Cars vs People in the USA – Air Quality

Last week was CleanAirDay. I love days like this when a collective effort is made to raise awareness of such an important problem in modern society. Most importantly the new generation of citizens is taught about the importance of excellent air quality and the dangers of air pollution.

For the past few weeks, I have been living in the US near Boston and I am still trying to wrap my head around those super monstrous vehicles people use to commute from one place to another and how towns are designed to force people to drive everywhere.

I am the only person that walks to work or to the grocery store. Literally, I don’t see other people walking here. It’s tremendous!

Every morning on my way to work I pass by a school district where a huge line of cars aligns in order to drop off their kids at school. Not only that, but when you look at the aerial photos of the school you will see numerous parking lots. It stinks too! I had to find a secondary road to walk in my effort to avoid breathing all of these notorious toxic pollutants.

Additionally, the parking area is as huge as the school. Vehicles occupy a lot of space and in most cases, only one or two people are inside. I don’t expect them to change their behavior but at least the authorities need to offer alternatives to those that care for a better world. Public transport is limited with 1 bus line every hour and at 18:00 is the last ride. On the weekend there is no commuter rail to Boston either so if a family wants to visit a museum or something they have to drive.

People are so surprised that I walk. My point is that although you can cover larger distances with a vehicle, at the same time you become more restrictive of your physical health as you end up sitting all day which is well-known as non-beneficial.

On my next walk to work, I will take with me a Particles Plus 8306 Handheld Particle Counter, which is a super accurate instrument and it can measure particles from 0.3 to 25μm, but I have to sacrifice part of my daily clean air. All for science!

Should Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles come with a permanent sticker on the back similar to the Tobacco packaging?

I think we have come to a point in time where we are well aware of the dangers internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles hide as they emit a tremendous amount of toxic pollutants that have a direct health impact on dwellers, especially in cities.

Nowadays, going to the center of a city by car is unnecessary and very impractical. However, many still insist on taking their huge SUVs even for a trip within a walking distance. Walking distance means going from one point to another no farther than 1,5 km / 1 mile or 15 minutes in time. I don’t think you will go any faster if you take your car because of all the hassle that it involves (parking, getting on board, load stuff, etc).

Schools here in Europe are within walking distances. This is the reason your kid cannot go to a school in a different district. Even then though, parents form huge queue outside of the schools in order to drop off their kids every single morning. No! It’s time to walk!

I believe cars should come with a permanent sticker on the rear side similar to the tobacco packaging in order to make people think and react. The sticker cannot be removed or covered by law. Maybe you will turn off the engine while waiting or not forcing the car to start even when new cars hibernate the engine automatically in traffic lights.

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Particulate Matter (PM2.5) Mega Guide

In this article, you will find information about everything related to particulate matter. I will focus on PM2.5 as I believe it is the most universal indicator of air quality. Almost all scientific studies concentrate their attention to PM2.5 because there is a substantial availability of monitors/sensors. Some extracts were taken from my book See The Air – PROOF THAT AIR POLLUTION KILLS.

1) What is PM2.5?

Scientific explanation: PM2.5 is a mass concentration on basis of a separation curve, where the 50% value is at 2.5μm aerodynamic diameter. More precisely, the weighting function is much steeper (100% weighting <0.5μm, to 0% weighting> 3.5μm and 50% weighting at approximately 2.5μm). PM2.5 pollution can only be seen with an electron microscope.

Plain English explanation: PM2.5 referees to fine particles with a size of or less than 2.5μm (aka micron). By the way, soot, aerosols, dust, BC are other common terms to call particle pollution.

2) What is PM2.5 made of?

It is hard to determine a specific chemical composition, however, here is a list of all the chemicals that might be found in a single particle. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (naphthalene, acenaphthylene acenaphthene, fluorene, phenanthrene, anthracene, fluoranthene, pyrene, benzo(a)anthracene, chrysene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, benzo(k)fluoranthene, benzo(a) pyrene, dibenzo(a,h)anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, and indene), metals (Al, Si, P, S, CI, K, Ti, Cr, Mn, Fe, Ni, Cu, Zn, Pb, Ca), others.

