It’s been clear for a while that when pollutants build up indoors, such as when cooking, they can easily make air quality hundreds of times worse than outdoors. We all learned a lot during the Covid-19 pandemic and are better equipped to avoid not just airborne pathogens but also the chemicals and other pollutants that pervade our air.
Let’s take a look at some of the best indoor air quality products to show up recently, and how easy it is to get into your home.
These pieces of cloth or other materials were vital during the Covid-19 pandemic to reduce the volume of virus particles leaving or entering our bodies. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to find out wearing masks can improve our health when walking or biking in an urban environment, and demonstrating that exposure to any air pollution increases the severity of a Covid infection.
There are a lot of different face mask options, but N95, KN95, or FFP2 are certified by standards organizations like NIOSH to reduce the risks that air pollution presents and fit tight against the head to filter properly. The ubiquitous cloth masks will offer at least a little protection against air pollution and wearing a mask is usually better than not, but for extreme air quality events like wildfire certified tight-fitting masks are best. Loose-fitting surgical masks are certified to reduce pathogen transmission, but might not help as much against air pollution.
There are a few different ways to filter the air, and it's best to think about pollutants in different groups to be sure that everything is covered. There are particles and gasses, each of which can be further broken down into more categories for finer control and risk reduction.
Particles can be made of smoke, dust, pollen, viruses, bacteria, fungi, allergens, or anything else that is light enough to float around in the air and small enough to be inhaled. Filters like HEPA filters remove the vast majority of particles and are always good for reducing the airborne particle burden.
- Pathogenic particles need a little special attention because they can cause large and health-threatening infections in a relatively small amount.
- Allergenic particles also need a little special attention not because they cause large infections relative to their size, but because they cause large allergic reactions relative to their size.
To add another layer of protection, pathogens can be converted into non-infecting particles with technology like UV-C, which kills them by destroying their DNA from the inside, or PECO, which kills by breaking them down from the outside. Other powered technologies like plasma or ionization may also kill pathogens. PECO, and these other technologies, can also break allergens down into bits that don’t react with the immune system.
Gasses come from fire, off-gassing products, natural gas appliances, and even natural sources.
Removing gasses is best done with an activated carbon or charcoal filter, which are known for being able to remove the vast majority of toxic substances dissolved in the air, but there are a few things to watch out for.
- Excessive VOCs are something to keep an eye on because they can saturate a carbon filter until it can’t take any more and can even slowly release what it has already captured. This is where a VOC sensor can really come in handy, if VOCs have been high (over 1000 ppb) for days or weeks then your carbon filter probably needs to be replaced. Filters with more carbon (measured in pounds, not grams or ounces) will last longer. Molekule’s PECO technology can help to destroy VOCs and its life won’t be shortened in the same way by consistently high levels.
- Carbon dioxide is the other gas to watch because it always builds up when there isn’t enough ventilation and it can’t be removed with an air purifier. High CO2 levels are best handled with more ventilation from a window.
The simplest air quality sensors that can detect one pollutant like particles or carbon dioxide have become very inexpensive and can be acquired for $20 or less. There are a lot of different pollutants to look out for, and each one can give you a deeper understanding into the invisible components in the air.
While it’s a good idea to read your air from as many angles as possible, each contaminant can have a different source which would require a different solution.
This is the first time I've seen this claim -- we should have testing to support it but I think the risk is low to low-medium if we don't have that testing.
Low- or no-VOC products
The air quality impact of VOCs is still under review, so a lot of the information is a little confusing. Their role in the formation of secondary particles in outdoor air and smog by reacting with ozone is settled science, but that has caused the EPA to classify VOCs as the chemicals most likely to cause smog. They even admit that these VOCs may not be a full list of the VOCs that most impact indoor air. So the labels “no VOC”, “zero VOC”, “0 g/L VOC” and similar may be referring to the EPA’s definition of smog-causing VOCs, not all possible indoor air pollutants.
Green seal certification sets their “flat paint” standard at 50g/L VOCs and other certified paints at 150g/L VOCs. These levels are lower and safer than the EPA’s recommendation of 250g/L for water-based paints and 380g/L for oil-based paints.
Green Seal has a great list of toxic substances to measure, but the state government of California has really led the way in many air quality regulations in an attempt to manage its huge population centers and massive industries. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is a great resource for air purifiers that don’t emit ozone, and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has narrowed down problematic VOCs to a list of 35 with a standardized method of testing for their emission from all sorts of products. There are a few organizations that test products to be sure they meet the CDPH VOC standards, and those products will bear the seals, including:
Certified Clean Air Gold from Intertek
Indoor Advantage Gold Certified from SCS Global
Clearchem from Berkeley Analytical
Greenguard Gold from UL
All of these meet the CDPH requirements, any others will mention satisfying CDPH v1.2 or CA Section 01350. At Molekule we use Intertek to test our purifiers meet the CARB ozone requirements.Keep to date on all sorts of ways to get rid of pollution on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and on the Molekule blog.