“A breath of fresh air is a great thing to take and an even greater thing to be.” – Unknown
When we practice mindfulness, we often begin by bringing our attention to the breath. Our breath is an anchor — it is always inviting us to attune to the present moment. In addition to meditation practice, the air we breathe is foundational for good health. Are you aware of the quality of your air?
In 1952, London suffered a lethal smog that resulted in an estimated 12,000 deaths. Named the “great smog of London”, the smog lasted for five days and held air pollutants up to 19 times higher than current regulatory levels. It prompted the passing of the Clean Air Act, which now defines the Environmental Protection Agency’s responsibilities for protecting and improving our air quality.
The EPA tracks six criteria pollutants to determine national air quality standards in the United States. These are ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Tools such as Airnow.gov are available to help you evaluate local concentrations of these pollutants, which have been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular inflammation.
You may have heard about a group of hazardous air pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Formaldehyde and benzene are two of the better-known PAH pollutants. These chemicals come from forest fires, volcanic eruptions, household products and the combustion of fossil fuels, trash and tobacco. Although they are removed fairly rapidly from the human body, they have been linked to cancers, birth defects, immune dysfunction and reproductive health issues.
Air pollutants aren’t just outside. From personal care products to furniture flame retardants, indoor air pollutants can be sneakily dangerous for your health. Worldwide, more than 5 million people a year die prematurely from illnesses related to poor indoor air quality.
If you’re experiencing symptoms such as allergies, headaches, skin irritation, asthma flares, irritable mood and fatigue specifically at work, and particularly when working in a new building, you may be suffering from Sick Building Syndrome. Talk to your doctor and make sure to advocate for adequate ventilation in your work environment.
Breathe good air,
MD MPH, Integrative Family Medicine
Do you have an “air care” plan for your home? This week, I challenge you to create your own plan for air care success! You can refer to this list of best practices for ideas on how to get started:
Children are uniquely susceptible to air pollution. Take a moment to watch this important video about air pollution’s impact on newborns.
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