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Tobacco has a Tremendous Impact on the Environment, Climate and our Health. How can you break free?

As a child of heavily smoking parents, I always hated tobacco. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have an understanding of the impact tobacco had on their health when I was a child. Secondhand some also had an impact on my health, but can you blame someone that didn’t understand that smoke is smoke. A toxic combination of tiny particles and chemicals that will alter and break your DNA. Also, the mentality in Mediterranean and Balkan countries is still to this day different from the rest of the world. Some people still believe it is an enjoyable habit to smoke while taking a coffee or after a meal.

It took a great effort to teach my parents that smoking is not good for anyone. At the end, they saw plenty of examples among the family members that died due to this harmful habit, and they gave it up.

For most of us that have visited a beach, we have found a tremendous amount of cigarette butts in the sand. A disgusting habit that authorities must penalize because it is not only aesthetically unpleasing but is also harmful to the marine life and the food we end up eating.

Cigarette butts (filters or ends), the part that looks like white “cotton”, are actually made of plastic fibers. When this plastic is tossed into the environment, it leaches toxic chemicals, and it can take up to 10 years to decompose. We talk about roughly 4.5 trillion cigarettes butts each year with only an estimated third of which make it into the bins. The rest end up in the ocean, streets, and out of a window.

CO2 emissions are also beyond our capabilities to conceptualize big numbers. Here is an analogy to help us understand better the numbers. According to WHO, 84 million tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere from tobacco production which is equal to 280,000 rocket launches to outer space.

According to Surgeon General’s Report, in the US alone, 2.5 million non-smokers adults died because they’ve breathed secondhand smoke since 1964. Worldwide, each year 1.2 million non-smokers die because they breathe secondhand smoke and ∼7 million smokers from direct smoke. Many diseases and health problems are linked to smoking and secondhand smoke. The most common are lung, liver, and colorectal cancer, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and diabetes disease.

In this blog, I talk a lot about particulate matter (PM) with aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 μm or less aka PM2.5, and how dangerous it is to human health. Well, cigarette smoke also contains these fine particles which can reach deep inside your lungs and be transported even to your brain. In a 2018 study, researchers found that there was a massive increase in PM amount by smoking cigarettes in indoor spaces. Reachers measured clean air (1.6 µg/m³) and then they lighted a cigarette where they measured concentrations of 1800 µg/m³ and up to about 3070 µg/m³ depending on the additives and tar amount in the cigarettes.

You will find plenty of suggestions on how to stop that harmful habit in the internet. However, from my parents’ experience and what I see from people around me that have succeeded in breaking the habit of smoking only one thing really works. Owning the decision you have made. Many call it will power, but I call it knowing what you want.

I can give you a million reasons to stop smoking with real scientific data and fancy numbers, but at the end of the day it comes to how much you value yourself and if you want to be healthy or sick.

Spring Is Around the Corner & Allergies too

I love spring as it marks the return of warm weather, outdoor activities, the blossom of flowers, and life in general. However, pollen becomes abundant everywhere there are plants and trees, as a result, the flare of allergy-related health issues too. I am allergic to some kind of pollen and although I can manage it without medication, some people are suffering to a greater extend and they need better ways to mitigate pollen out of their immediate environment.

Unfortunately, on earth, there are only a few special Air Quality monitors that can measure and classify pollen. Satellites also track the progress of pollen but do you know where to find this kind of information? I bet no, for this reason, I will tell you in a bit.

Remember, the first step is always quantifying the pollutants/allergens (pollen in this case) before mitigating them from indoor spaces. The reason is simple, once we have the proper information, we can take better decisions. For example, should I exercise outdoors today or go outside for some errands or is this the right moment to ventilate my house?

