How to Reduce Exposure to Air Pollution

While most of us do not have the power to make the air cleaner, there are some ways to protect yourself.

Comments: 36

  1. We should not forget the role of natural gas stoves in indoor air pollution. They are a NOx producing appliance in the center of our homes and are often improperly, or not at all, vented, leaving combustion gasses hanging around. If you have a natural gas stove or oven, ensure that it is vented properly to the outside and use the venting fan. When remodeling the kitchen, consider an electric stove.

  2. @Anne McKibbin I lived in a way too tight Chicago 'almost Leed' condo and now downstate in a leaky old house. Feeling much better!

  3. "Avoid Wood Fires" and for people in poor countries, do not use charcoal fires indoors (for heating and cooking). not only does charcoal produce PM, it also produces CO. (for example, india, indonesia and china often have dirty air--partly due to coal and partly due to charcoal or wood.) for people any country, do not smoke tobacco and avoid passive (second hand) smoke. not only does tobacco produce PM (tar/soot), it also produces CO and many carcinogens.

  4. It's not only a city problem. NY rural areas with woodburners, farm equipment plus many other types of air polluting generators cause air pollution simular to metro areas. Pulmonary and heart disease from poor air quality is a common problem. Nothing will ever be done about it because it hurts business. Rural areas are usually Trump supporters with anti clean air, anti clean water, and land regulations.

  5. I try to switch my car HVAC from fresh air to recirc if stuck following an old car, truck or RV on the road spewing exhaust. Taking these vehicles off the road would be a better solution that is used in other countries from Panama to Japan. Sadly, some of the worst noisy and fume belching vehicles are the older brown UPS delivery vans that still plague neighborhoods. Another localized toxic plume comes from off road construction equipment which have little or no emissions controls. I am always amazed that people choose to run on the side of busy roads, especially on hills where uphill cars and trucks are in full throttle mode with maximum emissions. More cities and municipalities are enacting anti-idling laws, but awareness and enforcement are not always a priority. Idling big trucks for more than 5 minutes is actually harmful to the very expensive engine. Fortunately many cities are requiring transit buses, refuse and utility trucks as well as government vehicles to be low emission, electric or hybrid, even better if the electricity source is renewable as in Seattle. Metros near ocean ports face pollution from ships burning heavy bunker grade fuel. One of my favorite eco-hero stories happened in Portland, OR where local researchers tested moss on the city trees to ID an airborne toxic heavy metal hot spot, an art glass factory in the middle of the city. Of course, banning lead in gasoline was the greatest achievement of the EPA.

  6. @Look Ahead Actually, starting a heavy diesel engine, when the bearings are unlubricated, does far more damage than letting it idle. That is why locomotives and heavy trucks often idle for long periods. While certainly bad for emissions, this is not done out of ignorance or mean-spiritedness.

  7. @Look Ahead When you’re idling, you’re getting zero miles to the gallon. It is extremely wasteful.

  8. @Look Ahead Portland's "green" reputation persists, but Portland is tops in diesel air pollution. Many of our waterways are also in dire need of cleanup, including the 10-mile Portland Harbor Superfund site in and on the Willamette River, quite near downtown. When we lost Hanjin Shipping several years ago, that radically upped our container truck traffic...which had already increased drastically because of UP's expansion of intermodal rail traffic. UP moved their main operations right smack in the middle of 4-5 established inner SE neighborhoods. The diesel pollution has been staggering. Our home was nearby and our windowsills became black with truck traffic soot. We moved. It's hard to find clean air in Portland now, tho. I'm not even counting the sneaky mile-long, highly volatile oil trains through the scenic Gorge. "Diesel pollution in Portland is more than 10 times higher than the state’s healthy air benchmark... 'Oregon has made some strides in reducing diesel emissions, but California has done much more. That puts Oregon at risk of being a dumping ground for the older engines cast out of California.'....'Our diesel emissions are astonishingly high given how we think about this state,” he (Downing) said. “The ubiquity of the engines themselves — there are so many of them — makes this issue challenging. They’re very efficient engines, and they last a very long time.”"

