What should you do to make your indoor air healthy again when traffic air pollutants threaten?

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, March 2022, Volume 5, #128

[Cite as: Fadeyi MO (2022). What should you do to make your indoor air healthy again when traffic air pollutants threaten? Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, March 2022, Volume 5, #128.]

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The indoor air quality of naturally ventilated buildings was threatened by outdoor to indoor transport of outdoor air pollutants induced by traffic. The phenomenon caused cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and their symptoms to be prevalent among residents of the naturally ventilated buildings near roadways. The need for a career boost and financial power to take care of her young children led a young woman facing life challenges on a journey of developing a story that provided awareness of the poor indoor air quality and health conditions the residents were experiencing. The journey’s effect on the woman’s life and how she was valued is the subject of this short fiction story.
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“Ding Dong! Ding Dong!! Ding Dong!!!” Doorbell sound was heard in the apartment. “Wait! Coming!” Mrs. Aera Lim shouted while wearing a shirt. She had just come out of the bathroom and started dressing. She rushed to the door. She was alone at home. Her husband, Mr. Ji-Hoon Lim, had left for the office. Her children had gone to their neighbourhood schools. She peeped through the door peephole to see who was at the door. Police! She exclaimed in a low voice but with fear. “What could be wrong?” She asked herself. So many thoughts went through her mind while she was opening the door.

“Good morning, Madam!” One of the two police officers that came to her apartment said. “Good morning, officers! How may I help you?” Mrs. Lim replied anxiously. “Is this Mr. Ji-Hoon Lim’s apartment?” One of the police officers asked. “Yes, it is. Why?” Aera answered and asked for a reason. “Who are you to Mr. Ji-Hoon Lim, Madam?” One of the police officers asked. “His wife. Why?” Aera answered and asked for a reason again. “Mr. Lim had an accident and died instantly.” Aera froze with shock, went down slowly, kneed on the floor. “Why!” She screamed and started crying. “We are so sorry for your lost, Madam.” The two police officers tried to console Aera.

Aera decided to go back to work after the death of her husband after several self-doubts about her ability to survive in the corporate world. She had been a stay-at-home mum for 9 years. She had four children, ages 9, 7, 5, and 3. She had to work to take care of them. She had a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She had worked for six years before becoming a stay-at-home mum to take care of her children. She specialised in environmental health journalism. She submitted more than 50 applications to several organisations. Rejection email became a norm for her.

She eventually got a fresh graduate position as an environmental health reporter for The Brick Street Journal, a global newspaper organisation. She got a fresh graduate position despite having six years of experience in journalism. Thus, the editor in charge of environmental health news did not assign her assignments worthwhile of boosting her career the way she wanted.

One day, the nanny who helped take care of Aera’s children when she was at work called in. The nanny was called Benita. Benita told Aera that she would not be able to come for the day because she had to visit her mother suffering from cardiovascular disease in the hospital. Benita later told Aera when they met another day that her mum had been visiting the hospital frequently because of the cardiovascular disease she was suffering from. Benita said jokingly that her mum’s cardiovascular disease seems to worsen as air pollution from traffic in her area worsens as if they were related.

Benita’s last statement got Aera thinking that there could be a link. If there was a link, many residents could be experiencing various forms of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, especially people with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, etc. Aera thought to herself that the information Benita shared with her could be a big story she needed to boost her career.

The next day, Aera went straight to meet her editor, Mr. Jonas Don, upon getting to the office to share with him the story she intends to explore. Mr. Don dismissed Aera without even letting her finish. “No story there, lady!” Mr. Don said in a dismissive voice. You need to learn what is a good story. “Please go and work on the story I gave you. The story I gave you will help you learn how to be a good reporter.” Mr. Don said. Aera was disappointed and left Mr. Don’s office. As she sat at her workstation, she kept thinking that her proposed story on the link between outdoor air pollution and health problems among residents is worth exploring.

She decided to work on the story after office hours and on weekends. This means she would spend lesser time with her kids and spend more money on nanny care. Aera started her investigation by visiting a neighbourhood library every day to read research papers that could provide information on the possible link between air pollutants generated from traffic and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The following is what Aera found from her initial research for the story development.

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The combustion process from vehicles generates particulate matter (PM), which are in ultrafine (PM0.1), fine (PM2.5), and coarse (PM10) sizes. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen pentoxide (N2O5), nitrous oxide (N2O), and other forms of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are examples of air pollutants generated from the vehicular combustion process. An increase in the number and movement of vehicles on roadways causes higher concentrations of pollutants to be emitted into the outdoor air.

The higher the concentrations of the pollutants in the outdoor air, the higher the potential of the outdoor air to be a major source of indoor air pollutants. The extent to which the outdoor air becomes a major source of indoor air pollutants will depend on how outdoor air is transported into the indoor environment. The closeness a building is to a highway, the higher the rate traffic air pollutants could find their way into the indoor environment. The rate would further increase if there were a lesser barrier to the penetration of the traffic air pollutants into an indoor environment. Thus, naturally ventilated buildings have significantly lesser barriers than airtight, air-conditioned buildings.

