, head of air toxics in Environment Canada’s Environmental Protection Service. In Saint John, acidic aerosols and very fine particles just 2.5 microns or less in diameter (known as PM2.5) appear to be causing the problems. Yet they’re not part of the main index.
Why not? Government regulations catch up with changing scientific knowledge slowly. In several areas, Canada’s guidelines lag behind U.S. standards. Although the gaps in air quality guidelines are particularly glaring, similar problems are found in surface water and drinking water guidelines. (For an explanation of how we tried to improve this year’s ranking, see “How we graded them”)
We’ve been pushing for an objective for PM2.5 since 1987,” says a frustrated Environment Canada official who asked for anonymity. While stations have monitored PM10 and PM2.5 since 1984, the main air quality index includes only “total suspended particulate,” a grab bag of different size particles that most experts now consider irrelevant as a measure for health effects. The United States has had a national standard for PM10 since 1987, and the push is on to extend the law to PM2.5.
One difficulty in trying to ensure that regulations protect human health is that for some substances there may be no way of confirming at what point they cause problems. “People get hospitalized when the ozone is less than 82 parts per billion, which is the federal objective for acceptable levels,” explains Health Canada scientist Rick Burnett. “The system of how we set national objectives may not be appropriate anymore.”
Toxics including benzene, dioxins and heavy metals are another disturbing unknown. Although 40 stations monitor for many different airborne toxic chemicals across the country, no national air quality objectives cover them.
WHAT’S NEEDED NOW
Some of Canada’s most serious problems with air and water pollution can’t be solved without the cooperation of our closest neighbor. Three years after a bilateral air quality agreement was signed in 1991, officials of both countries began working on the trans boundary smog problem in central and Eastern Canada, where up to 50 percent of air pollution comes from south of the border. Pete Christich, senior international officer for U.S. Canada relations at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., says that for the past five years the United States has been “encouraging” Canada to work with British Columbia to “make progress in treating Victoria’s sewage,” 91 percent of which is dumped untreated into the shared Juan de Fuca Strait. (So far, progress has been slow.)
The two countries take different approaches to air and water quality. In the United States, federal laws govern environmental standards, and polluters face fines and possible jail terms. In Canada, the federal government sets guidelines for air and water quality, which the provinces may turn into enforceable regulations. (In July, for example, Ontario bowed to political pressure and announced its intention to crack down on auto emissions. Days later, a government report showed plans to dismantle a slew of other environmental regulations in the interests of unburdening industry.)
It’s natural for environmentalists to get fed up with Canada’s kinder, gentler approach, to wish our laws had more teeth and that governments enforced them more rigorously. “The federal government doesn’t have the stomach to do what must be done in controlling polluters,” charges Daniel Green, Co-President of the Société pour vaincre la pollution (a Quebec organization similar to Pollution Probe) in Montreal. He’s referring to the industries and municipal wastewater plants that dump mercury, lead, PCBs and other chemicals into the St. Lawrence River polluters that could be charged under the powerful but little used Federal Fisheries Act if the government chose to do so. When Ottawa has acted, its laws have proven effective. Banning leaded gasoline in 1990 reduced airborne lead blamed for neurological problems in children to very low levels. The federal environment minister’s implementation of stricter standards for auto emissions this past June, which aim to meet the U.S. standards for the 1998 model year, is a step in the right direction. And revisions to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1988 may have the most far reaching consequences yet, says Ann McMillan, member of a federal provincial working group on air quality objectives and guidelines. The aim: to tighten regulations and strengthen the federal government’s ability to prosecute polluters. But as past experience proves, it’s a long slow road from good intentions to regulatory clout. In the meantime, we all pay the price. Airborne toxics are another disturbing unknown. No national objectives govern benzene, dioxins or heavy metals.
What are carbon and zeolite used for?
Carbon and zeolite are used to remove gases and odors. Both have properties that allow them to adsorb gaseous materials.
What are the guarantees?
The motor, fan and other working parts come with a limited lifetime warranty and a conditional 10 year mechanical warranty.
What would cause a filter to fill up in less time?
Having many pets, new carpeting, paint fumes, heavy smoking, city pollution, etc.
How long do you think my unit will last?
The unit should last well over 20 years or more if properly maintained. It is the filter that must be replaced when needed.
Where should I place the unit for maximum effectiveness?
It can be placed anywhere in a room, including corners. Ideally close to an air intake vent. The air cleaner should be placed in the bedroom at night with the door closed in order to produce the best personal results. The best room in the house to use a single machine is the bedroom.
How much space does the air cleaner effectively clean?
It will clean an average bedroom in about 10 minutes with the door closed. In technical terms, it cleans up to 1,700 square feet per hour. The Compact model cleans up to 300 square feet. (All estimates assume 8 ft. ceilings.)
Does the unit require any special maintenance?
Periodic (once a month) vacuuming of the front of the pre-filter with the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner is the only regular maintenance required for the air cleaner.
How much electricity is required to run the air cleaner?
Your unit uses an ordinary 120 volt outlet. Maximum draw is about 135 watts on the high setting or 1 cent per hour, average cost. The model 300 runs on 12 volts. You would need to run about 13 of the units at the same time to use the same amount of electricity as a 60 watt light bulb.
