G20 Executive Talk Series

September 2016

Branded Story / Austin Air

Indoor Air Quality:
A Global Concern

Outdoor air pollution is often in the spotlight while indoor air quality is rarely on our radar; at Austin Air we worry about it so you don’t have to.

It is well-known that air pollution is a serious threat to the environment. The quality of ambient (outdoor) air has been diminishing consistently since the Industrial Revolution brought on a colossal influx of fossil fuel burning. The shift away from agrarian economies was soon followed by the advent of motor vehicles and they’ve been adding to the assault on the atmosphere ever since. We may sometimes feel overloaded by these facts – specifically in
the context of climate change – but it’s too serious to ignore. Crop yields have declined in multiple regions since 1980 due to smog, black carbon, and ground-level ozone. This is akin to a nuclear winter, when the air is too thick for sufficient light to reach plants. This stunts agricultural output which is a tangible threat to food security.

Air pollution is taking an enormous toll on human health as well. The most recent figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) state that one in eight global deaths were the result of air pollution in 2012. This is more than twice the amount previously believed by the scientific community so air pollution is now the leading health risk from the environment. The dramatic doubling of these figures is due to a new understanding of pollution’s role in the development of diseases such as cancer. Scientists have also gained insight into the way in which outdoor and indoor air pollution work in tandem, deteriorating health.

Not typically addressed but arguably more critical – the quality of indoor air is significantly worse than the air we encounter outside. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air can have two to five times more pollutants than outdoor air but the levels of certain contaminants can be one-hundred times higher. In many parts of the world, people spend up to 90% of their lives indoors. Compromised indoor air quality is a problem we all share in our biosphere due to a combination of factors – regardless of geographical region or socioeconomic status.

On one end of the spectrum, there are almost three billion people who rely on solid fuels and open fires to cook their food and heat their homes. The burning of wood, dung, and coal releases hazardous smoke and fumes into the home including particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in diameter. PM2.5 is roughly 1/30th the width of the average human hair and can embed deep into the lungs when inhaled. Levels of PM2.5 can be up to twenty times higher than the accepted values in homes where biomass fuels are burned.

Short-term exposure to PM2.5 has been shown to cause health problems ranging from coughing to shortness of breath. Long-term exposure increases risk of heart attack and stroke. A recently published study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed an association between autism spectrum disorder and regular contact with high levels of particulate matter during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. Newborns exposed to high levels of PM2.5 are more likely to contract pneumonia, the leading cause of death for children under the age of five.

In contrast to other quality of life indicators such as access to clean water or nutritious food, indoor air isn’t necessarily better in “modern” homes which use gas or electricity for heating and cooking. Improvements in construction have made buildings more energy efficient than ever – tightly sealed lodgings lock out wind, rain, and snow but also trap dangerous particulates and chemicals inside. Everything from furniture to paint is known to off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. VOCs can cause eye irritation and cold symptoms but have also been linked to brain damage and cancer.

The lack of natural ventilation in newer buildings plus their components has resulted in chemical and particulate saturated air. This is best exemplified by sick building syndrome (SBS). The term, coined by the WHO in 1986, is the phenomenon of non-specific poor health among the people who occupy a building which appears to be linked to their time spent there. With rapid economic growth transforming many of the world’s economies, more and more people are living and working in newly built structures. SBS is an increasingly prevalent occupational hazard resulting in an upsurge of sickness related absences and a decline in productivity which isn’t likely to recede soon.

The amenities that accompany newer buildings aren’t the only improvements which have come at a cost. The past century has seen a drastic rise in severe asthma and allergies in industrialized nations. The hygiene hypothesis states that the jump may be related to strides in medicine, primarily treatments for infectious diseases. Lack of exposure to parasites, symbiotic microorganisms such as gut flora and probiotics, and other infectious agents, which have co-evolved with humans and potentially strengthen the immune system may have increased our sensitivities to certain compounds.

For example, Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is an antibody present in all humans. IgE causes allergic reactions when it confuses innocuous items like dust, pet dander, and pollen with harmful intruders. IgE most commonly causes allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nose) which results in nasal drip, sneezing, itching, and congestion. Asthma attacks can also be spurred by IgE-based irritation. Typical triggers for allergy symptoms often cause asthma attacks as well. The two conditions frequently happen in tandem in patients – an estimated four out of five asthma sufferers also have allergic rhinitis. Poor ventilation, chemical vapors, and PM2.5 all exacerbate asthma and allergy symptoms.

No matter whether one lives in a simple, single room dwelling or in a state-of-the-art home with the advances of modern medicine, poor indoor air quality is a major concern and difficult to improve but Austin Air has been on the front line of the fight for clean air for the past three decades.

Inspired by a family member with debilitating respiratory problems, Austin Air founder Richard Taylor began doing research on the causes of asthma attacks in the late 1970s. By 1979, he was convinced that invisible air particles were a major culprit in asthma attacks. At the time, there was no proven prophylaxis to stop asthma attacks. The only treatments were harsh drugs with a laundry list of side effects including dizziness, insomnia, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, arrhythmia, headaches, tremors, and more.

By 1982, Taylor had designed and manufactured the first High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter for the consumer market. Improvements were made over the next few years to maximize filter surface area, cut energy costs, and address a wider spectrum of indoor air contaminants. In 1990, Austin Air Systems, Limited was founded in Buffalo, New York, USA, introducing the first air cleaner specially designed to help people with suppressed respiratory function from asthma, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

The amenities that accompany newer buildings aren’t the only improvements which have come at a cost. The past century has seen a drastic rise in severe asthma and allergies in industrialized nations.

Austin was the first company to combine HEPA filtration with solid activated carbon, increasing the adsorption surface area to over 1360 acres (550 hectare). For perspective – the entire walled in area of the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus is 1030 acres (415 hectare)! Austin was also the first to incorporate zeolite to capture ultra-fine gas molecules. In 1999, Austin Air introduced High Efficiency Gas Absorption (HEGA) cloth filters to the consumer air purification market. HEGA was originally developed for the British military to defend against chemical warfare. It’s extremely efficient at absorbing gaseous pollutants such as formaldehyde, ammonia, toluene, and benzene. Austin Air’s groundbreaking innovations quickly garnered the attention of various public and civil entities.

Austin was commissioned by the US Government to develop proprietary air cleaners to tackle fumes from oil field fires abroad. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross chose Austin Air products to limit exposure to airborne and chemical toxins following the September 2001 attacks in New York City. Austin products were later chosen to protect citizens living in close proximity to the chemical storage depot in Anniston, Alabama during the mass incineration of Cold War-era chemical weapons.

Austin Air products have also been solicited for a multitude of clinical trials. In the largest study of its kind, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital tested the Austin Allergy Machine which showed a statistically significant reduction in emergency room visits of asthmatic children. Johns Hopkins University conducted a study which proved that the Austin Bedroom Machine efficiently reduces nitrogen dioxide resulting from gas stove use. The results of this study were so promising the researchers were inspired to further study the efficacy of Austin products in three on-going clinical trials.

Although respiratory health issues do not plague everyone, particulates and the increasing presence of harsh chemicals and VOCs make the matter of indoor air quality relevant to us all and must be taken into consideration. Austin Air has been a pioneer in air filter technology since Mr. Taylor started tinkering in the 1970s. Austin products continue to prove their wide range of impact not only on indoor air quality but also on the overall quality of life of their owners.

Find out more about this product contact Austin Air on: 1-800-724-8403