Why is Air Pollution Worse in the Winter?

As the world plunged into the age of the Industrial Revolution, air pollution started to become the main advent of the destruction of ecosystems and the endangerment of human health. In fact, according to the WHO, air pollution is responsible for seven million premature deaths every year.

Apart from its devastating effects on the environment and human health, what's scary about air pollution is that it can also adapt according to seasons and patterns of human activity. A particular air pollution concentration in one season may lead to a completely different one in another season. 

From seasonal changes to the range of health effects of air pollution, it's necessary that you equip yourself with this vital information so you can make the right decisions for yourself and your loved ones. 

What Causes Air Pollution?

There are a lot of factors that can negatively affect the air quality outside. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the most common sources of air pollution are the following: particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), lead, and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

These chemicals are often released in the form of emissions from cars and motor vehicles, as well as gases from the burning of charcoal, fossil fuel, gasoline, and coal. Other outdoor pollutants manifest in the form of windblown dirt and dust, smoke from wildfires, smog, pollen, paint, and soot. 

It's easy to think – and even see – that these chemicals that harm the air quality outdoors are more prominent during the summer. But in reality, research suggests that air pollution can be worse in the winter. 

Air Pollution in the Winter

To look at how air pollution behaves in winter, we need to go back to the basic principle of how air moves with temperature.

As you might already know, warm air rises while cold air sinks. This happens because cold air is much denser and has tinier spaces between its molecules than warm air. When winter comes around and there's a huge drop in the temperature, the cold air forms a kind of blanket at the surface, and the remaining warm air is forced to pass over it, rising to the top.

When contaminants get trapped in this blanket of cold air, the density of the gas makes it harder for these chemicals to escape and disperse. These pollutants get trapped in cold air and don't get whisked away as quickly as they might otherwise. Rain, which helps to cleanse the air of pollutants, is also less likely to occur in winter due to lower precipitation levels. 

Another element to consider regarding why the air pollution in winter is worse is to look at how our habits and lifestyle choices change when it's cold. During winter, you're likely to leave your car on for much longer – to defrost or get the heater running – or burn more coal and wood indoors to keep you warm. As mentioned, these activities produce the primary culprits that pollute the air.

With chemicals lingering in cold air for much longer, you actually breathe in air pollution at a much higher rate in winter than during the summer, when the air is more mobile. 

How Does it Affect Me? 

Common contaminants that pollute the air can be found inside and outside of your home. It's crucial that you understand how exposure to air pollution can cause severe short-term and long-term effects on your health. 

In the short term, air pollution can cause you to experience a rapid onset of symptoms, including asthma attacks, irritated airways, wheezing, coughing, and feeling out of breath. If you suffer from asthma or congestive problems, winter might aggravate your breathing problems even more. 

Constant exposure to high levels of air pollution puts you at severe risk of acute pulmonary problems, including lung cancer, emphysema, heart diseases, stroke, and in some extreme cases, premature death. Additionally, studies have linked children's exposure to air pollution to severe lung complications.  

What Can You Do About It?

Most of the common contributors to poor air quality are right under our noses. They include many items you bring into your home, from synthetic furnishings and fresh paint to gas ranges and cigarette smoke.

By better understanding how to balance air movement in and out of a house, we can ensure a pollution-free home throughout the winter season. Here's how you do it.

Remove Sources of Air Pollutants Indoors

There's not much we can do about the pollution outside (except try to drive less). So, as much as possible, prevent indoor sources of air pollution from accumulating. This includes avoiding smoking inside the house and using wood stoves and open fireplaces. Always clean and dust off rugs, carpeting, and furniture whenever necessary. Aim to vacuum once a week. If you have pets, you might up the frequency. Cleaning your home often enough is key.

Invest in a High-Performing Air Purifier

Air purifiers use filters to trap contaminants and recycle clean air through your home. As an example, Sans makes use of four-layer protection – the pre-filter, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) 13 filter, activated carbon filter, and pulses of UV-C light, which all work in tandem to trap even the finest of particles and ultimately neutralize them. 

Having an air purifier in the right places in your home can help reduce the risk of respiratory symptoms associated with air pollution. 

Improve Ventilation

Because particles tend to get trapped in cold air, ventilation is key in ensuring you don't breathe in polluted air over and over again throughout winter. Installing window or attic fans and keeping doors and vent fans open whenever possible can significantly increase the ventilation rate in your home. 

Ventilation through fans that exhaust air outdoors helps get rid of pollutants directly from the room where the fan is installed, thus improving the air quality that circulates indoors. 

Taking these extra steps will help ensure that you protect your health and the health of your family. Ready to breathe easier? Shop with Sans today.