World Environment Day: What We Can Do to Combat Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution
by SLCgreen intern Linda Derhak
Since 1974, June 5th has been a day for global action to protect the environment. Celebrated in over 100 countries, the UN’s World Environment Day raises awareness on urgent issues such as plastic pollution, sustainable consumption, wildlife crime, and climate change. The day empowers people around the world to create change as individuals and communities. This year’s host country, China, is bringing attention to a pressing global crisis: air pollution.
Global air pollution is worsening. According to the UN, 9 out of 10 people breathe in polluted air and it causes 7 million premature deaths a year. China is leading a charge against air pollution, and countries world-wide are helping make sure people have access to clean air.
Here in Utah, we have our own struggles with air quality — mainly with seasonal issues such as PM2.5 pollution in the winter and ozone pollution in the summer. Across the Beehive State, air pollution leads to increased illness. Salt Lake City and other communities statewide are working to improve air quality and the State’s Department of Air Quality has led many efforts over the years to reduce pollution.
But more is needed.
In honor of #WorldEnviornmentDay and the goal to #BeatAirPollution, here are some easy ways we can all be part of the effort to improve indoor and outdoor air quality.
Ways to Help Indoor Air Quality
Outdoor air quality usually gets the most press, but indoor air quality is just as important. Indeed, indoor air pollution causes 3.8 million premature deaths a year. As a society, we spend most of our time indoors, whether it be at home, work, school, or recreation. As a result, it is crucial that the air inside is safe to breathe.
Test for Radon
Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas that cannot be smelled, seen, or tasted. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium, which is typically found in soil. It can seep into homes and puts residents at risk for lung cancer. The only way to know if your home is affected is to test for it.
Ventilate in the Kitchen and Consider Electric over Gas
One of the leading sources of poor air quality in the home is from the kitchen. This comes from the cooking of food – so make sure you are ventilating with a fan and/or opening windows.
Another problem is natural gas ranges. While they are popular with some home cooks, they emit nitrogen dioxide and even carbon monoxide, and are a major source of indoor air pollution.
Avoid Fragrances: Use Natural Scents & Cleaners
Fragrances can have all sorts of chemicals that are harmful to breathe in. According to the FDA, each ingredient in these products must be listed individually. However, under U.S. regulations, fragrance and flavor ingredients can be listed simply as “Fragrance” or “Flavor.” This is because companies consider these fragrances as “trade secrets.”
Research conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, none of which were on the label. According to the report many of these chemicals, “[are] associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products.” Be sure to limit the use of fragrances in your home and switch to natural scents and cleaners such as lemon and vinegar.
Wash Bedding Regularly
Dust mites are a leading cause of poor air quality. They reside in fabrics, cushions, and curtains. They are an invisible menace that can irritate our noses and throats. To combat such pests, wash these items regularly.
Have an Entrance Mat
Shoes can track in all sorts of chemicals from the outdoors into the home. A mat can deter the tracking in of dirt, pesticides, and other pollutants into the home. Or remove shoes in your home.
Houseplants are Essential
Houseplants clean the air within the home, removing dangerous toxins. Aloe vera is known to clear formaldehyde and benzene. Spider Plant is low maintenance and combats benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene. It is also nontoxic to pets! Peace Lily removes formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene and all it requires is some shade and weekly watering. More examples of beneficial houseplants can be found here.
Ways to Help Outdoor Air Quality
Outdoor air quality is less under our individual control, but there are still steps we can take to reduce our impact.
Cycle to Your Destination or Carpool
It is also helpful to consolidate errands and walk when possible. Be on the lookout for free fare days and try to use public transit whenever possible!
Be Idle Free
If you are waiting in your car for more than 10 seconds, turn it off. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses up more fuel than starting the car. The exhaust also starts to build becoming harmful for your health. It’s cost effective and healthier for you and the environment to turn the key and be idle free.
Visit UCAIR and other local non-profits for more information on air pollution and ways we can reduce it in our state.
The Mask Challenge
Masks are an important tool to protect yourself from particulate pollution outside. If it’s a particularly nasty day in the winter (or in the summer from fireworks or wildfires), make sure to check the air quality and consider wearing an N95 mask.
This year, the UN is also encouraging participants to use masks in social media and take the “Mask Challenge.” Wear a mask, post it to social media, and pledge to reduce air pollution. Then challenge three others to do the same!
On World Environment Day, the UN also encourages you to make another post showing how you are fulfilling your commitment.
Be sure to use #WorldEnvironmentDay and #BeatAirPollution and tag @UNEnvironment in these posts! The ultimate goal of the event is to raise global awareness and encourage us all to do our part to reduce air pollution.