A Silent Killer in the Air

A Silent Killer in the Air

A Silent Killer in the Air

A Silent Killer in the Air

Do you know that indoor air pollution is among the world’s top five environmental health risks?

Estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and others suggest that between 30 and 150 times more people are killed due to indoor air pollution than global warming.

Premature death due to household air pollution

Percentage of premature deaths by pneumonia among children under 5 caused by house air pollution.

Annual premature deaths from non-communicable diseases

According to WHO:

  • Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels
  • More than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by the particulate matter inhaled from household air pollution.
  • 3.8 million premature deaths annually from non-communicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are attributed to exposure to household air pollution.

In its March 2014 report, WHO estimated that about 7 million people worldwide died as a result of air pollution exposure in 2012 alone. South-East Asia and the Western Pacific areas are the regions in which health is most affected by air pollution, with approximately 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million to outdoor air pollution – scarily more deaths from polluted air indoors than outdoors!

It may come to a surprise to you that the concentrations of many pollutants indoors exceed those outdoors. Studies by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas.

Concentrations of many contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also consistently higher indoors than outdoors. An EPA study covering six communities in various parts of the US found indoor VOC levels up to 10 times higher than those outdoors, even in locations with significant outdoor air pollution sources, such as petrochemical plants.

Where does all the air pollution come from?

Pollutants that can affect air quality in a home fall into the two broad categories:

  • Particulate matter includes dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander (skin flakes from an animal’s hair or fur), tobacco smoke, particles generated from combustion appliances such as cooking stoves, and particles associated with microorganisms such as dust mites, moulds, bacteria, and viruses.
  • Gaseous pollutants come from combustion processes. Sources include gas cooking stoves, vehicle exhaust, and tobacco smoke. They also come from building materials, furnishings, and the use of products such as adhesives, paints, varnishes, cleaning products, and pesticides.

Ironically, the seemingly cleanest homes or offices may actually have the worst air quality due to the fastidious use of cleaning products and air fresheners that release harmful VOCs. Synthetic fragrances are the biggest culprits.

Various sources of harmful particulate matter

Research by a team from the University of Washington on 25 common fragranced consumer products —laundry products, personal care products, cleaning supplies and air fresheners, many of them top sellers in their categories— found 133 different VOCs emitted from the products, with an average of 17 VOCs per product. Of these 133 VOCs, 24 are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these compounds. Among them are probable carcinogens (cancer causing) acetaldehydea, formaldehyde and methylene chloride.

Biological air pollutants are found to some degree in every home, school, and workplace. Sources include outdoor air; and human occupants who shed viruses and bacteria (e.g. influenza, measles, chicken pox); pets, dust mites and other pests (e.g. cockroaches) that shed allergens; toxins released by moulds and mildews; as well as indoor surfaces and water reservoirs where fungi and bacteria can grow.

Building dampness were determined to be associated with 30% to 50% increases in a variety of respiratory and asthma-related health outcomes. In Malaysia, where the average relative humidity is way above 80%, we have to take extra precautions to prevent these biological contaminants from spreading.

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), also known as secondhand smoke, is another major source of indoor air pollution.

WHO estimates that tobacco kills around 6 million people each year — more than 5 million due to direct tobacco use and more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to ETS. ETS a dynamic complex mixture of more than 7,000 chemicals found in both vapour and particle phases, more than 70 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, and many of which are strong irritants.

Despite the ban on indoor smoking in public places, we still see smoking in some worksites, many restaurants and other “hangout” places such as pubs and karaoke joints. Alas, you can ban smoking in your home and still be exposed to ETS. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no risk-free level of ETS exposure; even brief exposure can be harmful to health.

Just because the room seems well ventilated with hardly any smoky smell does not mean ETS is not silently killing you anyway. Research has led to the conclusion that total removal of ETS through general ventilation is not feasible.

In fact, one should not rely on odour to determine what is good or safe. Some things that smell, like vinegar, are harmless. Some odourless things—like radon and carbon monoxide— are very harmful. Sometimes, chemicals can cause you to feel sick before you notice any odour. Some people also experience “olfactory fatigue,” which is a deadening of the sense of smell. This can happen soon after the first odour sensation occurs, especially if it is a very strong odour.

Blueair Aware

Be Aware of Indoor Air

Bad indoor air quality kills. The new Blueair Aware is an air monitoring device designed to quickly detect hundreds of different types of airborne particles in your indoor environment, including everything from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to VOCs. It also tracks room humidity and temperature. Monitor your indoor air quality in real-time, track the data, and get alerts on your smartphone with the Blueair Friend App.