  9. We do in fact have the power to make the air cleaner. Do not elect republicans, famous for rolling back sensible regulation.

  10. AQI can be seen on a few online sites for your area. Indoor air pollution is also a major issue. Smokeless stoves have been invented to prevent lung damage. Electronic cigarettes have been shown to increase exposure to air pollutants . Mortality from air pollution is real and needs to be better publicized. According to the WHO 4.2 million deaths every year are a result of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution. 3.8 million deaths every year as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels.91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits. As a pulmonologist I am regularly seeing middle aged non smoking women with lungs that behave like those of a smoker with COPD. When you can't breath nothing else matters - we need to pay more attention to the air we breathe.

  11. Best thing to avoid air pollution? Elect politicians who actually get the scope of the ecological crisis this world is facing, puts it at the TOP of the agenda, and vote them into office. Any politician who does not do this immediately, imo, is not fit for any office.

  12. Vote for Democrats for every office at every level.

  13. Favorite $40 hack: buy a 20 inch box fan and a 20 inch HEPA filter (meant for furnaces) then use duct tape to attach them. Really works!

  14. We DO have power if we wish not to live in a dystopia. Elect environmental shepherds and expect governing by conscience instead of greed and the air can change.

  15. #1 - elect people who want to enforce the Clean Air Act that Nixon signed into law. As an easy guide, today's Republican Party does not encourage members to care as much about clean air and water as Republicans in the past. So vote for Democrats or vote and support the rare environmentally-friendly Republican if one turns up in your area. #2 - push those elected officials to support non-carbon power generation, credits for buying electric cars, support for energy-efficiency programs and similar ways to reduce pollution-generating sources. #3 - buy renewable electricity if your state allows choice of power providers. Check them out w/the BBB and other sites, since there are fakes out there, but changing demand for how power is provided is a clear signal utilities and generation companies can detect. If you're interested in an electric vehicle, here's how to compare emissions of full-electric, plug-in or regular hybrid, and gasoline powered cars. The fossil industry tries to make out that electric cars emit more CO2 but even in coal-choked states like Kentucky, Indiana, WV and Wyoming that's no longer true.

  16. Super useful advice. I had no idea that it would matter if I just moved my route a block or so away from a busy street. I also wish we could get the information out to people all over the US that building wood & charcoal is a terrible source of air pollution. In Maine, where I take my summer vacations, people routinely burn leaves and garbage. Even in brownstone Brooklyn where I live, once the cold weather hits, people who live in those beautiful old stone buildings will use their old working fireplaces as a sort of cozy-at-home thing. I don’t think most people realize how truly terrible wood fires are for their own health and for pollution levels in their neighborhood — if we can smell it in the street, then it’s in our lungs. Let’s spread the word: stop burning wood and charcoal, for our health’s sake. We are not cavemen. It’s a small step easily taken.

  17. Humans create pollution. the more humans in the world the more pollution. Nuclear is more of a danger to the world even if it is cleaner - though that's an oxymoron - someone needs to write an article and show a map of where all the nuclear waste sites are in the world. There is probably a lot of illegal dumping of nuclear waste going on in the world as well, as it's not cheap to dispose of nuclear waste.

  18. @CK Not to mention all the super fund sites (you wouldn't believe how long the list is) that are still extant. Eradicating pollution has to be at the top of any political agenda. Period.

  19. The absolutely best thing to do to stop air pollution is to stop driving. Walk, take transit. You could wait for Governments and politicians to fix the problem, but so far it doesn’t look promising.

  20. Cooking creates a lot of air pollution in your indoor environment. Having an exhaust fan can help. Also not frying or burning your food helps. Using an electronic stove/oven instead of natural gas, wood or coal. Also, staying indoors with your windows shut if you live in the city and other polluted areas.

  21. Secondhand smoke kills more than 50,000 nonsmoking Americans every year, and many people who live in multiunit housing are powerless against it. Air purifiers cannot remove the toxins from tobacco smoke, and without laws banning smoking in private condo and apartment buildings(as in public housing), residents, including children and the elderly, have no way to escape it. You can get out of a car or stop driving, and you can change where you walk or exercise, but most people can't change where they live, even when their own home becomes a lethal gas chamber. Sadly, many people fight no-smoking policies because they feel they have a right do whatever they want in their own homes, even if it kills all their neighbors.

