How Does the Quality of Air Affect Our Health?

ByMarc Silberberg


Chipper Stevens, age 49, is a resident of Linden, New Jersey and has lived all his adult life with a chronic asthmatic cough. There are certain conditions which make it flare up like, smoke, allergens, and dust. When he feels an asthma attack coming on, he uses an inhaler to help open the airways and allow the proper flow of oxygen. Chipper has gotten used to this condition and has learned to accept it as part of his life. Some people have chronic illnesses and at least his condition is treatable.

In recent years, the issue of air quality has become quite a trending topic. With the historic fires raging near Sacramento, California, towns in the area have a current air quality reading of PM2.5 with an air quality index of 154. Such high levels can make it difficult for even healthy people to breathe properly, and experts suggest that those with heart or lung disease, elderly adults, children, and teens should avoid the outdoors altogether. Normal or good air quality should have an air quality index of 50 or lower. Air quality can impact our respiratory health and make it harder to breathe without us even realizing.

Here in the suburbs of Linden, New Jersey, residents are impacted by the quality of the air and  might not even know it. They might think that it is just the norm, but if you go a bit more south on the Garden State Parkway, you will be surprised to see quite a contrast in air quality.  The measurement of the primary pollutant high in Linden, is an AQI of 40, while in Jackson the primary pollutant does not even have a reading of zero. 

What Is the Air Quality Index (AQI)? 

The AQI measures the quality of air per a geographic region. Countries can each have their own metrics of what they choose to measure and what they do not. Here in the United States of America, the AQI can range anywhere from 0 to 500, with 0 – 50 meaning no level of health concern, and 151 – 200 deeming the quality of air unhealthy. Pretty much anything below 50 is the norm and you can go outside and enjoy yourself. Just to give you an idea as to what the AQI is near the wildfires on the west coast, Meadow Valley, CA has a current AQI of 304. Besides for the danger of the actual fire, there is an additional danger of hazardous air quality.

What Does This Mean for Me Living in Linden, NJ?

Surprisingly, those who live in Union County, New Jersey should be aware of the air quality. Just down the block is the Phillips 66 Refinery which processes mainly light, low-sulfur crude oil. Though they try extremely hard to limit smoke and gas emissions, there are some remnants which may impact the air quality outside your home. Government agencies monitor oil refineries to make sure that they are not negatively impacting the environment. However, those who have chronic respiratory conditions need to be aware of AQI and check regularly before heading out. Air pollutants may have a negative impact on their breathing while not affecting others. 

Does Living Near an Oil Refinery Affect the Quality of Air in My Home? 

There are ways to measure the air quality in one’s home. The tool used for this is an indoor air quality monitor and pricing varies from just $10 to $300. The IQAir AirVisual Pro Air Quality Monitor provides both indoor and outdoor air quality. Occupants of the home can feel safe knowing that the air quality is being watched. For those who live near oil refineries or plants of that type, it would be a good investment to begin monitoring the air quality of your home. If you live with someone who unfortunately smokes, you do want to keep an eye on the air quality even more so. Besides for being unhealthy, smokers may not realize the negative effects smoking can have on the quality of air in the home. The smell of smoke can get into the air ducts of the home and pass through even the finest air filters. Once there is a significant accumulation of smoke in your duct work it will recirculate through the HVAC system. 

What to Do If the Air Coming Out of The Vents Smells of Smoke?

After you have ruled out any source of real fire danger it would be highly recommended to have a local air duct cleaning specialist come to inspect your ducts. Once there they can identify where the smoke is coming from and get rid of it by using a sophisticated negative air pressure system. If you are a new homeowner, it may very well be from a previous owner who had an appliance flare up or just kept on burning what was inside the oven. The subtle events of baking or cooking in the kitchen over decades can leave over some remnants in the duct work. 

Before any work is done make sure you can get a clear diagnosis of what is going on in your ducts before agreeing to any work being done. Unfortunately, duct cleaning scams are very common these days and you need to take caution to hire reputable air duct cleaning companies. Always ask for an estimate in writing, NADCA certification, and anything else which might make you feel comfortable hiring them for the job.

How Does the Quality of Air Impact Our Health?

There are some organizations out there which will not be mentioned that claim that nine out of every ten breaths are pollutants. Now that’s a pretty outrageous number be it that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says that the quality of the air has actually improved ever since 1990. According to a dynamic graph by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2013 all major pollutants fell below the national standard and continue to decline. So, regarding keeping the air clean, the residents of the United States of America should pat themselves on the back.

When air quality impacts a person’s health, we are talking about those who have health conditions that impact their upper respiratory system. An increase in PM2.5 (particulate matter) can cause flare ups in people with medical conditions like asthma, heart disease, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Therefore, it is important that caregivers of people with such conditions stay in tune when there is a local air quality alert. 

What Does an Air Quality Advisory Mean?

You turn on your local news and right after they report the weather you hear that there is an air quality advisory in effect. In the United States of America there are four primary pollutants, ground level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. Ever since the Clean Air Act of 1963 was enacted, government agencies began monitoring the quality of air to control air pollution. If there was a consistent reading of high levels of one of the four pollutants above, local authorities would investigate the area hoping to stop the strain on the air quality. 

Air quality alerts or advisories should have significant meaning for healthcare professionals who attend to both older and younger patients. Each of these demographics will be more sensitive to the quality of air and may tend to see respiratory flare ups. Instead of taking a stroll outdoors, these folks might want to stay indoors. Even when wearing a mask, the quality of air can still have a negative effect and it would be best to stay away from poor air quality. There are many weather apps available that provide air quality information to make an informed and educated decision.

Final Words

Monitoring the air quality inside and outside your home is not something most people ever think about but there are certain groups which need to be aware of air quality alerts. The United State of America has come a long way and its air quality is improving year by year. In recent months, some of the biggest cities and most famous attractions have had record air quality for low pollutants. This was due to the lack of travel due to coronavirus and telecommunication. Three major cities which include New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle have seen 30% fewer pollutants than average ever since the stay at home orders were in place. There were images of Venice, Italy of clear blue skies circulating the web showing the positive impact on the quality of air. To everything in life there is a silver lining and it is incumbent upon us humans to find it. If coronavirus shows us that we can conduct our lives while producing less pollution it is a lesson well learned. However, now it is time for our local businesses to reopen. They are desperate to make up for the losses they have incurred during the coronavirus lockdown. Thank the one above that the infection rate is below 1% and we hope and pray that it stays that way. 

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