This article is brought to you by

Getting to know PM2.5

Getting to know PM2.5

What is PM?

PM is short for “particulate matter”. It refers to particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Many man-made and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM. These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen – like soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually, they can only be detected with an electron microscope.

What is the difference between PM2.5 and PM10?

PM is usually measured in two size ranges: PM10 and PM2.5.
PM10 refers to particles with diameters that are less than or equal to 10 microns in size (a micron, or micrometer, is one-millionth of a meter), or about 1/7 the diameter of a human hair.

PM2.5, also called “fine particulates,” consists of particles with diameters that are less than or equal to 2.5 microns in size. That’s about 1/30 the diameter of a human hair. PM2.5 is a more serious health concern than PM10, since smaller particles can travel more deeply into our lungs and affect your health.

Where does PM2.5 come from?

Fine particles are produced from all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, volcanic eruptions, dust storms and some industrial processes. Some are emitted directly into the air, while others are formed when gases and particles interact with one another in the atmosphere.

Why is it so dangerous?

The health effects of PM10 and PM2.5 are well documented. Over-exposure to PM increases the risk of heart and lung illnesses and can reduce an individual’s lifespan. Alarmingly, there is no evidence of a safe level of exposure or a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur.

Numerous studies have linked long-term particle pollution, especially PM2.5, with significant health problems including:

  • Increased respiratory symptoms, e.g. irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Decreased lung function
  • Aggravated asthma
  • Development of chronic respiratory disease in children
  • Development of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nonfatal heart attacks

Premature death in people with heart or lung disease, including death from lung cancer Short-term exposure to particles (hours or days) can:

  • Aggravate lung disease causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis
  • Increase susceptibility to respiratory infections
  • Cause heart attacks and arrhythmias in people with heart disease

Even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms, such as:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath

How can I find out about PM2.5 level in my community?

Unfortunately, unlike neighbouring Singapore and even Indonesia, Malaysia does not publish any PM2.5 data.

While the Department of Environment (DOE) Malaysia releases its Air Pollutant Index (API) readings taken at 52 stations hourly, the air pollutants measured do not include PM2.5. The five pollutants currently measured are ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and PM10. The pollutant with the highest concentration is then taken as the API reading and this is usually PM10.

The DOE in its website said it is in the midst of finalising the new Malaysian Air Quality Guidelines to include the standard limit of PM2.5 in the ambient air based on World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2006 guidelines. “Subsequently, we will need to come up with a PM2.5 Air Quality Index System and data integration with the existing system in our Environmental Data Centre (EDC) prior to including it in our API calculation.” Adoption is likely to happen by end-2016.

How does our API readings compare with, say Singapore?

Singapore uses the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) which measures what Malaysia’s API does, plus PM2.5. Both Malaysia’s API and Singapore’s PSI are standards developed for measuring pollutants by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and have similar categories — a reading of 0-50 is considered ‘good’, 51- 100 ‘moderate’, 101-200 ‘unhealthy’, 201-300 ‘very unhealthy’. A reading above 300 is ‘hazardous’. But a straightforward comparison between them will be like comparing apples to oranges.

Reading for API
0 – 50 Good
51 – 100 Moderate
101 – 200 Unhealthy
201 – 300 Very Unhealthy
Above 300 hazardous

As Malaysia does not measure PM2.5, its API shows substantially lower readings. This creates a more positive but ultimately illusory picture of the state of our nation’s air quality.

Blueair Aware

Be Aware of Indoor Air

What can I do to reduce exposure to PM2.5 when the haze is bad?

  • Stay indoors in a room or building with filtered air. PM can get indoors, so consider getting an effective air purifier. Air cleaners that remove particles include high-efficiency mechanical filters and electronic air cleaners, such as electrostatic precipitators
  • Keep your activity levels low. Avoid activities that make you breathe faster or more deeply to reduce the amount of particle pollution you inhale into your lungs.
  • Don’t add to the air pollution. Avoid using anything that burns, e.g. cigarettes, candles, incense.
  • Keep the indoor environment clean but don’t vacuum unless your vacuum cleaner has high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters. Otherwise, you will just stir up the particles already inside your home. Wet mopping can help reduce dust.
  • Don’t rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from small particles such as PM2.5. Scarves or bandanas won’t help either. Disposable respirators known as N-95 or P-100 respirators will help if you have to be outdoors for a period of time. It’s important that you wear the respirator correctly, however.