  22. I've found that the portable Wynd Air Quality Tracker is extremely helpful in researching the AQI of my routes and spots. The device is simple to use (its single light will indicate the air quality (blue=good, etc...) and it can be Bluetoothed to your phone which will, besides indicating the color code, display the specific AQI number (0-50 falls into blue)). And yes, vote accordingly!

  23. If you use an air purifier, don’t use the “ionization” feature; it can produce ozone and cause you a problem inside.

  24. I have designed a portable product exactly for this reason (BREATHE|Smart air quality monitor). Its the smallest PM (particulate matter) you can buy and instantly displays the EPA AQI on the screen. Now on sale at or Amazon for $129.

  25. Use BreezoMeter air quality app to monitor your street-level air quality. It also gives you health recommendations and 6 hour forecast.

  26. I wonder if there is an air purifier that can be used in a car.

  27. @Pete Thurlow I bought a HEPA filter designed for use in a single room and plug it into a UPS battery backup generator. It’s very effective and allows me to use my car as an office on non-hot days. The generator comes with several AC outlets, so I can also use my laptop.

  28. How utterly depressing

  29. I find that in midtown Manhattan walking on the other side of the street can make a big difference regarding air pollution. In other words, be sure to walk on the nonexhaust side of the east to west streets. I think of specifically of 53rd St. where numerous buses are idling waiting to pick up their passengers whom I assume are at the museum modern art. The exhaust from the propane gas tanks of the food vendors can also be pretty awful if you’re stuck as a pedestrian waiting for the light to change. Say a quick prayer to the men and women responsible for Central Park. It’s the only thing that makes that part of the city breathable.

  30. There is a lot more to this story than you state. We really need to look hard at the pollution sources inside our homes. These include both dishwashers and clothes washing. The detergents for both these machines are supplied with surfactants that are also used to overcome the blood brain barrier and pass chemicals directly into our brains. One would think that the power of surfactants would make their use on a need only basis but no. We use these things in everything including food additives. Meanwhile the Alzheimer's rate doubles every 10 years. We are poisoning ourselves. Links

  31. Asthma makes me highly sensitive to air pollution, so in my car I run a HEPA filter plugged into a battery backup generator. The generator’s on the floor, and the filter sits on the middle of the back seat. Since starting this three years ago I’ve been able to cut down on asthma medication and no longer get pounding headaches from long days on the road. As a bonus, the generator can turn my car into a portable office, keeping my laptop and peripherals fully charged.

  32. One of the most profound impact on the air we breathe is driving our cars. Reducing your time in vehicular use would go a long way to keeping our air both cool and clean. Sadly there is no magic wand that will whisk pollution away. But walking, cycling, and transit use will eat huge chunks out of your personal greenhouse gas emissions. The bonus: no more worries about making your step counts!

  33. Its not just wood fires in the home that pollute inside. Flames from gas appliances all produce CO CO2 and other various normal combustion byproducts and MUST be vented outside. But in condos gas stoves usually are not, and those tacky “ventless” gas fireplaces are pretty common.

  34. There is alot of very good information here. However, the evidence base regarding air pollution and health effects is a work in progress. The EPA Air Quality Now website recently added ground ozone levels separately from ozone's contribution to the AQI. JAMA just published an article indicating that a long term study found that ground level Ozone had the strongest correlation with long term progression, and development of Emphysema. That data strengthens the precaution (acknowledged in the Wirecutter article, but not sufficiently) of the risk of indoor air purifiers emitting leaking ozone, as some use ozone as a component of the purification process. It was shown back in 2006 that the small increases in ozone in indoor air can have significant negative effects on respiratory health - it is not just a "respiratory irritant". Its a toxic air pollutant.

  35. I commonly see people running and doing other forms of exercise outdoors when the air quality is poor, This is a well known health risk that is ignored by many supposedly health conscious exercisers. Not unlike drinking polluted water, the lungs are a direct pathway for contaminates to enter the body. I am surprised this was not covered in the article.