As my long term readers know, I’m slightly obsessed with our air pollution issues, and my therapy is to blog about it. (After these last couple days of “beyond index” pollution, I need this outlet more than ever!) I also love electronic gadgets of all types, and I’ve had a lot of geeky fun borrowing handheld PM2.5 monitors and literally running around Beijing tracking the pollution. So I was gloriously happy recently when the PureLiving China indoor environmental consulting team came to my house armed with cases of mystifyingly cool gadgets, all designed to test my home’s environment for safety.
I recently met their boss, Louie Cheng, while we both gave a talk to a packed room of ISB parents about indoor air pollution. (You can download my presentation and Louie’s presentation). Afterwards, I decided to get my own home inspected by his company, and I got a valuable amount of feedback both onsite and from their detailed report — so much so that I have to divide this post into two. Today’s article will discuss their air testing, and here are my major points:
- There’s a lot more to indoor pollution than PM2.5 — Yes, especially on these last few days PM2.5 easily is the most concerning pollutant. But on usual days there are many other indoor factors, especially VOCs, benzene and formaldehyde which have ill effects on lungs, but most concernedly are considered to cause cancer. And don’t forget about radon from basements and stone, as radon is actually the world’s #2 cause of lung cancer besides smoking (did you know that?). You also need to consider indoor lead levels, as lead poisoning is a globally serious issue for infants and children.
- My home is generally safe — as you can see from their nicely color coded graph above, most of my room’s air quality was safely in the green zone. There were a couple yellows and reds, but nothing was dangerously over recommended levels.
- My remodeling crew wasn’t a total disaster — Chinese construction crews are notorious for cutting corners to save precious mao, and many of the glues, paints, varnishes, drywall and other fixtures could be filled with harmful VOCs, formaldehyde, benzene and other chemicals. We did a bit of remodeling recently so I was relieved that none of those issues were too bad.
- I wasn’t buying the correct Blueair filter — I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had thought that Blueair’s regular filters were enough. But as Louie pointed out, only their charcoal-filled Smokestop filters can remove VOCs and odor. From now on, I will only use the Smokestop filters. (full disclosure, I also own an IQAir and am perfectly happy with both)
- Always choose old furniture over new — New furniture can leak VOCs and other gases for many years, especially the more cheaply made or the particle board pieces. It’s that “new car smell”, just much longer and much more unhealthy. Louie says that many fully furnished apartments use cheap furniture which emit far more chemicals than antique furnitures.
- My vacuum cleaner wasn’t so bad — I had assumed my vacuum cleaner’s exhaust would be spewing dust back into the air, but my testing results weren’t terrible at all. Still, we decided anyway to upgrade to a true HEPA vacuum.
- No dust mites! — I was pleasantly surprised to find that our bedroom area had no detectable dust mite residue. This is a tip to good housecleaning, but also demonstrates that mites can’t survive well in extremely dry areas such as Beijing.
- I definitely need my air filters — I’m still convinced I need air purifiers in China, and their testing again confirmed what I already know: a good one can filter out all PM2.5, formaldehyde, gases and other toxic matter.
- It’s really difficult to get PM2.5 to safe levels — even on a relatively blue sky day, my indoor air’s PM2.5 was still over limits. Cranking up the air purifiers brought it down, but this is a perennial battle here in Beijing and most Chinese cities.
- Lead can be an issue, but from a surprising source — A couple of lead levels were very slightly elevated, and the source was surprisingly not from old paint. Our lead apparently is tracked in from the soil outside our apartment, and bottoms of shoes can spread lead dust all over the house. This is another great justification for the Chinese tradition of taking off your shoes and wearing slippers indoors!
- Open the windows — Many people are terrified of opening windows and “letting in” the pollution, but stale indoor air very often can be more dangerous than outdoor air. You should air out your house every day if possible, even if only for 20 minutes.