It doesn't have to be this bad! Yesterday we reported that air pollution may make your appendix burst, and now here’s more bad news about th...
Yesterday we reported that air pollution may make your appendix burst, and now here’s more bad news about the stuff you breathe: Pollution could also cause heart failure, according to a new review from the University of Edinburgh.
Researchers analyzed 35 pollution studies and found that increasingly higher levels of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter—the dust that pollutants and toxins cling to—were all associated with more cases of heart failure in localized areas.
Breathing all those fumes has been shown to raise blood pressure, constrict your blood vessels, and kick up your heart rate, adding up to more strain on your heart, says study author Nicholas Mills M.D., Ph.D.
The big question: Is there anything you can actually do about all the pollution in your life? As it turns out, you’re not powerless. Here are six simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure.
1. Clean Your Vents
The lint and dust hanging around in your vents absorb pollutants from the air and deliver those toxin straight to your body if inhaled, says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of community safety and sustainability for the Consumers Union. Wipe down the vent covers using a damp cloth, and reach in and wipe out what you can from the ducts themselves, too.
2. Replace Your Air Filter
If you have a forced air heating or an air conditioning system in your home, somewhere near the fan that blows air is a filter. Find it and replace it every 30 days with a HEPA-rated filter, which is certified by the U.S. Department of Energy to efficiently remove particles bigger than .3 micrometers. “Small particles are not caught by the standard filters,” says Philippe Grandjean, M.D., an environmental health professor at Harvard University. Your car also has a cabin air filter, but that only needs to be replaced once or twice a year.
3. Use a Bagged Vacuum
Bagless vacuums are more convenient when cleaning, but they’re not the best for your health. “The seal on the bagless cannisters can be faulty, which reduces the suction and allows those particles to reenter the air,” Rangan says. And when you empty the cannister into the trash, you inevitably produce a small cloud of fine dust, which can find its way directly into your lungs.
4. Throw Out Old Cleaning Supplies
Almost all household chemicals contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Some of those compounds are safe, but some are highly toxic and can even cause cancer in large enough doses. Chances are you have a stockpile of old drain uncloggers, spray cleaners, floor polish, and everything else you used once then forgot to toss. The scary truth: Right now they’re leeching VOCs into your home. “If it’s been sitting there for more than 2 years, dispose of it,” Rangan advises. Don’t just dump it down the drain—find your local household hazardous waste disposal facility online to drop off your old chemicals.
5. Don’t Sit by the Copy Machine
The biggest source of ozone (linked to appendicitis) in your life is probably the copier and printer in your office, Rangan says. (That’s what that burnt-electronic smell is when you’re running off a couple dozen copies of your TPS report.) If your office has a separate copy room, you’re in good shape, but if you sit right next to the copy machine, ask HR if it’s possible to move.
6. Stay Inside on Smoggy Days
Just about every U.S. city monitors the air quality index (AQI)—a localized measure of pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act. You might hear about it on your TV news, or you can check in on the clickable map at airnow.gov. Bad air quality is an AQI rating over 101. “Like checking the weather, these warnings caution individuals to avoid exposure by staying indoors or avoiding strenuous exercise outdoors,” says Gil Kaplan, M.D., a professor of gastroenterology at the University of Calgary.
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