Is the Air in Your Home Affecting Your Health? How to Reduce Indoor Pollution
as featured in Vogue: MAY 17, 2016 by Laura Regensdorf
Pollution is increasingly—and rightfully—on people’s minds lately, as seen in the host of new products addressing its negative effects on the skin and the troubling smog levels in cities like Beijing. But only recently did I start thinking more seriously about the air quality inside the home, after a pair of prolific chain-smokers moved in downstairs, sending evidence of their dedication wafting up into my apartment. What else, besides that stale Marlboro tinge, lurks behind closed doors and windows?
“Indoor air is rated by the EPA, and all our research indicates that it’s five times worse than outdoor air,” says Max Kirk, Ph.D., an associate professor at Washington State University who researches indoor air quality. “As we tighten up our homes for energy efficiency, we live in more of a soup than we ever have before.” The ingredients in that unsavory soup might include chemical gases emitted by furniture, household cleaning products, common allergens like dust, and outside pollution that breezes in and stays put. “If you think that about 90 percent of your life is spent indoors, then it really starts to add up,” stresses Kirk, who is part of a team of scientists at work on a three-year, EPA-funded study examining the effects of climate change on domestic spaces. “A home is almost a living thing: It moves. It breathes. It exhausts air on its own; it brings in air,” he says, explaining how they tracked the effects of last summer’s forest fires inside two homes. “As researchers, it really opened our eyes.”
Of course, there can be less flagrant invaders when it comes to indoor air quality, as Julie Kuriakose, M.D., tells me in the Tribeca branch of Hudson Allergy, where she installed a graphic black-and-white floor in lieu of carpeting (a notorious catchall for triggers). Come spring—and the tree pollen that arrives with it—her New York offices are flooded with people seeking relief. Among the top indoor offenders are pet dander (some of which, like cats’, can linger as long as six months after the animal has left the home); irritants (even seemingly pleasant ones, like scented candles); and microscopic dust mites, which can be found in bedding, fabric-covered furniture, and feather-filled items like down jackets and comforters. Kuriakose rattles off an array of commonsense tips, including investing in dust-mite covers for pillows, frequent vacuuming, and showering at night to wash off any pollen that has hitched a ride indoors.
Beyond that—and especially in cases where a fresh-air, windows-open strategy only stokes an allergic reaction—an indoor purifier equipped with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter can be a worthwhile investment. “Buy an appropriate-size one for the room you’re putting it in,” says Kurikose, who recommends keeping it in the bedroom.
Fortunately for those of us who value space and aesthetics, Dyson has just unveiled a svelte new model, the Dyson Pure Cool Link, equipped with feedback sensors that connect to your smartphone. There’s a round desktop version and an upright Ewok-size tower—a gentle whirring giant that has been issuing calls of “fair” and “good” from my room. The HEPA filter has two layers, according to Hugo Wilson, a design lead at Dyson. One is high-quality borosilicate glass, which is pleated 200 times to trap up to 99.97 percent of pollutants and allergens; the other is an activated carbon cloth, which targets VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, emitted by household cleaners and such. That the purifier doubles as a fan is a welcome perk, with summer on the horizon. The bigger plus? “The ability to have a window into your air purifier,” Wilson tells me, likening the real-time reports on air quality (both indoor and outdoor) to the clear canisters on the original Dyson vacuums.
In the meantime, as the whirring Dyson purifier continues its work absorbing my neighbors’ cigarette sillage, my next stop is an allergy screening at Kuriakose’s office, to learn what else might be fueling my morning tissue habit. “Knowledge is power,” she says, describing how the findings might shape your choice of pillow fill or the products in your cleaning routine. “It’s good to know what you’re allergic to.”
(feature photo credit: Engadget)