When traffic (vehicle) air pollutants are introduced into indoor air, and there is little or no effective strategy for removing (sink) the pollutants from the indoor air, the air pollutants’ concentrations continue to build up. This will happen, especially when traffic air pollutants are still introduced indoors. Indoor air chemistry, i.e., chemical reactions between indoor air pollutants, will also increase the concentrations of the pollutants transported indoors and newly formed indoor air pollutants from the chemistry.

As indoor air circulates around microenvironments in indoor environments, it carries harmful traffic-induced toxic pollutants with it. Thus, increasing the exposure of humans in the microenvironments. These pollutants would find their way into the human body through inhalation, skin (dermal uptake), or ingestion (pollutants deposited on food or drinks).

The fraction of the air pollutants retained in the body will determine the absorbed dose by the occupants. A higher absorbed dose of the traffic induced toxic pollutants will increase the risk of the occupants experiencing health problems related to the traffic pollutants. Physiological (e.g., low immunity level) and psychological (emotional stress) vulnerability of the occupants will increase their risk of health problems.

Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases are common health problems associated with traffic induced toxic air pollutants. Examples of cardiovascular diseases that could be experienced include heart attack, heart muscle disease, heart failure, coronary artery, strokes, etc. These examples of cardiovascular diseases are leading causes of induced morbidity and mortality.

Symptoms of cardiovascular diseases may include chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath, etc. Examples of respiratory diseases include asthmat lung cancer, bronchitis, pneumonia, chronic inflammatory lung disease, etc. Mortality and morbidity rate could also increase due to the prevalence of respiratory diseases. Traffic induced air pollutants are not the only cause of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, but they are hazards known to increase the probability (risk) of the diseases’ occurrence.

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After getting this information, Aera proceeded to interview several residences of naturally ventilated buildings in areas where Benita’s mother lives. Aera did all these out of her pocket and sacrificed the time she could be spending with her four children. She also spent more money on nanny care. She used part of the money left for her by her dead husband. She believed that the story she was pursuing could increase her prestige and make her gain more respect in her company and the industry.

Aera went from house to house. Some residents shut doors in front of her face, and some politely declined her request to interview them. However, many allowed her to interview them, even if it were for a few minutes. Some allowed her to interview them for hours and even come back several times. In many naturally ventilated buildings or apartments she interviewed, at least one household member suffers from one type of cardiovascular or respiratory disease or both. She was informed that the reported health problems worsen with an increase in the number and movement of vehicles on roadways.

Aera also learnt that many of the residents that tried to intervene further complicated the indoor air quality problem. For example, some residents purchased ionisers to clean the air due to misinformation from manufacturers. What was unknown to the residents was that there was limited scientific evidence on the effectiveness of ionisers in removing pollutants from indoor air. Not only that, but there was also several scientific evidence that ionisers emit ozone into indoor air.

Unfortunately, neither did the residents know that ionisers emit ozone nor ozone and by-products of its initiated chemistry are dangerous to human health and further worsen the experienced cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The residents were not aware that ozone, being an oxidising agent, can react with pollutants in indoor air to generate new pollutants into indoor air. Unfortunately, some residents even used ozone generators with the uninformed intention of using them to purify the indoor air.

Some residents closed their windows during the peak traffic period or when outdoor air was perceived to be highly polluted. Such practice prevented any possibilities of benefiting from the dilution effect ventilation could provide. As a result, indoor air aged very fast. Those who opened their windows experienced a situation in which the ventilation sink effect in removing pollutants from indoor air was significantly lesser than its source effect in introducing pollutants into indoor air.

Aera went to her editor with the findings from her self-sponsored research for the story she was developing. The editor was impressed and realised how important the story could be to the political scene in the country, and the story could significantly influence government policy. He also believed that the story could increase revenue and prestige for The Brick Street Journal.

To take part in the envisaged glory, he decided to provide Aera with resources and allowed her to concentrate on the story. He provided her with a car. He even made funding available for Aera to engage academic researchers to gather scientifically proven and objective data on the link between indoor air pollutants of vehicular traffic origin and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases experienced by the occupants of naturally ventilated buildings near roadways.

Aera contacted a university professor from Harbridge University. Harbridge was one of the top universities in the world. The professor, Professor Jamal Jackson, agreed to work with her. Professor Jackson was a Professor of Public Health with over three decades of research experience on the impact of indoor air pollutants on human cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Professor Jackson had researchers who had medicine and surgery, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, and building science educational and professional backgrounds in his team.

Professor Jackson and his team measured outdoor air and indoor air pollutants concentrations of naturally ventilated buildings near and far away from roadways. They collected objective data on the cardiovascular and respiratory functions of volunteered occupants of naturally ventilated buildings near and far away from the roadways where air pollutants concentrations data were collected.

The objective data on the physiological functions of the residents were collected using a designed medical testing methodology and instruments. In addition to the objective data, a survey was also administered to collect subjective data that could be useful in providing insight into the link being explored and interventions, if any, typically adopted by the residents with the intention of improving indoor air quality. Subjective data on the rate of hospital visits and hospitalisation rates were also collected.

