Reducing your exposure to air pollution

Air pollution is on the rise, and it is becoming increasingly worrying for those living in affected areas. More and more of the population are suffering with health implications as a direct result of being exposed to high levels of air pollution. The particulates that make up the smoggy air in densely polluted areas are small enough to travel deep into the respiratory system, affecting many different aspects of human health.

You cannot know by how much you are reducing your exposure without knowing how much air pollution you are actually being exposed to. There are obvious ways to read the level of air pollution when it is visible, e.g. smoggy skies and peak hour traffic.  However, it is impossible to detect invisible pollution and accurately measure particulate matter but without a monitoring device.

Everyday Exposure

People living in the same household could have different exposures to one another. Usually, air pollution is measured and recorded at a household address, but this really isn’t an accurate portrayal of how much air pollution a person at that address is exposed to as they don’t spend all day in one place. Each member of the household will spend a different amount of time indoors, outdoors, at work or school, and on the road travelling. This difference in schedule can account for variance in exposure – and this difference can have some very distinctive effects on one’s health.

You may think that inside your home with the windows shut is a safe, air pollution free zone, but that is rarely the case. Gas stoves, wood fires and household cleaners are sources of air pollution. Staying indoors when the air pollution outside is heightened may help reduce bad exposure, but it doesn’t cut it out completely. Putting measures in place inside your household to cut out the particulates emitted into the air will help reduce your exposure, and limit the pollutants your family breathes in indoors, creating a ‘safe space’.

Big changes don’t need to happen in order to reduce exposure. Small, routine adjustments and practices put into place at home, when travelling and during the day can make a world of difference. These changes can be significant in protecting your health and extending the longevity of your cardiovascular and respiratory system.

Monitoring Your Exposure

Having an air pollution monitor with you throughout the day will help you pinpoint the areas and times of day where you are most surrounded by pollution, giving you the opportunity to have alternative plans in place to avoid these high levels. The most common time that people are surrounded by harmful particulate is when they are sitting in peak hour traffic. Stuck in the car for extended periods of time, the vehicles in front of you will be letting off toxic particles that will be sucked into your car through the vents. Opening your window won’t help as the particulates will just enter that way as well. Taking the underground train or subway can be just as bad – all the harmful pollutants are stuck in the underground channels and aren’t allowed an escape like they might be above ground.

Reducing Your Exposure

The best air pollution monitors will record highest levels of exposure throughout the day, so you can identify pollution hot spots. If you notice the routes you take to work or for exercise have elevated levels of air pollution, you can then change your route or choose a different time when pollution levels are lower. Studies have shown that changing your route or mode of transportation can reduce exposure from 25% - 90% - it really does make a difference -

A good example of this in action in the Wellbeing Walk in London.  It is a walking route between two main train stations that encourages people in the area to avoid the elevated levels of pollution on Euston Road. A sign posted backstreet walk that takes 10-15 minutes to travel between London Euston and Kings Cross, it has 50% less air pollution than the main road and can make a significant difference to commuter’s exposure.

With the help of an air monitoring device and adjustments to your daily routine, you will be able to see the reduction in pollution around you. Avoid the high-pollution areas by finding them using your monitoring device and record the reduction in your home that the minor changes have made.