Monthly Archives: January 2013

Musings of a Particle Nerd

Craig Whittaker founded Environmental Solutions Group in 2002 to provide impartial evaluation of properties relative to environmental health. He is frequently asked to speak about indoor air quality and has conducted hundreds of assessments in a wide variety of building types.

If you happened to read my November 5 post about counting the tiny particles in air that we breathe, you already know that I am a little over-the-top when it comes to knowing how much ‘stuff’ we inhale. Even I wonder about the sanity of an individual who checks the airborne particle load in his home and office every week. This insatiable appetite for particle counting has earned me the title of ‘particle nerd’ from more than one building owner. It has also helped ESG find hidden mold and bacteria in lots of buildings and probably saved a few people a trip to the emergency room.

Enter the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the government agency created by President Richard Nixon back in 1970. Every five years, the EPA is required to review particle pollution standards. On December 14, 2012, the EPA strengthened the annual National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for fine particles following one of those reviews. It strengthened the standard for several reasons, including the health benefits and resulting cost savings realized when we keep improving air pollution standards. EPA examined thousands of studies during its review, including several hundred new studies published since the last review in 2006.

There are a two ‘sound bites’ posted below from the EPA’s Overview of the revisions to the NAAQS. Yes, this will frighten some readers, while others may doubt their significance. But listen to the particle nerd – you should take airborne particulate seriously, and then do something about it at the places where the people you value live and work.

An extensive body of scientific evidence shows that long- and short-term exposures to fine particle pollution, also known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), can cause premature death and harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, including increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for heart attacks and strokes. Scientific evidence also links PM to harmful respiratory effects, including asthma attacks.

People most at risk from particle pollution exposure include people with heart or lung disease (including asthma), older adults, children and people of lower socioeconomic status. Research indicates that pregnant women, newborns and people with certain health conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, also may be more susceptible to PM-related effects.

Source: The National Ambient Air Quality Standards, Overview of EPA’s Revisions to the Air Quality Standards for Particle Pollution (Particulate Matter), December 2012.

What can you do to decrease particle pollution in your home or office? Properly maintain your HVAC equipment, replace furnace filters with good quality media every thirty days, use a good quality vacuum cleaner several times a week, and reduce carpeting and upholstered furniture when you have a choice.

Now we can all breathe a little easier.