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It's time we cleared the air

Last updated: 01-19-2021

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It's time we cleared the air

It's time we cleared the air
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Publishing date:
Jan 15, 2021  •  7 hours ago  •  4 minute read
The Atmotube unit seen here with instant phone readout showing poor air quality after cooking griddle cakes on the stove. SUPPLIED
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Unbeknownst to most homeowners, indoor air quality in Canada poses an even greater health hazard than outdoor pollution
It’s a little-known fact: outdoor air pollution causes an estimated 4.2 million deaths a year according to the World Health Organization, tied to everything from vehicle exhaust to fires. While major cities in the developing world are often at the top of the list, numerous cities here in Canada also experience spikes in poor air quality.
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It’s enough to make you want to head indoors and stay there, except for one small problem: unbeknownst to most homeowners, indoor air quality in Canada often poses an even greater health hazard – particularly during the winter months when our windows and doors are shut tight. So much so that Health Canada rhymes off a list of household contaminants we should be wary of, including fine particulate matter, mould, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, radon and volatile organic compounds or VOC’s.
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Most of us aren’t even aware of other indoor air quality contaminants… it’s literally a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. We’re such a visually oriented species, that if smoke gets in the air, we know right away there’s a problem. But when we don’t see anything floating around, we generally just assume everything is ok.
Such is the case in our own home and in recognition of this fact, I recently tried out a portable air quality testing device called Atmotube. What caught my interest with Atmotube is it’s portable versus stationary… so you can take it around the house and measure the air quality in every room; or take it on the road with you for that matter. It also provides real time readouts on your phone (via Bluetooth), showing levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (including dust, pollen, soot and mould) from 10 microns (PM10) down to as little as 1 micron (PM1).
There are about 25,000 microns in an inch, a human hair is 60 microns… and less than 2.5 microns is so small it can be absorbed into your bloodstream, with potentially serious health risks.
When I first tested our air, while frying up day old croissants (one way to revive them) on our gas stove, I didn’t really expect much change in air quality – with it being just one burner and because I’m always mindful of turning on the overhead fan to help vent the air. It turned out I was wrong.
Before starting, the air quality in our kitchen measured 96 out of 100, or a high ‘good’ score with minimal pollution. However, after just a few minutes of frying, the air quality in the kitchen plummeted to 48 (accompanied by an ‘air is polluted’ warning), then to 28 (very polluted) and finally much to my horror, reached 0 (severely polluted) with the advisory that “everyone may experience serious health effects”. The numbers on the unit were equally daunting in terms of particulate matter in the air, with readings of 203 PM2.5 and 184 PM1, or comparable to the air quality of some of the world’s most polluted cities.
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Wondering if perhaps the Atmotube was malfunctioning, I took it outside and within seconds the air quality rating began to improve, jumping back up to 87 (air quality is good), with PM 2.5 and PM1 levels dropping to 10.3 and 8.8 or roughly 1/20th of the indoor reading I had taken just a couple of minutes ago.
Back inside, it took over an hour for the air quality to improve to a “moderate” level of 65, before as luck would have it my daughter made toast and a previously trapped piece of bread began to smoke and burn. This caused the air quality to plunge back down to 20 (severely polluted), with readings of 102 PM2.5 and 101 PM1 respectively.
Based on further research, other hidden threats that abruptly came to our attention included our gas fireplace and cosmetic products such as nail polish and polish remover that caused VOC levels to spike.
Thankfully, there are many precautions homeowners can take to address poor indoor air quality, from paying more attention to what you cook and how you cook it (I for one am looking to use our electric slow cooker a lot more), to avoiding products that give off harmful VOCs. As well, cutting down or even eliminating fires if you have a fireplace or wood burning stove. If you must have a fire, crack a window or a door to help ventilate the room.
In an ideal world we’d all install ventilation systems that properly circulate the air, especially as homes become better insulated and less ‘leaky’. But recognizing that not everyone can afford to do that right away, in the short term, there’s also merit in investing both in an air quality measuring device such as the Atmotube, that can help give you a first-hand perspective on how various cooking and lifestyle choices affect your air quality… and ideally getting your hands on an indoor air purifier that helps reduce airborne pollutants.

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