Air pollution and Asthma

Child with an inhaler. Sourced from the CDC. NO2 is associated with higher asthma rates, SO2 is associated with asthma attacks once you have asthma, both are invisible and expensive/difficult to measure as a consumer. And we have the only low-profile tech to effectively filter both.

Child with an inhaler. Sourced from the CDC. NO2 is associated with higher asthma rates, SO2 is associated with asthma attacks once you have asthma, both are invisible and expensive/difficult to measure as a consumer. And we have the only low-profile tech to effectively filter both.

Most people in the US think they need not worry much about air pollution, owing to the fact that we are in the top 5% for clean air worldwide. Yet air pollution is likely one of the largest causes of asthma (see bottom for the affect of air pollution on adult mortality).

So let’s focus on the fact that one in twelve kids will get asthma in the US. This year in the US, asthma will kill an average of 10 people per day, and cost $56 billion to manage.

There is significant research to suggest NO2 pollution from traffic, specifically, is linked with higher asthma rates. These articles, respectively, indicate that up to 6x asthma rates are associated with 1/3 legal max US NO2 levels. Later research shows that the effect persists when living up to 500m from major highways (1/3 a mile). These results show when children are exposed to pollution from 0-2, they have these increased chances of lifelong asthma at age 8. These strong relationships are not demonstrated in relation to PM (Particulate Matter). In other words, it’s the pollution you can’t see that is harming your kids in the US. Keep in mind that in developing countries, this NO2 pollution problem is worse, but it typically also has visible PM. More importantly, if your filtration product does not filter NO2 and SO2, it is not a true outdoor pollution filter.

Top: PM pollution is very easy to see. It's what people wrongly associate with as all air pollution. Bottom: Traffic pollution in Boston is pretty much invisible, because you cannot see NO2 pollution.

Top: PM pollution is very easy to see. It’s what people wrongly associate with as all air pollution.
Bottom: Traffic pollution in Boston is pretty much invisible, because you cannot see abundant NO2 pollution from traffic

Why this is important:

Infants lungs are one of the only organs that change in more than size after they are born. In other words, they are the only organ that really develops outside of the womb, and this persists until age 8. Infants are most vulnerable to lifelong effects of air pollution.

What about older children?

Research from California

showed that a 25% increase in NO2 relative to legal limit (legal limit is 53 ppb, a 15% increase is 14ppb) showed 25-50% of total lung capacity growth for children ages 11-15. What about PM2.5 pollution? The research shows that it takes an equivalent increase in PM2.5 pollution 3-7% reduction in lung capacity growth from ages 11-15. In other words, NO2 exposure is far more associated with decreased lung capacity growth in older children.

Put succinctly, traffic is not good for children.

Healthy living involves avoiding traffic pollution exposure in children. Yes, I stole this picture from another website

Healthy living involves avoiding traffic pollution exposure in children. Image source here.

Right now these relationships are links between pollution and asthma or pollution and lung function. There could be external factors. There are only two ways to prove the causal relationship: either subject people to higher air pollution, or filter air pollution they would have been exposed to otherwise. The first is morally wrong. Until Blue Skies came along, the second was impossible, because there was no way to reduce a person’s exposure to chemical pollution in a given environment, because no one else could filter it.

What about raising kids abroad?

What I have described here is a fraction of what you face in Beijing or Delhi. Beijing has 4.5x higher PM2.5 and 2-3x higher SO2 and NO2 than in the US. In parts of India, where PM2.5 is 10x higher than in the US, and people have only 70% the lung function of other countries, and up to half of people pretty much have asthma.

If you are raising your kids in developing countries, you absolutely need some form of pollution avoidance. Current solutions do not filter chemical pollution. PM pollution filtration in developing countries is vital, but it is not sufficient.

What about adults?

Air pollution kills adults, particularly older and vulnerable adults. Outdoor pollution in the US kills off an estimated 200,000 people per year* (or ~0.06% of the population). This is an older study that doesn’t differentiate between particulate matter and chemical pollution (recall that everyone else only filters PM, and we filter both). Only last year did countries start studying the effects of NO2, and then only in Europe. Last year NO2 pollution killed 72,000 people in Europe.

Here is a very in depth report about PM pollution (a much larger problem in the 3rd world, but a not-terrible proxy for NO2 pollution), and health. Nearly all the deaths that occur in the US from air pollution come as the result of heart attacks or stroke. That’s right, air pollution in the US can increase your chances of lethal heart attack or stroke, or even stroke that could leave you debilitated.

In addition, air pollution exposure in infancy and childhood can cause lifelong respiratory disease, and thus later increase your chances of stroke and heart attacks. In other words, exposure to air pollution in the US, particularly traffic pollution, is a lot worse for you and your family than you ever thought.

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*This study has some serious caveats. They don’t look at NO2 pollution from traffic, and as we discussed in another post, NO2 pollution from traffic is the dominant type. They also don’t look at the effect of SO2.