The EPA Raises the Bar for Air Quality

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) left its air quality standards, originally created in 2012, unchanged for over a decade, until this year: They recently tightened their regulations around fine particulate matter (PM) in the air, specifically. Why? Because it’s one of the most dangerous types of air pollution, and the quality of the air we breathe isn’t currently up to snuff.

What Changes Did the EPA Make?

The EPA measures particulate matter in micrograms per cubic meter of air. Previously, the acceptable annual standard was 12 micrograms per cubic meter, and before that, it was 15. However, ongoing research strongly suggests that even at this level, serious health complications can arise.

With this new update, the annual standard is nine micrograms per cubic meter of air. 

At this lower level, our population should ideally be able to avoid more dangerous and costly health issues. The EPA estimates that this change will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and approximately 800,000 cases of asthma symptoms. It should also assist in cutting down on pollution that is warming our planet — pollution coming from big industrial facilities and vehicles. 



The reason why it’s measured annually is so that it’s not as impacted by short-term spikes in pollution. This is why there’s a separate 24-hour standard, which is 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

However, not everyone agrees with this, arguing that even the 24-hour standard should be adjusted to protect our health further. President and CEO of the American Lung Association Harold Wimmer said, “While the stronger annual particle pollution standard will mean fewer asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and deaths, it is disappointing that EPA did not follow the strong science-based recommendations of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the health community to also revise the 24-hour standard to more fully protect public health,” as reported by ABC News.

The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees. In 2021, it encouraged environmental agencies to reduce this number to five micrograms per cubic meter of air, potentially cutting deaths linked to fine particle pollution by up to 80%.

Particulate Matter: What’s the Big Deal?

Why all the fuss around particulate matter? The California Air Resources Board says that PM is a combination of many different chemical species. This might mean a mix of solids, aerosols, tiny droplets of liquid, dry fragments, and liquid coatings. They can take on many shapes, sizes, and chemical compositions.

Particulate matter, when it comes to air quality regulations, is categorized by its diameter. If PM is 10 microns or smaller (PM10) in size, it’s possible to inhale them into your lungs, causing health complications. Specifically, fine particular matter is 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter (PM2.5).

PM10 often comes in the form of dust from construction sites, landfills, agriculture, wildfires, waste burning, and other industrial resources. PM2.5 frequently includes combustion of gas, oil, diesel fuel, and wood produce.



The Health Consequences of Particulate Matter

Some particulate matter, including PM10, you can see — for example, dust and smoke. PM10 can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. 

The reason PM2.5 is so threatening is that due to its size, it can easily get into your lungs and even your blood. Even short-term exposure (up to just 24 hours in duration) to this type of particulate matter has been linked to premature death, asthma attacks, other respiratory complications, visits to the emergency rooms, and restricted activity.

Who is Most at Risk?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out certain groups of people that are more susceptible to the dangers of particulate matter. This includes older adults, babies, children, and people with heart or lung diseases. For instance, if you have asthma, it can make your symptoms worse. Exposure can also lead to lung cancer, heart attacks, and even birth complications, like low birth weight.

Remember, the EPA’s Standards Only Apply to Outdoor Air Pollution

This latest change from the Environmental Protection Agency is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. However, the EPA only dictates the standards of outdoor air quality. While it’s true that as an extension, this should improve indoor air quality, indoor pollutants are often two to five times worse than outdoor pollutants.

In other words, we still have work to do.

How can you have a positive impact on the air inside your home? Let’s talk about some of the precautions you can take.

Use a HEPA 13 Air Purifier

medical-grade HEPA 13 filter can help capture up to 99.95% of particles that are 0.1 microns in diameter. This can include animal fur/dander, dust and dust mites, mold spores, and smoke. Combine that with an activated carbon filter, which can absorb chemicals, gases, and odors.

An air purifier is one of the most effective ways to clean the air you breathe while monitoring the quality in real time. It’ll run as needed and alert you when it’s time to replace the filters.




Keep Up With Your Chores

While an air purifier will do much of the heavy lifting, you can help it function optimally by consistently keeping your home clean. Especially if you have pets, vacuuming carpeting and high-traffic areas will go a long way. If possible, keep pets away from areas you frequently occupy — especially furniture.

Importantly, wash your sheets weekly. Dust mites love setting up shop here, and pillowcases quickly grow dirty from the oils on your face and in your hair.

Separate the Indoors From the Outdoors

If you live in an area with heavy smog or wildfire smoke, keep the doors and windows to your home closed as much as possible. This is also the case on exceptionally windy days. (Also, on those days, if you have to leave the house, wear a mask!) 

Avoid wearing outdoor shoes inside, and try to wipe down your pets when they come in since they can bring in germs and bacteria. Finally, change your clothes and shower before hopping into bed so that no undesirable particles find a new home in your sheets.

While the tightened guidelines from the EPA are promising, we must take action at home to keep our families safe. Learn more about air purifiers today.
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