Air quality is something we need to be concerned about all year round. Pollution can affect our brains, hearts, lungs, and even lead to premature death. In fact, The World Health Organization estimated that in 2012, 7 millions premature deaths were caused by air pollution, worldwide.
But, while it’s always important to monitor your indoor air, there are several reasons why we need to be extra alert in the summer.
In the summer, the increased use of air conditioners and other devices emits more pollutants, which the sun and heat transform into secondary pollutants that can be even more toxic. The two most dangerous pollutants are ozone and fine particulate matter.
Ozone: sunlight and high temperatures trigger chemical reactions between primary air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (emitted by engines) and oxygen, causing a chemical reaction that forms ozone. The hotter the day and the more intense the sun, the more ozone is formed.
Ozone exacerbates lung diseases such as asthma and can cause breathing difficulties even in healthy individuals.
Fine particulate matter: Fine particulate matter, or PM are a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope. Particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to our health. Research has shown that exposure to PM2.5 can result in a range of heart and lung problems and, in extreme cases, even cause premature death.
Increased atmospheric pressure
High temperatures often come with an increase in atmospheric pressure that creates a stagnant layer of air above ground level. When this happens in urban areas, air pollution gets trapped and pollution density increases. Without sufficient wind or precipitation, pollutants don’t get cleared from the air and continue to build up right above ground level.
When the temperatures rise, people tend to keep windows closed and the air condition on high. But, while preventing outdoor air from coming inside may keep the temperature of your home more comfortable, it also decreases airflow and traps pollutants inside. In fact, indoor air is typically two to five times worse than outdoor air.
While we often think of spring and fall as allergy season, the truth is that pollen season continues to lengthen every year. The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change has issued an urgent warning that climate change is drastically affecting pollen count by altering seasonal changes. Today, pollen emerges sooner and sticks around longer, making allergy season longer and more intense than it’s ever been before.
Not only is allergy season worse, but more people are being affected by it. Currently, 10-30% of the world’s population suffer from seasonal allergies. In America alone, 35 million people every year experience hay fever caused by wind-borne pollen or mold spores.
In the early 1950s, wildfire season was typically five months long. As climate change has intensified, our current wildfire season has grown to seven months, peaking in August.
Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. Those tiny particles can easily slip into your home through windows, doors and ventilation systems. If they get into your eyes, nose, or mouth they can cause a multitude of health problems, including runny nose, burning eyes, and respiratory illnesses.
Although wildfires are most prevalent in the Western states, people all over the country can be affected. That’s because, while the bigger particles emitted by wildfires often fall to the ground near the site of the wildfire in the form of ash, the tiny PM2.5 particles travel much farther, sometimes even reaching across continents. Because the smallest particles are the most dangerous, it’s important for people even hundreds of miles away to protect themselves from the dangers of wildfire smoke.
How can you protect yourself from the increased pollution of summer?
Since both indoor and outdoor air can be problematic in the summer, it’s important to take precautions no matter where you are.
Check the ozone levels and pollen count before going outdoors. Because pollution tends to be more intense in cities, summer is a good time to get away to greener spaces if possible.
A high quality air purifier with a combination of HEPA and activated carbon filters will keep your indoor air free of dangerous gases and particle pollution. Clean air is essential to good health in the summer and all through the year.