Air Quality Agencies
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal organization dedicated to protecting human health and preserving the environment. Among its many tasks, the EPA sets national standards and enforces regulations for air and water quality, industrial emissions and the production, use and disposal of chemicals. In the United States there are currently more than 80,000 chemicals used in the extraction of raw materials, production and distribution of products and disposal of waste.
There is great controversy regarding the EPA’s role as environmental steward. The president of the United States appoints the director of the EPA. Some EPA directors assert that industry should be responsible for its own regulation; other directors believe the EPA should have a more active role in safeguarding the health of the planet and its people.
The EPA, with over 17,000 employees in 10 regional offices and 27 labs around the country, conducts environmental assessment, research and education. Over half of its staff members are engineers, scientists and environmentalists.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental risks.” Because the EPA is so concerned about your indoor air, this Agency can be a valuable resource if you need cleaner air to decrease your allergic symptoms and reactions to chemical irritants or simply believe that clean air is an important component of living well.
The portion of the EPA’s website dedicated to indoor air quality (IAQ) provides an abundance of valuable articles about some common indoor air pollutants and steps you can take to improve your indoor air.
“An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality,” describes some common sources of indoor air pollution. This page has links to articles on toxic irritants, including biological pollutants (mold, dust mites, pet dander, pollen, bacteria and virus), byproducts of combustion (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, secondhand smoke) and toxic chemicals, including pesticides, formaldehyde, lead, radon and asbestos.
“Residential Air Cleaners,” describes how to reduce indoor air pollution via source control (removing or controlling the toxic materials), ventilation (exchanging indoor and outdoor air) and air cleaning systems (whole house or portable). Here, many technologies used in air cleaners are reviewed, including the use of high efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) for the removal of particulates and the use of activated carbon and chemisorbers for the removal of toxic chemicals and gases.
Additionally, “Ozone Generators that are Sold as Air Cleaners,” discusses the health risks of producing ozone for air purification and “Mold Resources” is a useful primer for learning about indoor molds.
There are, however, some areas in which the EPA website could be more thorough.
For example, the EPA does not mention how the amount of HEPA media and the amount of air moved through the filter will impact the end result.
The EPA also neglects to mention that a small carbon filter will fill up quickly with chemicals, becoming ineffective, while a larger filter will last considerably longer
In the EPA’s discussion about the use of sorbents (activated carbon, zeolite, and chemisorbers) they neglect to consider the strengths and weakness of each material; i.e., what chemicals it can and cannot remove from the air.
But, as a whole, this website is a valuable resource, especially for those in whom indoor air quality poses a health issue.
Hay fever or seasonal allergies are your body’s response to the pollen released from flowering trees, grasses and plants. For allergy-prone people, these tiny particles result in allergic rhinitis manifested in itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; runny nose and scratchy throat. For some, allergic reactions can lead to asthma, which is an inflammation and narrowing of the airways (throat, trachea and bronchioles) that lead to your lungs.
Each plant pollinates, or releases pollen for reproduction at the same time yearly. The pollen count is the number of grains of pollen found in a square meter of air collected over a 24-hour period. Pollen count readings are interpreted as follows:
Low 1 – 15 grains
Medium 16 – 90 grains
High 91 – 1500 grains
Very High 1500 + grains
The pollen count tends to run high early in the morning on warm, dry days. Cold, rainy days often yield lower pollen counts. You can get more information about pollen from The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. See “Airborne Allergens, Something In The Air.”www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/allergicdiseases/documents/airborne_allergens.pdf
Many websites report the daily pollen count in your geographic area, including:
The National Allergy Bureau
If you are allergy prone it’s a good idea to check the pollen count daily, so you can protect yourself accordingly.
This is a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency that was established in 1967.
CARB was established prior to the passage of the Federal Clean Air Act, which makes California the only state that has its own regulatory board to establish and enforce air quality standards. Other states can choose to follow EPA or CARB standards.
CARB’s mission is to provide clean air to all Californians and to protect them from exposure to toxic airborne chemicals. California aggressively pursues scientific research to determine safe levels of particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ground level ozone. The CARB is a valuable resource for learning about indoor air quality issues.
The CARB provides some important information about air cleaners. They caution strongly against the use of ozone generators, electrostatic precipitators, ionizers and photo-catalytic oxidation (POC) with ultra violet, stating, “All of these electronic technologies can produce significant amounts of ozone that result in unhealthful indoor air quality…”
The CARB reviews air purifier technologies, including HEPA filters for the removal of airborne particulates and activated carbon for the removal of airborne chemicals. While this information might be helpful in choosing air cleaning technologies, it does little to help you discern which HEPA filter provides enough surface area to be effective or which carbon filter is adequate for your needs.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) established the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) to help consumers evaluate the efficiency of air cleaners. The CADR test is flawed for many reasons, and the data it produces is misleading. But first, what is CADR?
The CADR test measures an air cleaners particle removal rate for three specific pollutants: dust, pollen and smoke. This formula multiplies the amount of air moved by the air cleaner in one minute (the CFM rate) and the percentage of particles (dust, pollen and smoke) removed from the air. The test runs for 20 minutes when the unit is new.
It is notable that CADR testing favors lower-priced units that are geared towards large particle removal. Quite simply, cheaper air filters have loosely-woven particle filters that are able to trap large particles, but not smaller ones. These less expensive filters move more air per minute because the holes in the filter are larger. Some other inexpensive air cleaners use electronic technology and produce ozone, a known lung irritant. So, high CFM rates may yield higher CADR, but not necessarily the purest air.
Premium quality air cleaners meet high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) standards. HEPA filters have tighter weaves and much smaller holes to trap miniscule particles. These tightly woven filters provide greater resistance to air movement, which lowers the air cleaner’s CFM rate.
Additionally, premium air purifiers have an activated carbon component to remove toxic chemicals, odors and gases from the air. This added media will also increase resistance to air movement, further lowering the CFM rate.
Lastly, CADR measures air cleaner performance when an air cleaner is new. For a particle filter to last it must have an extensive surface area. Smaller particle filters quickly become clogged with dust and stop working. Electronic air cleaners rely on ultraviolet bulbs or electrostatic plates, which become dirty. Without frequent maintenance these units become ineffective.
Many leading brands including Austin Air and IQAir do not participate in CADR testing because they do not believe this metric is a useful indicator of true performance.