Dictionary.com defines air pollution as “contamination of air by smoke and harmful gases, mainly oxides of carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen.”  Also known as dirty air, air pollution negatively affects our breathing.   The pollutants can cause illness and disease and also damage the ecosystem.

Air pollution is a relatively new problem, surfacing about 500 years ago as coal was mined and burned to operate factories and heat homes.  The Industrial Revolution 300 years later increased demand for coal, resulting in more factories pumping out even more smoke into the air.

Air quality became so bad that the United States passed The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, providing federal funds to research the problem.  The Clean Air Act of 1963 was the first federal program to fund research to control the pollution.  The Clean Air Act of 1970 expanded the government’s role by setting pollution standards and the control of motor vehicle emissions.  Amendments in 1977 and 1990 further expanded pollution standards, and authorized programs to control acid deposition and phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.

These Acts changed industrial processes and encouraged people to find other ways to heat their homes, resulting in cleaner air.  Air pollution still exists however, due to manufacturing and increased emissions from vehicles and airplanes.

Makes you want to run inside your house and never come out, right?  Except the air in your home can be just as bad, if not worse.  This is known as indoor air pollution.  In many homes fuel is still used to heat or cook with, emitting gases.  Chemicals from fresh paint and treated fabrics contribute to the problem, along with fumes from carpet and certain types of furniture.  Ditto the application of pesticides and the use of chemical cleaners.  All these things pollute the air and can cause respiratory problems.  Add to that cigarette smoke, which in itself contains over 7,000 chemicals – more than 69 of them identified as carcinogens.  And today’s houses, constructed and weatherproofed to be energy efficient, end up trapping the pollutants inside.

Fortunately, much of indoor air pollution is under your control!

Here are 6 steps you can take to start breathing cleaner air:

  1. Keep your air conditioning and heating system maintained.  Your ventilation system is your first and most important line of defense, as the air filter can trap dust and other particles and the system keeps the air circulating.  Make sure the filters are changed on a regular basis and have your unit serviced regularly.
  2. Throw open the windows periodically.  From time to time, turn off your ventilation and open the windows.  Allow the fresh air to circulate throughout the house (make sure to check the Air Quality Index first, as you do not want to do this when the outside air is smoggy or full of allergy-producing pollen, for example).
  3. Have your air ducts professionally cleaned.  Dust and other particles can accumulate in the ducts over time.  Condensation can also cause the growth of mold.  These contaminants can cycle back through your house during the air recirculation process.  They can also dirty up your ventilation system, making it work harder.
  4. Go green whenever possible.  When replacing appliances, opt for energy-efficient models.  Today’s carpets and countertops come in chemical-free and natural substances such as bamboo, which emit fewer toxins.  Chemical-free paints are also available, as are non-toxic cleaners.
  5. Stop smoking!  Or, at the very least, go enjoy that cigarette on the porch or in the backyard instead.
  6. Grow a green thumb.  Several plants such as the Boston fern, peace lily, and spider plants are well-known air purifiers.  They help clean the air by absorbing pollutants through the pores in their leaves.