The editorial in last week’s Beachcomber calls for much-needed climate action. On a more immediate personal level, it is time to prepare the air in our homes to best support staying healthy and sustaining health during difficult weather, pollution, viruses, bacteria, and fire conditions.
Having clean air to breathe is now a serious issue. The atmosphere in our homes can be managed for optimal breathing health. Without taking preventive steps the inside air can be as filled with smoke and pollution as the outside air even if you have your windows closed. Smoke seeps through cracked and older, poorly sealed windows. Being prepared now for possible futures of wildfires and deterioration of atmospheric conditions due to fossil fuel emissions will prevent the scramble for these items and finding them sold out.
Some of these items are unfortunately already in short supply. The more immediate way to refer to climate change is to realize that we are dealing with changes to our atmosphere. The air we share with the entire population of the planet is in danger. 91% of the world’s population does not have a steady daily supply of clean air. Close to 9 million a year die from air pollution. Respiratory illness and heart attacks and strokes prevail as the major cause of death. Breathing polluted air steadily for several days will cause damaging inflammation. This is especially true for those who already have compromised immune systems, the elderly, pets, and children.
Air quality on Vashon can be poor for a few hours in the morning as the trucks arrive bringing food and other supplies. With air quality in the United States deteriorating for the first time since the Clean Air Act in 1967, we must be prepared now. Below, I have listed some things to do. Some research is needed to get the equipment best suited to your needs and financial abilities.
Each home needs to have on hand:
1. A good Air Quality Monitor to measure the inside air (inside air can be two to three times more polluted than the outside air) and know what kind of air you are breathing. This will guide you in implementing steps to improve the air quality if needed. Also to keep track of the results of the other air quality improvements being made. The monitor needs to have a reading for Carbon Dioxide levels. When there is smoke outside and we close all the windows, CO2 levels can rise quickly making one groggy and create a loss of cognitive abilities. Standards for co2 are online.
2. An effective air purification setup to clean indoor air. To be effective the size of the air purifier must match the size of the room you are attempting to keep clean. Each purifier states the size of the room it will clean on the box. This is the CADR – Clean Air Delivery Rate. How many times will the air in the space be turned over per hour for the size of the room it is rated for. Decibel levels are also on the box so you will know if it will be too noisy for your comfort level. For HVAC systems a MERV 13 filter is necessary. Be sure your unit can handle that much filtration and not harm the motor.
3. For smoke, the air purifier must have an activated charcoal filter along with a HEPA or True HEPA filter. Most also have a pre-wash filter to save filter life
4. Air purifiers vary in price from under $100 up to $1,000. Good reviews are available online
5. Making your own air purifier for under $40 can be accomplished with a box fan and a MERV 13 furnace filter. Adding an extra activated charcoal filter can be a good idea. There are many videos on YouTube on how to make these.
6. For smoke, masks need to have activated charcoal in them. Plain cotton masks do not filter smoke. Charcoal mask inserts are available for this purpose.
7. It is advised by the Environmental Protection Agency to set up a clean room in your home. This would be a room that has clean purified air with no openings that allow smoke from the outside to enter. Again, instructions are on the EPA website and YouTube on how to accomplish this. It must have fresh circulating air, one that provides heating and cooling.
8. A pulse oximeter to monitor saturation levels of oxygen in the blood when you are feeling breathless. These readings will tell you when it is urgent to get help.
9. What not to do when there is smoke in the air. No cooking in the house or outside. No vacuuming which creates dust in the air. When the smoke is bad, take a shower and wash pets when you come back inside, otherwise, you carry the debris into the house. Keep children off the floor and away from smoke debris carried into the house. Nasal washes are a good idea too after being outside.
10. Nasal breathing only is a must if possible. Mouth breathing takes all the smoke and pollution directly into your lungs. Nasal breathing gives the nose a chance to filter and condition the air for the lungs.
Robert Litman is the founder of Vashon-based The Breathable Body.