For most people, buying air purifiers is very confusing. HEPA filters, negative ionizers, electrostatic precipitators– the terminology alone sounds like a foreign language! Not to worry though, we’ve broken down the whole, convoluted world of air purifiers into one, straightforward page covering the basics. From here, you can check out other pages on aspects that interest you, or go straight to our air purifier page for specific recommendations. Here we go!
Why air purifiers are needed.
Air purifiers have become very widespread over the years due to several factors. Over the last 20 years the number of people with asthma has increased 100 times. It is also estimated that now 1 out of every 3 adults and children have either asthma or allergies. Why is this? Why has the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) declared indoor air quality as the nations worst environmental health problem? Why did The American College of Allergies recently announce that 50% of all illness is aggravated or caused by polluted indoor air?
The main reason is the insulation of homes and offices in response to the energy crisis in the 1970s. To save on energy costs, and for other reasons, indoor spaces are now tightly insulated. These air-tight, energy-efficient indoor spaces are perfect for trapping in all kinds of pollutants and particles.
Our respiratory tracts struggle daily against the contaminants that are in the air. Poor air quality causes headaches, digestive problems, fatigue, restlessness, congestion, and many other health problems. This is why there is such a need for air purifiers in most indoor environments.
What air purifiers clean
Air purifiers attempt to eliminate or reduce a host of airborne contaminants.
- Here is a list of the most common elements that are found in the air of most homes, schools, and offices:
- Animal Dander
- Dust Mites
- Tobacco Smoke
The sources of these pollutants are many. They include dust, people, animals, carpet, plywood, mattresses, furniture, cleaning products, aerosol, humidity, food, and insecticides.
Benefits of air purifiers
Good air purifiers will generally make an immediate difference in the lives of most people. After using an air purifier, many people report sleeping better, having more energy, being more alert, being more creative, breathing better, and just feeling better overall.
Technologies available in air purifiers
- Due to advances in science and technology, there are now four methods that are used in air cleaners. Most air purifiers use more than one technology to better clean the air. Most of the machines recommended in our air purifier reviews section, utilize more than one of these:
- HEPA – a specially designed filter effective against many particles.
- Ionic – electronically charges particles causing them to attract to collector plates or fall to the floor.
- Ozone Generator – creates ozone, which seeks out contaminants.
- Carbon Filter – removes chemicals, fumes, and smoke.
We’ve created separate pages for each of these air purifier technologies should you want more detailed information. We suggest you check each of them out.
What to look for in an air purifier
- OK. We know that air purifiers are necessary and we know why we need them and what they can do. Now, we’ve assembled a list of things to consider when searching for an air purifier for your home or office.
- Appropriate room size : Make sure the air purifier can change the air several times an hour.
- Air filtering efficiency: Obviously, you want a air purifier that effectively cleans the air.
- Air purification technology: Which of the four technologies does the unit use.
- Noise level: You want this to be as low as possible, but realize some of the better air purifiers do make noise. Quieter doesn’t necessarily mean better.
- Cost of replacement parts: Find out what it costs to replace filters and other parts
- Electricity costs: Know how much it costs to run an electronic air cleaner.
- Warranty: Learn about the warranty available for the unit you are considering.
- Indicator lights for filter changes: Some units have this, it’s not necessary but is very convenient
- Separate filters: Does the unit have a pre-filter to increase HEPA filter efficiency.
- Size and look of the air purifier: Some air purifiers are big and ugly, others are sleek and pleasing to the eye.
Hopefully this page has given you a solid, helpful introduction to air purifiers and what they can do. Everyday, it seems many people and the medical community are becoming increasingly aware of the need for clean air.
Whole home air purifiers may not be as effective and convenient as portable room air cleaners
There are basically two different ways to go about cleaning your air using an air purifier. You can either get a whole home air purifier or a room air purifier (also called portable). Home air purifiers are in one way or another tied in with the current air conditioning/heating system already present in your home. In contrast, room air purifiers are stand-alone units that can be moved from room-to-room.
Home air purifiers are designed to clean the air over an entire house or office. By having the filter attached to the air ducts. As air is pushed in and out, the filters are designed to remove particles.
There are several reasons why home air purifiers are not always the most efficient method of purifying your air. The filters commonly available do not clean the air as efficiently as the filters in portable air purifiers. Using a HEPA filter in a central ventilation system could restrict the airflow to unacceptable levels. This is why out whole house air cleaners run on a by-pass system. Should the cartridges be blocked by dust, there will be zero air flow restriction.
Also, the current created by air conditioning/heating units is not sufficiently strong enough to get the air cleaned and back into the filter or unit. This does not apply to all systems of course, but it does to many.
Another drawback with some home air purifiers is the fact that they can only remove particles 1 to 1.5 microns in size and larger, and they do nothing to remove gases and odors. They are not designed to remove the smaller particulates, which tend to cause the most health problems.
Another consideration as far as cost in involved, most whole home air purifiers require professional installation. This can run anywhere between $200 and more depending on where you live.