Blueair’s HEPASilentTM filtration process captures 99.97% of airborne particles down to 0.1 micron in size

Blueair’s HEPASilentTM filtration process captures 99.97% of airborne particles down to 0.1 micron in size

This article is brought to you by

This article is brought to you by

No haze, no problem? Think again.

No haze, no problem? Think again.

In recent years Malaysia has been hit by bad levels of air pollution. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels which exceed WHO’s air quality health limit.

As a result of the increasing levels of impurities in outdoor air coupled by bouts of haze that Malaysia is prone to, many of us seek shelter indoors thinking that it would be safer. However, if you think the air indoors is clean, think again.

%

Urbanites living with air quality exceeding health limit

Death indoor air pollution

Death outdoor air pollution

Based on a WHO report, South East Asia and Western Pacific Regions faced the largest air pollution related issues. Whilst 2.6 million deaths were related to outdoor air pollution, 3.3 million deaths were related to indoor air pollution. Have you ever stopped to think about what it is that you’re breathing in on a daily basis at home?

WHAT’S CAUSING INDOOR POLLUTION?

Scented Candles

For most households, scented candles are perceived to be beneficial with the rising trend of scent and aroma therapy. However scented candles are made using paraffin which is a petroleum waste product. The toxins released are similar to the ones found in diesel fuel fumes.

Aerosol Sprays

Aerosol sprays, air fresheners and house cleaning products unfortunately contain harmful elements such as lead, chlorofluorocarbons, volatile organic compounds and more which cause respiratory problems.

Aerosol Sprays

Aerosol sprays, air fresheners and house cleaning products unfortunately contain harmful elements such as lead, chlorofluorocarbons, volatile organic compounds and more which cause respiratory problems.

Cooking Fumes

Can you believe that even cooking causes indoor pollution? Frying, boiling and sauteing at high temperatures can create hazardous pollutants. Even toasters, refrigerators, ovens and other household appliance are known to release ultrafine particles.

Pollens & Pet Dander

Pollen from plants at home and pets, although loved by most, may cause allergies and respiratory related problems.

Pollens & Pet Dander

Pollen from plants at home and pets, although loved by most, may cause allergies and respiratory related problems.

The air pollution inside your home can be up to five times worse than it is outside, and we spend approximately 90% of our time indoors. Toxic fumes released from cleaning solvents, deodorants and scented candles are some of the most common indoor air pollutants, a study carried out by the US Environmental Protection Agency suggests.

Other major indoor air pollutants include gases from cooking and central heating, mould, pet hair, pollen and allergens. Invisible to the naked eye, it is these ultrafine and potentially harmful particles that are able to travel easily through the air at home and can contain a mixture of the following gases and particles:

0.1 microns 1 micron 2 microns 5 microns 10 microns
Ultrafine particles Odours Industrial emissions Bacteria Pollen
Carbon dust Toxic fumes Insecticide dust Mould Allergens
Coal fuel gases Cooking oil
smoke
Liquid bacteria Cement dust Fertiliser
Tobacco smoke Asbestos Paint pigments Coal dust Spores
Radon gas Insulation
fibreglass
Antiperspirant Textile fibres

Pollutants are made up of ultrafine particles as tiny as 0.1 microns (that’s 1000 times smaller than the human hair!). Because children tend to breathe faster than the average adult this means that they’re inhaling more pollutants than we do.

Prolonged inhalation of pollutants can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation as well as skin aging, stroke, and heart attacks. This is a result of ultrafine particles sticking onto the linings of our lungs or penetrating our bloodstream.

The Solution

As Dyson is in the business of clean, they have developed a smart purifier solution to help households in Malaysia take charge of their respiratory health. From mould to ultrafine allergens, odours and pollutants, the Dyson Pure Cool Link has you covered. With a 360° Glass HEPA filter, it captures 99.95% of particles down to the size of 0.1microns*, more than other purifiers.

Intelligent Purification, with real-time data

The Dyson Pure Cool Link has been engineered with intelligent purification. Equipped with smart sensors, it automatically monitors the environment for pollutants, and presents the information to you live via the Dyson Link app (compatible with both iOS and Android). When harmful pollutants are detected, it automatically purifies the air, and reports the results live to the application.

Now you can track and monitor the indoor air quality levels at all times – even when you’re not at home.

As a 2-in-1 machine, the Dyson Pure Cool Link purifying fan uses the Air Multiplier™ technology to circulate purified air across the room, cooling you down on warmer days if required.

So if you’re ready to get a good dose of fresh, clean air,