Forest Fires and Health

Forest FireForest fires can be more dangerous than you might think. Though the most immediate danger comes from the fire itself, the smoke from a fire can harm people up to hundreds of miles away from the actual blaze. During a forest fire, a number of harmful emissions are released into the air in high concentrations, including small particulate matter, such as carbon monoxide, atmospheric mercury, and volatile organic compounds. As these pollutants are released during a fire, winds can spread them further than one might expect, leaving people unprepared or unaware of the health hazards.  Breathing in these pollutants can exacerbate symptoms for those who have lung or heart disease, and even otherwise healthy people can also be at risk for symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and headaches.  The longer one is exposed to these pollutants, the higher these risks can be.

We can all do our part to stop wildfires before they start. When camping, make sure to never leave camp fires unattended and douse them fully with water when you are ready to put them out.  During dry summer days, make sure to keep a close eye on barbeques, bonfires and even lawnmowers – they can create sparks that can ignite dry grass.  When fires do occur, you can protect yourself by checking local air quality reports and staying inside when air quality dips.  It is also advised not to do any indoor activity that will add to pollutant levels if possible. This includes using wood burning stoves, lighting candles, and even vacuuming, as vacuums can throw particles that have settled on surfaces back into the air.  Using an air purifier is the best way to keep the indoor air clean, and if you live in a fire-prone area, consider adding an air purifier with a true HEPA filter before fire season starts so that you know you are protected even before pollutant levels begin to rise.

New Research on Trees and Air Quality

New TreeResearchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are shedding some light on an air quality mystery that has had scientists stumped for some time.  While we know that plants have a positive effect on air quality by helping to remove carbon dioxide from the air and providing us with oxygen, scientists had long suspected that isoprene, a molecule emitted by trees as a means of protecting their leaves from harm, played a part in creating particulate air pollution; they just were not sure how.   Surprisingly, the study found that when the isoprene molecule was heated by the sun, it reacted with nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere to create tiny particulate matter that became suspended in the air, which has the possibility to cause or exacerbate respiratory ailments, such as asthma.

But wait! Don’t blame the trees for these dangerous particulates – it is the abundance of nitrogen oxide that is the real problem. These polluting chemicals are man-made by-products of cars, factories, and other coal burning sources.  The more that scientists investigate the ways that particulate pollution occurs, the more effective our efforts at improving our air will be.  Over the past decade many major cities in the United States have been able to improve their air quality, but smog and ozone remain in much higher concentrations than what is healthy.  We can help to continue reducing these levels by being mindful about our daily choices – for example, making efforts to carpool or switching from plastic bags to reusable canvas ones. As we work on decreasing the amount of pollutants emitted into the atmosphere, we can protect ourselves from particulate matter by monitoring city air pollution levels before leaving the house, and by filtering particulates out of our indoor air by using an air purifier with a true HEPA filter like our MinusA2.

Why Thunderstorms May Trigger Asthma

April showers bring May flowers, but they may also bring increased asthma attacks for those whose asthma is triggered by allergens. While rain can help your air quality by washing away pollutants that may be lingering in the air, a 2008 study by scientists at the University of Georgia and Emory University, found that emergency room visits for asthma attacks would rise in the days following a thunderstorm. They discovered that the wind and rain during a thunderstorm can break apart pollens into smaller pieces, making them easier to spread throughout the air and cause irritation to lung tissues. When winds pick up after a storm, they carry these tiny pollutants with them, and if sufferers are not prepared, then they may experience a sudden and surprising increase in their symptoms.

Managing triggers is one of the most important parts of a comprehensive asthma prevention plan, and research like this may help sufferers to better plan and prepare for the times when they need to exercise caution and keep inhalers or other medicines close. Keeping an eye on local pollen counts can also help sufferers by showing when pollens counts are highest, so that they can avoid going outdoors during peak times. While indoors, asthma sufferers can protect themselves from pollen and other irritating pollutants, by running an air purifier with a true HEPA filter, such as our MinusA2. By preparing for asthma triggers after a thunderstorm, sufferers can spend less time wheezing and more time splashing in puddles and enjoying the springtime showers.

