When was the first death from air pollution documented?
Which city in the U.S. has the worst ozone and worst air?
How do cruise ships threaten our indoor air quality?
What can each person do to improve the air they breathe?
These are just a few questions that were addressed by Dr. Mark Ereth at the recent Indoor Air Quality Association conference in Austin, Texas. Dr. Ereth is an anesthesiologist and an Emeritus Professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.
Radonova recently sat down with Dr. Ereth to discuss the answers to these questions and learn how we can do our part to help cure the planet. During this conversation we also discovered how he formulated the idea for his popular TEDx talk entitled “One Less…”
Dr. Ereth became interested in air pollution and indoor air quality 7 years ago because of his concern for clean environments in operating rooms and medical facilities. His research revealed that air pollution is not just an industrial age problem. In 150 AD the first documented death from air pollution occurred in an eight-year-old girl in Rome. Her death was most likely caused by smoke inhaled from a fire used for cooking.
Wildfires, cooking fires, heavy fuel oils, per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS (forever compounds), and multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) are the biggest air quality issues we are facing.
Fires used for indoor and outdoor cooking are still a source of air pollution. “Approximately 3.5 billion people rely on cooking fires which have been linked to four million deaths per year,” says Dr. Ereth. Additionally, wildfires are a cause of air pollution which contributes to parts of California having the worst ozone and worst air in the United States. The 17 million people who live in Los Angeles drive 11 million cars that are also polluting the air. Plus, Los Angeles and Long Beach California host shipping ports for 30% of all goods entering the United States.
Cruise ships can burn 150 tons of heavy fuel oils (low-grade diesel) daily. This creates as much particle matter as one million cars, as much nitrogen dioxide as 500,000 cars, and the sulfur emissions of more than 10 million cars.
Outdoor and indoor air pollution
The Exposome is defined as the measure of all exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures affect one’s health. “There is no safe level of air pollution,” says Dr. Ereth. Exposure to air pollution begins before birth with the air breathed by our mothers. It can then be linked to health issues throughout our lives from low birth weight in babies…to cognitive delays in children…and lung disease. Later in life it’s linked to dementia in aging adults. Dr. Ereth explains that outdoor air becomes indoor air. We are inhaling outdoor toxins and gases, such as radon, that enter our homes and become trapped inside.
What can each person do to improve indoor air quality?
“We have so far to go with air quality. Many people feel like they can’t contribute, but that’s not true. Scaring everyone isn’t the solution. We can all contribute by reducing our consumption in what I call ‘One Less…’.”
For example, Dr. Ereth asks:
“How many cars do you drive? Can you drive one less?
How many rooms do you heat? Can you heat one less?
How many trips do you take? Can you take one less?
How many appliances do you have? Can you use one less?
Can you take one less flight, consume one less latte, use one less paper towel?”
Dr. Ereth says that less consumption contributes to less disease because: Less consumption=less energy combustion=less air pollution=less disease.
How do we start improving air quality in our homes?
First, it is essential that everyone has a basic awareness of the air they breathe. What we put in the outdoor air becomes more concentrated indoors – leading to more polluted indoor air. Focus on “right-sizing” consumption and balance in your actions that can put pollutants into the air.
The recent COVID pandemic sparked a jump in indoor air quality concerns over the transmission of the COVID virus. But now this has caused indoor air quality malaise, or COVID fatigue. People just want to get back to normal which can lead to complacency. Stay alert and find a new balance in your energy consumption.
Radon and indoor air quality
“We are breathing in several pollutants in our homes – radon being one of them,” says Dr. Ereth. “We need to be more aware of radon and how it causes lung cancer and other health problems. Like other indoor air pollutants, we need to treat the source of production. Radon testing is the first step.”
Curing the planet
Dr. Ereth states that we collectively have to push for improving our outdoor and indoor air. Eight trillion dollars a year is spent on treating air-pollution related illnesses. “If that money could be diverted to education, medical research, reforestation, and other air quality initiatives then we could cure the planet and save our species.”
Watch Dr. Ereth’s TEDx Talk for an intriguing view on how we can all do our part in curing the planet.