Folks who are more sensitive to the impacts of air pollution — such as the young, the elderly, and those with respiratory illnesses — are advised to take measures when an air quality alert is issued. But what exactly is air quality indicative of, and how is it determined?
The human body can survive only minutes without breathing, so it goes without saying that the air we breathe, and the quality of the air we breathe, is pretty important. That’s why it’s essential to regularly be aware of the air quality in your home and environment, and here’s how it works.
What Causes Poor Air Quality?
You've likely heard of ozone — an odorless, colorless gas in the upper part of Earth's atmosphere. Having an ozone layer above Earth is beneficial because it protects us from the Sun's dangerous rays.
However, ozone at ground level is harmful to humans and can cause numerous health concerns. Ozone is produced when certain chemicals interact because of heat and sunlight — pollutants of this type can be released by various sources, including factories, vehicles, and even gas stations (Pei, Xuan, Morrison, & Rim, 2022).
Wildfires, volcanoes, factory emissions, automobile exhaust pipes, combustion processes (such as burning fossil fuels, crops, and even artificially created forests), and other similar events can also release these harmful particles and compounds into the atmosphere and even contribute to smog.
These are all factors that can contribute to outdoor pollution. Outdoor pollution can manifest visibly as smog, but it can also seriously affect the health of those who breathe it in.
Indoor air pollution, on the other hand, is usually caused by the accumulation of contaminants from various sources inside a home. Emissions from stoves, cleaning products, chemicals, and building materials are known to produce harmful gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Once these chemicals are in our homes, they are released into the air we constantly breathe. This isn’t good by any means — breathing in low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase your risk of developing certain health problems, such as asthma (Liu et al., 2022).
Although it may sound like outdoor pollution stays outdoors, nothing could be further from the truth.
Most indoor environments are ventilated with outdoor air, which means that the pollution level of outdoor air is directly related to the baseline level of indoor pollution. When you add in indoor-specific contaminants and VOCs, indoor pollution levels can rise up to three to five times higher than outdoor levels.
How Is Air Quality Measured?
While we reap many benefits from the ever-increasing pace of global change, we also bear the burden of its many unintended effects on the natural world and our well-being. Recently, concerns about polluted air have gained widespread attention.
Despite our best efforts to enhance the quality of the air we breathe at home by cleaning, vacuuming, disinfecting, and even using expensive, noisy, high-maintenance air filters — the problem still exists both indoors and outdoors.
Although there’s a clear link between indoor and outdoor pollution, they are measured differently. It’s important to know how to measure air quality in both your indoor and outdoor environments.
Here are a few of the methods used for either indoor or outdoor pollution measurement and air monitoring so you can better understand how air quality is determined.
Satellites that monitor the Earth's surface collect air quality data in real time to detect outdoor pollution concentrations. Air quality regulators and scientists studying the effects of air pollution on human health and agricultural production can use the data gathered by the satellites' air quality sensors.
When trying to assess the impact and spread of a wildfire, data from air quality monitoring gathered from satellites can be valuable.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US operates two satellite monitoring systems: the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R (GOES-R) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). In the former case, outdoor pollution levels are monitored every five minutes, while in the latter, a daily picture of air quality is taken in greater detail.
2. Humidity Sensors
Relative humidity, or RH, is essential for comfortable interior conditions, and a humidity sensor can determine this by detecting and quantifying water vapor in the air.
The humidity level is the metric that is employed to measure the indoor environment. The air's water content and temperature are relative humidity factors. A percentage is the standard format for reporting this statistic. At around 40 to 60 percent, relative humidity is ideal for residents.
3. CO2 Sensors
An essential variable of ambient air quality standards is the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2). We take in oxygen through our noses and breathe out carbon dioxide through our mouths and noses — and when there’s too much CO2, it can lead to low indoor oxygen levels that make it tough to focus.
A CO2 sensor monitors the air for elevated levels of indoor carbon dioxide and provide data on CO2 levels in parts per million (ppm). Maintaining a CO2 level below 1,000 ppm is recommended for the health of residents and the prevention of cognitive impairment (Azuma, Kagi, Yanagi, & Osawa, 2018).
