The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a report last month calling for greater cooperation and a more integrated approach to tackle the challenges in the pan-European region. The most serious concern the region faces is air quality, which has been impacted negatively by air pollution. Air pollution is considered “the biggest threat with more than 95 per cent of the EU urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.”
According to the report, “over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributed to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012.” WHO asserts that “in developing countries, the traditional use of household energy poses a serious threat to health: cooking and heating with biomass fuels (such as crop residues, straw and wood) and coal produces high levels of indoor air pollution. This indoor smoke comprises a variety of health-damaging pollutants, such as particles (complex mixtures of chemicals in solid forms and droplets), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, sulphur oxides (mainly from coal), formaldehyde and carcinogens, such as…benzene.”
According to WHO, air pollution costs Europe $1.6 trillion a year in early deaths and disease — costs that are equivalent to about a tenth of Europe’s GDP; Germany, UK and Italy are among the hardest hit economically. The Guardian reported that these costs “[air pollution causes] sickness [in]…hundreds of thousands of people from [what could be] preventable causes, such as pollution from small particles that come from the exhausts of diesel vehicles, and nitrogen dioxide, a gas that can inhibit breathing in vulnerable people.”
WHO concluded that a person’s exposure to indoor air pollution is determined by the concentration of pollutants in the indoor environment and by the amount of time spent in that environment. The WHO report also found that air pollution was the single biggest environmental health risk in Europe, with the damage from outdoor risks such as diesel exhaust pollution accounting for 482,000 deaths in 2012 from heart and respiratory diseases alone.
Americans might read this news and wonder what the chances are of air pollution becoming as much of an environmental and health issue as it is for the EU. In short, European countries — which rely heavily on diesel-fueled vehicles — are far behind the United States in their efforts to reduce harmful air pollution.
Last year, an article in the Wall Street Journal points out that “nitrogen oxides are Western Europe’s biggest air quality problem….Cars and trucks—mainly those with diesel engines—are the…primary source of the pollutants, followed by power plants, the European Environment Agency says. In the U.S., where far fewer diesel cars are on the road, NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] levels in the biggest cities tend to be half levels in European cities.” Additionally, U.S. testing procedures of NOx [nitric oxide and nitrogen oxide] emissions from cars are also much stricter than EU tests. Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO’s coordinator for its department of public health, told the New York Times that “The United States primarily has done an excellent job, moving from being a very dirty place in the 1950s to quite a clean place today.”
Still, indoor air quality is a consistent concern for Americans, especially those who have respiratory sensitivities like allergies or asthma. The EPA reports that health effects can actually be useful indicators [that] indoor air quality [is a] problem, especially if they appear after a person moves to a new residence, remodels or refurnishes a home, or treats a home with pesticides.” Ventilation is also an important factor in determining your indoor air quality. Signs that indicate your home may not have enough ventilation include:
- moisture condensation on windows or walls
- smelly or stuffy air
- dirty central heating and air cooling equipment
- areas where books, shoes, or other items become moldy
The combination of heat and humidity provide an ideal environment for mold to grow — and mold spores are a common trigger for people with breathing concerns. Other indoor air pollutants include dust mites, pet dander, volatile organic compounds (often off-gassed from new furniture, paint and solvents), tobacco and chimney smoke, and dust.
The Lux Guardian Air Platinum purification system by Aerus uses a combination of technologies that rid the air of contaminants. A special filter captures 99.97% of the tiniest particles as small as 0.1 microns, including pollen, smoke, dust mites, mold spores and pet dander — particles captured are 3 times smaller than with traditional HEPA filters! The Guardian Air Platinum features a carbon pre filter that removes odors from the air, including cigarette smoke, and it can purify almost 2, 000 square feet per hour on high setting. It’s incredibly energy efficient, requiring no more power than an average light bulb.