Air is one of the foundational substances the human body needs to survive and thrive. Clean air keeps us healthy and feels good to breathe in.
In an industrialized society, however, our air is always at risk of being polluted — whether it's your home’s interior air or the air outside. In fact, the American Lung Association found in its 2021 State of the Air Report that nearly 40% of Americans live in an area with unhealthy levels of pollution in the air. That’s over 135 million Americans whose health may be compromised (now or down the road) due to bad air.
Most of us know the obvious importance of clean air to our health and society, but you may not be too familiar with the subject of air quality itself. That said, the more educated you are about air quality, the better decisions you can make in a variety of areas. To keep you informed, we’ve created this introductory guide to air quality.
Air quality tells you how much pollution is in the air. You can measure the air quality of both interior spaces and the outdoors.
As mentioned, air quality measures what kind of pollutants and how much of each is in the air you breathe. Poor air quality can lead to or contribute to all sorts of health problems - especially in groups sensitive to air pollutants - such as:
Thus, air quality is a crucial consideration for many in these groups, as well as healthy individuals who want to minimize the chances anything in their body suffers harm.
Additionally, poor air quality can harm the economy in several ways, including but not limited to:
Indoor air quality is especially critical. Americans spend nearly 90% of their time indoors on average, according to the EPA. If you spend much more time inside your home, you’re breathing in much more interior air.
That said, outdoor air quality remains an important factor in choosing a place to live, especially for those with respiratory issues.
Air quality measures the amount of pollution in the air, both in total and by the types of pollutants. There are two primary types of pollutants it looks at:
Within the particulate category, you have chemical and biological pollutants. Chemical pollutants include things like:
As for biological pollutants, they can include:
Neither of those is an exhaustive list.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for measuring air quality, and they rely on numerous satellites and advanced ground-based tools to measure and report on it. Many other organizations, such as the American Lung Association, also report on air quality in various ways.
Air quality is measured using the EPA-developed Air Quality Index, or AQI. The AQI ranges from 0-500 and is divided into six categories, ranging from Good to Hazardous, as seen in the table below.
Per the table above, anything 100 or below is considered to be satisfactory. Ideally, you want Good air quality, but Moderate will do, especially if you have no conditions that would make you sensitive to air pollution. Once you climb above 100, detrimental effects can start to appear in sensitive groups.
For ozone pollution, sensitive groups include the elderly, children, and people with lung disease or issues. Those same groups are sensitive to particulate pollution, along with people who are dealing with heart disease.
As air quality worsens and pushes past 150, healthy individuals without any conditions that may make them sensitive to air quality may also begin to experience the effects. They may be minor at first, but as air quality climbs into the 200s and higher, it becomes a great risk to their health.
The AQI applies to indoor air quality, too. Fortunately, there are plenty of electronic air quality monitoring devices. Some list pollution in mg/m3 or PPM, but others use the AQI for your convenience.
Air quality comes down to pollution levels, but various factors can impact those levels of pollution. Let’s look at a non-exhaustive list of factors that can lower air quality:
Many of these can make allergies worse. However, those with sensitivities may face worse health issues.
There is much to consider when it comes to choosing a place to live. If you or someone in your family is in one of the aforementioned sensitive groups, air quality may be one of the more important matters to consider if you’re moving. It may even be a reason you move from your current location if it’s bad enough.
Various factors can impact outdoor air quality, from industry to weather and more. Consequently, each state has a different overall air quality rating. Even within those states, some cities do much better than others in terms of air pollution. Sometimes, a single city or area of the state may be known for poor air quality, whereas the rest of it isn’t too bad.
Regardless, let’s look at the best five and worst five states for air quality, based on the American Lung Association’s (ALA) State of the Air 2021 report.
Here are some of the best states for air quality.
Here are some states with the worst air quality.
Older homes have a certain charm to them. However, If you have an older home, you’re likely exposed to toxic chemical pollutants in the air that render any good feelings about your home rather pointless. Homebuilders in the past used products containing all sorts of chemicals we now know to be health-hazardous. Additionally, there are biological pollutants to worry about.
Let’s look at some of the pollutants that may be floating around inside your old home.
Asbestos is among the most common hazardous building materials found in old homes. Before we discovered asbestos was dangerous, It was used extensively due to its heat and corrosion resistance, among other construction benefits. You can often find it in or around walls, ceiling tiles, insulation, pipes, and more.
Asbestos-related diseases can take a few decades to appear, meaning you may not be aware that the air you breathe is slowly making you sick. Experts can test asbestos levels to tell you for sure, but it's wise to get an air purifier as an extra layer of protection.
If you live in a brand new home, asbestos and lead may not be threats. However, a different set of chemical pollutants called volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) might. VOCs are essentially any harmful chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature, which causes them to become airborne. These can lead to respiratory irritation or worse in sensitive individuals.
Here are some things of your new home that may give off VOCs:
Fortunately, you might be able to find lower-VOC versions of each of these products if you shop around. When combined with an air purifier, you can enjoy that new home smell more safely.
Perhaps the most prominent biological pollutants many homes deal with are mold and mildew. These release spores into the air that can harm your respiratory system and exacerbate any conditions you might have. Long-term exposure can even be deadly.
These grow in areas that become wet or humid — such as basements and bathrooms — making water damage in the home a common cause for mold growth. Plumbing problems are a frequent reason for water damage in the home, but heavy storms and rainfalls can cause it as well.
Unfortunately, mold can grow in a wet area in as little as two days — and growth rates can increase much more after that.
The EPA recommends an N-95 mask, goggles, and protective equipment when cleaning up mold. Also, you should clean the mold completely before occupying the home. You can also hire a mold remediation company to do this for you. A good air purifier can help out for the time being while the mold is removed.
Indoor plants offer beauty for your home's interior, and they can also reduce stress and anxiety. You may think they clean your interior air, but not exactly.
In 1989, NASA found that plants do purify the air under laboratory conditions. However, various experts have stated that these results don't carry over well to the real world. The effect your indoor plants have on air quality is negligible.
So you can enjoy the presence and aesthetics of your indoor plants, but if you want to get something that has a noticeable effect on air quality, an air purifier would be a wise choice.
Air quality isn’t something many think about, but it has a significant impact on the health of you and your family as well as the economy and country at large. You may not be able to control the air quality outside — but you can take control of your indoor air quality. By doing so, you can ensure you and your family stay safe and healthy indoors. Download our free Clean Air Checklist to guide you in creating cleaner and safer air inside your home.