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Review: Senstate Urban Air Quality Station

I was given the chance to review an air quality monitor from a European company that is located in one of the most contaminated countries with the highest concentrations of particulate matter − the notorious pollutant which causes premature deaths and many illnesses.

Each year during the cold winter months, Bulgaria has the highest PM2.5 concentrations of all EU-28 member states in urban areas (I have the chance to experience it in person in Sofia). The reason is wood and coal burning. Senstate Technologies SC is a Bulgarian company with experience in the field of environmental issues.

The Senstate Urban Air Quality Station is a versatile and configurable air quality monitor with cutting-edge technologies on board, I will give you more information about it in a hot minute.

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Review: AIRINUM URABN AIR MASK 2.0

Last year, I reviewed the AIRINUM Lite Air Mask and I was really pleased with the comfortability and efficiency during my daily commutes. The same company has developed a higher-end model called URABN AIR MASK 2.0. In my opinion, this mask has been given much more attention to the details. From the packaging to the mask itself.

The AIRINUM URABN AIR MASK 2.0 offers great protection from particulate matter. I have been wearing the Onyx Black for four weeks already.

Filtration

It employs the same technology as the Lite Air Mask with a multi-layer filter which is tested at the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) with results showing 98% filtering efficiency against particles down to 0.3μm in size. The size of the filter is bigger though. You will find the full lab results here. The five-layer filter can last up to a month of usage, but as always keep it away from very humid environments and procure to disinfect the inner filter layer with sprayed alcohol to prevent bacteria growth. The mask is washable and treated with Polygiene®.

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Review: AIRINUM Lite Air Mask

It has been a long time since I reviewed a face mask. This mask review is all about how to protect yourself from ambient air pollution while commuting rather than from Covid-19. The mask can protect you from COVID because it is KN95 certified, which is similar to FFP2 and N95, but as most people use simple disposable surgical masks for their low price, I won’t focus on it. For this review, I decided to focus on air pollution which is a more severe threat in my opinion. Keep in mind, cheap surgical masks are useless and they pollute a lot more than they protect as they are thrown all around us by most people. We all have seen them flying around or on the ground or inside the sea. I am against disposable masks.

The AIRINUM Lite Air Mask offers great protection from particulate matter but also a modern and young style. I have been wearing the Aurora Blue for three weeks already and I am impressed by its performance.

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AirGradient DIY Indoor & Outdoor Air Quality Monitor

Countless times I have mentioned that we need to monitor indoor and outdoor air quality. This is an essential step in order to have a holistic approach to air pollution that surrounds us in both environments. Unfortunately, not everybody can afford to buy two monitors but thanks to the community and AirGradient there are two DIY solutions that can help us monitor the air quality quite accurately and of course, manage the air we breathe better.

AirGradient’s DIY solution is more appealing than the competition for many reasons. First of all, you can buy directly the DIY Kit with all the electronic components from them including the PCB. The PCB is the board where we will deploy all the sensors, WiFi module, and display. That is a huge benefit because you don’t have to search on the internet and purchase the components one by one. The well-designed PCB will also help us keep the monitor neat and small without unnecessary cables. Secondly, Air Gradient’s DIY AQ Monitor is very customizable allowing us to build an indoor monitor with an NDIR CO2 sensor but another one without a CO2 sensor or display for the outdoor environment. If you don’t want temperature/humidity sensors you can easily omit them too, but I highly recommend them. Moreover, there is software support as a community of passionate people have been improving the firmware constantly. Finally, the solution comes with a web dashboard where you can manage all the monitors and take advantage of the histograms and tools like the alerts.

Additionally, the devices which are connected to the cloud and the dashboard can broadcast the measurements back to a separate display (Viewport) which allows us to see the air quality indoors and outdoors like in the example below. Isn’t that very cool?

It has been a long time since I soldered something, so I was very happy to build the monitor. I built two monitors by following the fairly easy instruction here. There is also a video with the instructions here by Jeff Geerling.

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