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Air Quality Remains a Threat to Olympics…But What about to North Americans?

Posted Oct 02 2008 4:20pm

A big buzzword that has been associated with the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing has been air quality. It’s almost to the point where the poor air quality in Beijing is getting more attention than the Olympic athletes, or the event itself. On a positive note, the Olympics are finally bringing a lot of attention to an important issue, which until now, has not remained at the forefront of the news for any lengthy period of time.

We recently saw one of our athletes arriving in China wearing a mask, in an attempt to safeguard himself from the microscopic particles spewed out by vehicles and factories. This made quite a statement, and the athlete defended himself, saying he meant no offense, but that his success as an athlete was a stake, and he wasn’t taking any chances with China’s poor air quality.

The irony with this situation, really, albeit attention grabbing, is that the athlete’s mask did nothing to protect him from the harmful airborne chemicals in China’s capital. His mask may indeed have filtered out some minor dust particles in the air, but without a significant carbon filter, did nothing to protect him from the more dangerous, and indeed deadly, chemical components. In other words, the athlete was no better off wearing the mask, than not wearing it.

With growing concern over the health safety of our athletes in China, many of us in North America are wondering, if our athletes are arriving in Beijing wearing actual masks, then perhaps air quality is a bigger issue than we thought. Granted, the situation in China is severe, but are North Americans really breathing air that is that much better?

The answer is yes and no. That is, yes, in most parts of North America, we do not have some of the smog and pollution problems that are present in China. But, no, that doesn’t mean the air quality is good either. So what exactly is the quality of our North American air?

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) states, “In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.”

Like it or not, we can’t just escape air pollution by staying indoors all day. In fact, the air indoors can be worse. Up to 100 times worse. The U.S. EPA states, “… health effects may show up either years after exposure has occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is prudent to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.”

Enjoy the 2008 Summer Olympics for the sportsmanship, the competition, and the pure talent. But take a moment to learn from what Beijing citizens know all too well: air quality can have a huge impact on your quality of life; just look at the impact it has already had on the Olympics.

About the Author:
Janice Scrim is an air quality expert withAllerAir, a company that has been designing and manufacturing air purifiers for families and businesses across North America for over 10 years. We care about every breath you take!

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