UC San Deigo Researching Portable Air Quality Monitor

City SmogIn December 2012, the University of California at San Diego discussed an exciting new advance in Air Quality monitoring. Researchers there had created a small portable device that measured air quality in real time, letting users know in the moment whether they were breathing clean air or if they had wandered into a spot of highly concentrated pollutants. This advanced technology allowed for those concerned with air quality to have more precise information about the environment around them, allowing them to make informed decisions about the air they breathed. Runners and bikers, for example, would be able to avoid areas with higher pollution, protecting their lungs as they exercised. The device could even be useful in indoor areas, as one study participant found when he realized that the air quality in his office was quite poor, prompting his company to take steps to improve the air for its employees.

We hope to see more research into this area, and look forward to the day when personal air quality monitoring is available to all. Until then, there are still steps one can take to be proactive about air quality and protected from pollutants. City-wide daily pollen and pollution counts are easily accessed on websites such as Pollen.com and AirNow.gov. These sites are great tools for learning about air pollution in your city, and can help to plan your outings during times when pollutant levels are low. When you’re in your home, you can be smart about air pollutants as well by using a HEPA air purifier such as our MinusA2 to filter out harmful pollutants and keep the air clean and fresh.

What are Negative Ions?

One of the wonderful things about hiking through the forest or lounging at the beach is breathing in the clean, fresh air of nature. The air in these places not only smells great, but breathing it can make us feel energized and excited. What gives the air in natural places such good mojo? Negative ions! Also called anions, these are molecules that have become negatively charged due to strong natural forces such as sunlight, wind, or churning water. There is evidence that breathing air abundant with negative ions has a positive effect on our mood and our health. Doctors and scientists, who are studying the effects of negative ions, say that they can promote alertness and positive feelings in some people, and may help to increase oxygen to the brain. Research is ongoing to learn how to harness the use of negative ions to positively affect health.

While negative ions are plentiful in natural places, they are far less common indoors. Many air purifiers, such as our MinusA2, now come equipped with a negative ion generator in order to infuse our indoor air with these negatively charged molecules. In addition to the possible health benefits, negative ion generators pair well with air purifiers because they can help to increase filtering efficiency. Negative ions are attracted to particles in the air, weighing them down and causing them to sink. You may have experienced this cleaning power yourself after a rainstorm – the negative ions generated by the storm help to clean particle pollution out of the air. When used in the home, negative ions are attracted to the particles of indoor air pollution, weighing them down and making it easier for them to be captured by your air purifier’s filters.

Fun Facts About HEPA Filters

When you want to get dust, mold, and other particulates out of your air, there is nothing better than an air purifier with a true HEPA filter. HEPA filters – short for High Efficiency Particulate Air – use special fibers, commonly made of paper or glass, to trap airborne particles. Rabbit Air’s BioGS HEPA filters go a step further by using an advanced fiber material, which reduce allergens over time to increase efficiency.  While these filters are important tools for keeping the air in our homes clean and fresh, did you know that HEPA filters were originally designed with much more dangerous particles in mind?  Developed in the 1940s, HEPA filters were an important part of the Manhattan project. Radioactive particulates used in the project could become airborne, and scientists needed a filter that could clean the air while keeping them safe. It wasn’t until a decade later that HEPA filters began to be used commercially in homes, hospitals, and other areas where having clean air was essential.

Though it is common to find HEPA filters in households across the world in everyday appliances, like air purifiers and vacuum cleaners, HEPA filters are also used in all sorts of surprising places! Airlines use HEPA technology to filter the air flowing through the passenger cabins in order to reduce the spread of airborne germs, and hospitals even have special HEPA face masks that are used to help keep doctors and patients safe. Animals can benefit from having their air filtered too, and HEPA technology is sometimes used in zoos and aquariums to keep our furry and feathered friends breathing better.  Amazingly, HEPA filters have even gone into space, where they are used to purify the air on the International Space Station!