The findings from the research suggested a very strong link between outdoor air pollutants concentrations induced by traffic and indoor air pollutants concentrations for the pollutants generated by traffic and secondary air pollutants generated from indoor air chemistry of the traffic induced pollutants. They observed that residents’ cardiovascular and respiratory functions worsen with worsened conditions of outdoor air quality caused by traffic-induced toxic air pollutants. Hospital visits and hospitalisation rates were observed to increase with worsened outdoor air and indoor air quality caused by higher concentrations of traffic induced pollutants.

Professor Jackson and his research team also observed that the impact of outdoor air polluting indoor air, the prevalence of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and hospital visits and hospitalisation rates weaken as the distance between naturally ventilated buildings and roadways increases. Additionally, the research team conducted simulation studies using the data collected from the field study. They observed strong agreement between the findings of field and simulation studies.

The research team used the simulated data to examine the effect of outdoor air quality conditions on indoor air quality conditions in naturally ventilated and air-conditioned buildings. They observed that the rates at which outdoor air pollutants induced by traffic are transported indoors were significantly lesser in air-conditioned buildings than in naturally ventilated buildings. The study also revealed that engineering solution interventions adopted by some of the residents worsen the air quality instead of making the air clean and healthy, as Aera’s initial investigation suggested.

The findings from the research study legitimise Aera’s story of suffering experienced by residents of naturally ventilated buildings as the government failed to do enough to control the impact of vehicular emission on the environment. The news and documentary versions of the story by Aera for her company created a big buzz in the country and around the world. The Brick Street Journal received its first Emmy Award at the annual news and documentary Emmy award. Aera was promoted to Senior Reporter, and her reputation in the industry increased.

As part of the effort to reduce possible political backlash from the story, the country’s government decided to fund research studies that could help residents of naturally ventilated buildings effectively clean their indoor air with prudent use of invested resources. Resources refer to cost, sacrificed comfort and convenience, and the level of decisions that have to be made, i.e., awareness or knowledge sacrificed, in the process of cleaning the air for healthy living.

The Brick Street Journal partnered with Harbridge University to submit a proposal for the grant call by the government. Aera was tasked with the responsibility of working with Professor Jackson and his research team that represented Harbridge University. The grant committee was very impressed with the background work done by Aera and the proposal presentation made by Professor Jackson. The Brick Street Journal and Harbridge University partnership, called The Clean Air Team, won a grant proposal worth US$5 Million for a 5-year duration.

In the project’s first phase, The Clean Air Team developed a low cost and easy to maintain portable air cleaner using a highly efficient particle filter impregnated with activated carbon to remove particles and gaseous pollutants from indoor air. The particle filter component was used to remove particles, and the activated carbon component was used to remove gaseous air pollutants. Thus, the innovation allowed the use of one air cleaner instead of two air cleaners for air cleaning.

The clean air delivery rate (CADR) of the innovative air cleaner developed by The Clean Air Team was significantly higher than any available air cleaners in the market, including air cleaners with either only a particle filter or activated carbon or sorbent for air cleaning. The innovative air cleaner caused the ventilation sink effect in removing pollutants from indoor air to be significantly higher than its source effect in introducing pollutants into indoor air.

Even after 6 months of operations, the innovative air cleaner developed by The Clean Air Team performed significantly better in terms of particles and gaseous air pollutants removal efficiency and provision of healthy perceived air quality than the market available air cleaners having only a new particle filter without activated carbon impregnated in it. The team observed that the envisaged pressure drops and energy penalty of impregnating a high amount of activated carbon in a particle filter were insignificant.

After experimental studies confirmed the value delivery of the innovative air cleaner, The Clean Air Team spent two and half years examining the impact of the innovative air cleaner on cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and the associated symptoms experienced by the residents. They also examined the innovative air cleaner’s impact on hospital visits and hospitalisation rates. The developed innovative air cleaner significantly reduced the rate of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and the associated symptoms, hospital visits, and hospitalisation rates experienced by residents of naturally ventilated buildings near roadways.

The government favoured the research findings. They used the findings to improve their public health policy. The success of the research led The Brick Street Journal to win its second Emmy Award. The senior management team of The Brick Street Journal promoted Aera from Senior report to Senior Vice President. She skipped many promotion layers. She even became the boss of Mr. Jason Don. Aera moved from being a reporter being treated like a fresh graduate to being a Senior Vice-President in less than 10 years.

Aera received the Global News Network (GNN) Hero of the year. The success of the research led Professor Jackson and his team to win several government research grants. Aera was also honoured with an honorary doctorate degree by Harbridge for her services to humanity. She was able to give her children the best education and life possible. She was financially independent and respected in the industry.

Aera moved from being a widow who was unable to get jobs and struggling to put food on the table for her children and have a roof over their heads to become one of Time Magazine’s most powerful women of the year. Her success led her to be on the board of several philanthropic organisations locally and internationally. She became a keynote speaker at several local and international conferences with themes on sustainability, public health, and healthy buildings. THE END!

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