Health / Life

Air pollution mostly caused by cars and smoke belching. / Photo by: Toa55 via Shutterstock

 

Air pollution has long been a health concern all over the world. In schools, children are taught from a young age about the effects of air pollution on the environment and on health.

We often associate air pollution with smoke, fumes, and other things we can easily see. We teach children to avoid these and to protect themselves from it, but how can you protect yourself from fine dust pollution when you can’t even see it?

 

What are the causes of fine dust?

A city being choked in pollution and smog. / Photo by: e5can via Shutterstock

 

Fine dust, particle matter that is at most 2.5 micrometers in diameter, is considered dangerous because they are small enough for any individual to inhale into the lungs.

Fine dust pollution is caused by many different factors including exhaust fumes from internal-combustion engines, smoke from factory chimneys, power plants, and car exhausts.

According to the KoreanLII, a legal information institute website, fine dust pollution occurs when fine particle matter is mixed in with moisture in the air. Aside from the fine dust that results from this, smoke, nitrates, dirt, metals, and a certain haziness of the air can arise from fine dust pollution.

Fine dust particles are made up of a complex mixture of sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust, and water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

 

What are the effects of fine dust pollution?

A woman using an inhaler to cope with her asthma. / Photo by: Africa Studio via Shutterstock

 

According to a 2015 study from the Yonsei University’s Institute for Environmental Research, an estimated 1,179 individuals died annually from fine dust pollution-related causes. The research also explained that more than 14,000 individuals are losing a year in their life expectancy annually because of fine dust pollution.

The WHO reported that fine dust pollution caused an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths in the world in 2016. It explained that chronic exposure to fine dust can cause cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and even cancer.

In fact, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported in its 2013 assessment that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic. This is mostly attributed to fine dust, which it explained is the most closely associated component of pollution to increased cancer incidence, particularly for lung cancer.

 

The link between fine dust and health

Fine dust. / Photo by: A-Star via Shutterstock

 

Fine dust is only 2.5 microns in diameter. To understand just how small that is, the average grain of table salt is at 330 microns, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Due to its size, particulate matter can be inhaled deep into the lungs and chronic exposure to it can cause an increased risk of heart attacks, acute or chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, and other respiratory issues.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also explained that scientific studies have linked fine dust pollution to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory problems like airway irritation, coughing, and breathing difficulties.

Because of its implications to the public health, fine dust pollution has become a critical issue. The WHO and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have both issued standards of fine particle concentrations to raise awareness and inform the public about the link between fine dust and health.

As to the best way to protect yourself from fine dust, Dr. Hong Yun-chul from the Seoul National University School of Medicine explained that prevention is of utmost importance.

“The best way is to avoid contact,” Dr. Hong told The Korea Times. “It’s just like smoking. You simply shouldn’t smoke or [should] avoid cigarette smoke to protect yourself.”

 

Dealing with fine dust

A solar and wind farm. / Photo by: Eviart via Shutterstock

 

While it is important for individuals to prevent exposure to fine dust, prevention alone won’t solve the problem.

According to the WHO, there have been many policies in transport, urban planning, power generation, and industry that have successfully reduced air pollution—which the organization called the key to protecting the public health.

There are many ways to do it but some of the successful examples include reducing industrial emissions, improving urban and agricultural waste management, encouraging clean household energy solutions, opting for low-emission vehicles and fuels, improving energy efficiency of buildings and cities, and using renewable power sources.

These solutions are not something that can be easily achieved by an individual. Instead, the key to dealing with fine dust lie in important transport, urban planning, power generation, and industrial policy changes.

 

Is the detoxification of fine dust possible?

A woman wearing a surgical mask to protect herself from pollution. / Photo by: michaelheim via Shutterstock

 

The evidence against fine dust is definitely enough to make anyone worry about their health. After all, several studies and even the WHO have linked fine dust pollution to numerous health issues.

Naturally, any individual would want to do whatever it takes to protect themselves from fine dust pollution. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the best way to do this is to pay attention to air quality reports. These would report if the levels of particulate matter are high on any particular day.

It’s also best to avoid physical activities and other activities that may worsen the problem, like driving or using a fireplace on days wherein fine dust levels are particularly high.

While the complete detoxification of fine dust is not possible, there are several things you can do to limit your exposure. One of these is to shower and change your clothes as soon as you get home.

According to the co-director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Asthma Center Sumita Khatri, this is important to limit your exposure to any pollutants that you may have come into contact with while you were outside. Similarly, you should also clean your house thoroughly with a wet mop or moist rags to prevent the dust from getting suspended in the air, which will help you avoid breathing them in.

Face masks and air purifiers are also good measures to take to protect yourself from fine dust.

 

Coway and Winix air purifiers: are air purifiers effective against fine dust pollution?

A boy staying indoors and uses an air purifier. / Photo by: Hung Chung Minh via Shutterstock

 

It is just as important to protect yourself from pollutants when you’re indoors. You may think that you’ll be safe when you’re in your own home but that’s not exactly true. It’s not pleasant to imagine, but fine dust pollution can easily get inside your house.

According to Khatri, it’s important to use air conditioners or air purifiers to filter out pollutants. While they are not 100% effective, there are studies that show air purification systems can reduce fine dust as small as 0.3 microns by 70%.

Wirecutter, a gadget review site owned by The New York Times Company, reported that certain air purifiers were able to reduce fine dust pollution by more than 85% on average within 20 minutes of use. The best one was the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty but two Winix air purifiers, the Winix 5500-2 and Winix 2300-2, were runners-up.