How Do You Know If Your Air Quality Is Okay?
You can find daily information on air quality in the Air Quality Index (AQI). This real-time air pollution and air quality record was created to give consumers a better idea of how the air quality in their area may affect their health. It's a quick indicator of the long-term health risks of breathing polluted air.
National air quality regulations have been developed to ensure the public's well-being, and the EPA is responsible for calculating the Air Quality Index (AQI) for the five most common air contaminants, which include:
- Ground-level ozone
- Particle pollution and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10)
- Carbon monoxide
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen dioxide
The higher the AQI, the more dangerous the air pollution is to human health. For instance, if the AQI is 50 or less, the air quality is considered healthy for most people, whereas an AQI of 300 or above is considered highly unhealthy and can lead to long-term health effects.
Many eco-conscious nations have effectively employed the AQI concept over the past few decades. The Air Quality Index (AQI) rapidly publicizes current data on air quality.
What Can You Do To Improve Indoor Air Quality?
There are many things you can do to improve the quality of the air you breathe. Not sure where to start? Check out these quick tips:
Tip #1: Control the Source
When a specific pollutant source can be pinpointed, eliminating or reducing it is the most efficient — and low-cost — way to improve indoor air quality. For example, if your stovetop emits fumes as you cook, consider installing a kitchen exhaust fan.
As soon as you identify what’s wreaking havoc on your air quality, you can do your best to take the appropriate steps to control the source and create a better breathing environment.
Some air cleaners can help improve indoor air quality by using HEPA filters to remove particulate matter. While this is a big step in the right direction, these air cleaners often don’t address other types of harmful pollution, such as VOCs.
Tip #2: Improve Ventilation
Another helpful method is increasing the amount of outdoor air inside. The ducts and fans that make up a building's ventilation system are responsible for removing stale air and replacing it with outside air.
Making sure your ventilation system is in working order regularly can ensure that cleaner outside air is circulating properly throughout your home.
Tip #3: Use Neoplants
Believe it or not, plants are nature’s air filters, and while normal plants only uptake CO2 as a food source, Neo P1 does the same with the most harmful indoor VOCs.
Neo P1 works to recycle four main VOCs into water, sugar, amino acids, and oxygen — it’s one powerful plant that is both good for the world and gorgeous for your home.
Through metabolism engineering and directed evolution, Neo P1 is up to 30 times more powerful than most depolluting houseplants, bringing you and innovative and elegant way to combat indoor air pollution.
The Bottom Line
Whether you agree with global warming or don’t, there’s no denying that the quality of the air we breathe is on a decline. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a whopping 7 million people — and counting — die prematurely every year due to air pollution.
Fortunately, we can make small changes with big impacts, like using Neoplants to improve air quality for all.
In fact, that’s why we created Neoplants — the first generation of plants bioengineered to capture and eliminate VOCs with unprecedented efficiency.
Using synthetic biology to develop the first indoor plant that can effectively purify the ambient air in your home, Neoplants are the plants of the future.
Join the waiting list to get a chance to pre-order Neo P1 for yourself!
Azuma, K., Kagi, N., Yanagi, U., & Osawa, H. (2018). Effects of low-level inhalation exposure to carbon dioxide in indoor environments: A short review on human health and psychomotor performance. Environ Intl. 121:51-6. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.08.059
Pei, G., Xuan, Y., Morrison, G., & Rim, D. (2022). Understanding Ozone Transport and Deposition within Indoor Surface Boundary Layers. Environ Sci Technol. 2022 Jun 21;56(12):7820-7829. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.1c08040.
Liu, N., et al. (2022). Health effects of exposure to indoor volatile organic compounds from 1980 to 2017: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int. J. Environ. Health.32:e13038. doi: 10.1111/ina.13038.
What is Ozone? | Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Air Pollution and Your Health | NIEHS
Air Quality in the Home | Illinois Department of Public Health
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in Your Home | Minnesota Department of Health
Kitchen exhaust fans vary in effectiveness in reducing indoor air pollution | American Chemical Society
Plants Improve Indoor Air Quality | UF/IFAS Extension Orange County
Data Review: How many people die from air pollution? | Our World Data