Health notice for those
people who don't have time
to read this long article:
-- When ultra-fines particulates soar
inside your home, while cooking
or cleaning, you will feel it in your eyes
-- If you feel it, you are almost certainly
harming your health !
-- If the house smells "good",
then you should be wondering
what you are inhaling !
-- Running an exhaust hood / fan
while cooking causes a steep
reduction of household particulate
levels, and childhood asthma attacks.
-- Opening a window when mopping,
or making toast, will help, if the outside
air is clean.
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS
I enjoy cooking, but rarely cook
hot meals at home, beyond two eggs
As a result, I'm very sensitive to
any smells in the house from cooking.
Especially when the wifey makes toast,
that any normal person would call
The "smells" are from VOCs,
or "volatile organic compounds".
A VOC is any carbon-based chemical
that evaporates at room temperature.
VOCs are responsible for the smell of toast,
flowers, gasoline, etc.
A few VOCs have no odor.
Peel an orange, and you smell
Slicing through an onion causes
emission of syn-propanethial-S-oxide,
a powerful VOC that causes tears.
FINE PARTICULATE MATTER
There is also fine particulate matter
—particles small enough to reach
deep inside our lungs.
During meal cooking, they can reach levels
that would cause a city to be officially labelled
Fine particulate matter can be “very unhealthy”,
based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s
(outdoor) Air Quality Index, for up to an hour,
while cooking a big meal, such as a
OUTDOOR AIR QUALITY
If outdoor air reaches a "very unhealthy"level,
a public alert is triggered, warning that even
healthy people are at risk of serious damage
to the heart and lungs.
After the 1983 Clean Air Act,
and creation of the EPA in 1970,
( Environmental Protection Agency )
the chemicals in outdoor air
became federally regulated,
with penalties for polluters.
These days, a “very unhealthy”
designation for outdoor air is rare.
Emissions of many harmful gases,
such as carbon monoxide,
and sulfur dioxide, have fallen
by about 50% since the 1970s.
Outdoor particulate matter counts
fell by about 80% since the 1970s.
That's great, but in the U.S. we spend,
on average, 90% to 95% of our lives indoors.
Recent data, from the U.K., shows Britons
are outside for just 5% of the day, on average,
— just one hour and twelve minutes.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Inside air is unregulated, and
usually ignored by researchers.
Homechem—House Observations of
Microbial and Environmental Chemistry—
was the world’s first large-scale
investigation of indoor air quality.
Homechem was designed to measure
the chemistry of indoor air, not what
that air is doing to our health.
Early results show cooking and cleaning
are potentially more lethal than anyone
had ever imagined.
In 1975, Charles Weschler, of Bell Labs,
completed a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Then he went to work investigating why
equipment in telephone switching offices
was failing faster than expected.
Wire relays were being corroded by
an acidic, invisible, indoor "smog."
In the 1980s, there were concerns about
“sick-building syndrome,” reported by
people working, or living, in new,
tightly sealed buildings.
It wasn’t until the after 9/11 that indoor-air
research finally attracted some funding
—from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Sloan began supporting research into
H.V.A.C. filtration systems.
Outdoor emissions from tailpipes,
factories, or fertilizer-laden farms,
all undergo transformations into
new combinations of chemicals,
through a sequence of reactions.
Indoor atmospheres were assumed
to be much more static.
Paula Olsiewski, a biochemist,
asked Delphine Farmer, a chemist
based at Colorado State University,
to develop new instruments and data
on indoor atmospheric chemistry.
Farmer recruited Marina Vance,
and they gathered 20 research groups,
from 13 universities, and launched
"Homechem", a large field study.
Homechem used the "UTest House",
a twelve-hundred-square-foot prefab house
that cost sixty thousand dollars.
At first, the instruments, originally
designed for outdoor atmospheric
measurement, had to be re-calibrated
to deal with much higher concentrations
of chemicals that build up indoors.
Vance and Farmer devised a schedule
that would organize real-life activities:
—cooking, cleaning, and 'hanging out',
into a series of controlled experiments.
An experiment might be to stir-fry lunch,
while measuring airborne chemicals,
with an ultra-fine particle counter.
The background level was 2,000
particles per cubic centimeter
BEFORE the cooking began.
During cooking, the smell made
the particle counter beep repeatedly
-- hitting the top limit of the instrument !
“Above a hundred thousand,
it’s unreliable.”, said one scientist !
Stir-fries cooked at high heat
produced the most interesting
for individual events,
such as cooking a stir-fry,
or making an English breakfast,
or mopping with Pine-Sol,
or a bleach-based cleaner,
had to be established.
Then scientists began to group
several activities together,
to see if various emissions
would react with each other.
They did react with each other,
producing temporary spikes
of chloramines, a class of chemicals
that inflames airway membranes.
The combination of bleach-based mopping
and gas-burner ignition was nitryl chloride,
known for outdoor coastal smog formation.
SOURCES OF INDOOR POLLUTION
-- Cooking a stir-fry on a gas burner,
rather than on an electric burner,
produced much higher emissions.
-- Exhaled breath contains carbon dioxide,
and also a host of organic chemicals
such as isoprene, acetone,
-- Squalene, a primary ingredient in skin oil,
is extremely reactive with ozone
( air travel exposes us to the higher
ozone concentrations of the upper
atmosphere, which often leaves
passengers feeling dirty ).
-- There are chemical compounds
from personal-care products too,
such as Axe body sprays.
-- Afternoon sunshine, filtered through
a window, combined with emissions
from a gas stove, was sufficient to produce
chemical reactions similar to outdoors,
on a smoggy urban day.
AIR POLLUTION AND HEALTH
Many studies found an association between
outdoor air pollution, health and life expectancy.
Do the the brief moments we spend outdoors
really have an huge impact on our health ?
What about the dozens of indoor chemicals,
measured by the Homechem team, known
to be harmful to human health ?
THANKSGIVING DINNER EXPERIMENT
A "worst case" cooking experiment
was cooking a Thanksgiving dinner.
- The indoor carbon-dioxide reading
peaked at 4,000 ppm, almost ten times
the average CO2 level outdoors.
- Fine particulate matter reached
285 micrograms per cubic meter,
which is a huge amount.
As little as a nanometre in diameter,
ultra-fines are small enough to pass
through into the bloodstream with ease.
When ultra-fines soar,
you will feel it in your
eyes and throat.
Is inhaling particles
from diesel engines
any worse than
from fried foods?
No one knows, so far,
because the research
hasn’t been done.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT
INDOOR AIR POLLUTION
A move to outlaw toasters, bleach-based
floor cleaners, and candles, seems unlikely.
But that doesn't mean nothing can be done.
It took the US 50 years to reduce
outdoor ozone and particulate
Don't wait 50 years:
-- Compounds emitted as steaks sear,
and bread toasts, include brown carbon
( particulate matter ), and VOCs from
Turn on an exhaust fan venting outdoors,
or open a window, or cook the steaks
POLLUTED URBAN AIR
According to the World Health Organization,
India's capital city, New Delhi,
has THE WORST outdoor air quality
of any major city.
During the dirtier Indian winter months,
fine particulate matter levels are
about 225 micrograms per cubic meter.
That’s not much different than the
280 micrograms per cubic meter
that was reached during the final hour
of cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner
inside a test house !