2022 was a year full of air quality news. Lots of scientific research and publications on how air pollution influences the health of individuals, but also the same bad patterns; wildfires, traffic, wood burning, crop burning, industrial malpractices, etc. For reference, kids who breathe polluted air can fall behind in school link, air pollution linked to a million stillbirths a year link, tiny particles in the air can cause sudden heart attacks link, air pollution during pregnancy and neurodevelopment in children link, and unfortunately many many more.
An important good piece of news was the new ‘Ella Bill’ to enshrine right to clean air. Thank you Rosamund Adoo Kissi Debrah.
I live in an area where wood burning is an unfortunate “cozy” habit for the people around me. So, I decided to see if patterns appear after monitoring the ambient air quality for 30 days in order to identify if there is any window that will allow me to open the windows and get some fresh & clean air. For the sake of simplicity, I will use only PM2.5 values.
I don’t mind if I have to wake up at 3:00 AM in order to allow some outdoor air to come inside and dilute some VOC and CO2 that build up. Indoors, PM2.5 concentrations are kept well under 5μg/m3 because I run the air purifiers 24/7. By the way in a recent, poster the position of the air purifier inside the house plays an important role in how well particles are captured.
Anyway, let’s jump into the data I collected and analyzed.
Let me tell you from the beginning it is not an easy task. Odors are VOCs, sulfur-containing compounds, and nitrogen-containing compounds. In most cases, odors come from rotten food inside the garbage bin or off-gassing materials that are new and of a low-quality like furniture, paint, and flooring.
Sulfur-containing compounds like hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs smell), dimethyl sulfide (rotten cabbage smell), etc are produced during the anaerobic breakdown of food waste. They have a low odor threshold, which means that we can smell them even in only very small amounts.
Nitrogen-containing compounds like putrescine (rotting meat smell), trimethylamine (fishy smell), etc have a low odor threshold. Unlike ammonia (pungent smell) which is produced in large quantities, it has a higher odor threshold, so doesn’t contribute to indoor smell as much.
Another source of unpleasant odor indoors is the combustion of cigarettes/wood as the chemicals released from the burning biomass can infuse inside the walls and textiles. They call it thirdhand smoke as the residual contamination from smoke lingers indoors, and the cancer-causing substances such as formaldehyde can harm us.