“So I can never open my windows? Great. I’ll be sick all the time…”
When I moved to Baltimore last September, I signed the lease for my apartment sight unseen.
Unfortunately, while advertised as a “coveted corner unit with extra windows,” the management company forgot to mention that none of the six windows actually open.
This means all of the air pollutants produced from one human, two dogs and one very large cat are trapped in my living space, and the only relief I get is through the minimal filtration of my HVAC system.
And while my landlord is vigilant about changing the HVAC filters and keeping the air ducts clean, which has kept my home air quality decent enough to prevent constant eye, nose, and throat irritation, I wouldn’t say the air in my home is exactly “fresh.”
So I often think it would be great to get some fresh air circulating through my dwelling.
Or would it?
You see, according to a recent study, poor urban air quality is linked to the most common chronic health issues in modern times. And since I live in the center of an urban area, letting in the “fresh air” may be detrimental to my health and could even end in cancer and heart disease.
Tiny Particles, Big Risks
A new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention followed 66,820 adults who were 65 years of age or older in Hong Kong for 10–13 years.
During this time, the researchers tracked the causes of death of all participants throughout the study, specifically documenting cancer deaths.
Simultaneously, scientists collected hourly air samples. The data from the sampling was calculated to estimate of the annual concentration of fine particulate matter (2.5 microns or smaller), which is a type of deadly air pollution. These concentrations helped to estimate each participant’s exposure to fine particulate matter over the length of the study.
Fine particulate matter contains acid, dust, metal, soil particles and mold spores, which contribute greatly to air pollution and can create a fog or haze (think smog).
At the end of the study, researchers found that consistent exposure to fine particulate matter raises your chances of dying from cancer significantly.
In fact, for every 10 μg/m3 increase of particulate matter (for reference, New York City’s level is only 14μg/m3), the risk of dying from breast cancer increased 80 percent; 73 percent from vaginal cancers; 42 percent from cancers of the upper digestive tract; and 35 percent from cancer of the digestive organs, like the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.
But the increase wasn’t just for these specific cancers. The results concluded that your chance of dying from any type of cancer increased by 22 percent for every 10 μg/m3 increase in exposure to fine particulate matter.
But the health dangers don’t stop there. Fine particulate matter is linked to other health issues and, more importantly, isn’t exclusive to China. Actually, there are North American cities that experience levels of fine particulate matter similar to those found in this Hong Kong-based study.
Not Just China’s Problem
Data from cities all over the world show that deaths and hospital admissions from heart and lung issues increase greatly soon after spikes in air pollution levels.
This is because these tiny particles can get deep into your lungs, and some can even enter your bloodstream, which, in turn, also trigger devastating symptoms like heart attack, aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat and decreased lung function.
And recently, air pollutants have been linked to other severe conditions like diabetes, obesity, autism and cognitive decline. To sum it up, poor air quality could be the cause of the most common chronic health issues you are faced with today.
The problem is you’re going to be exposed, regardless of if your windows open or not. Outdoor air will seep into your home through ventilation systems and regular opening of doors and windows. This means you need to protect yourself from fine particulate matter in your home.
One way to do this is with a quality air purifier.
Air purifiers use HEPA filters to drastically reduce the levels of fine particulate matter in your home — some HEPA filters can filter out particles as tiny as 0.3 microns. This means the filter can reduce your exposure to these cancer- and heart attack-linked particles.
In fact, one study shows that HEPA filters can reduce the overall level of indoor fine particulate matter by 40 percent.
Another important feature to look for in an air purifier is a carbon-activated filter. These filters can remove impurities and contaminants and is some cases can remove up to 99.97 percent of airborne contaminants when coupled with a HEPA filtration system.
I recently purchased the Alexapure Breeze air purification system, and I’m now breathing easy. The air in my home is fresher, and I can already feel difference in my energy and overall well-being.
Managing editor, Living Well Daily