Clean Air for Health
A breath of fresh air makes a difference to your body and mind.
Clean air improves both physiological and psychological outcomes.
Project N95 imagines a future full of healthy air for healthy people.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of indoor air quality into sharp focus for the general public. Because SARS-Cov-2 is transmitted by airborne particles, the virus is concentrated in spaces with inadequate ventilation and filtration, increasing the risk of spread.
The consequences for our health reach far beyond COVID or other illnesses—air quality affects all aspects of our health. Although no one organization can fully address the obstacles of low air quality, we can start to improve it together.
Our new Clean Air for All initiative broadens Project N95’s mission to provide equitable access to respiratory protection. We believe that everyone deserves access to the information and resources they need to keep themselves and their communities safe, healthy, and thriving.
It's All up in the Air
Air quality is one of the most important factors in maintaining respiratory health.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has clearly established a correlation between air pollution and a myriad of serious health conditions. Chronic bronchitis, severe asthma, heart disease, and even visits to the emergency room are all common side effects of poor air quality.1 Frighteningly, even early mortality is associated with air pollution. The EPA estimates that hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. have been prevented by the Clean Air Act since 1990.2
Other research indicates that fine particulate matter—or PM2.5—may be the leading risk for global human health.3 A 2019 study estimated that 102,000 people die prematurely every year from human-made PM2.5 emissions.4 That is nearly double the number of people who die annually from car crashes and murders combined, says study co-author Jason Hill.5,6
Fine particulate matter is also a potent asthma trigger that is harmful to the most vulnerable groups, including children. Asthma is the most common chronic lung disease of childhood, affecting approximately 6 million children in the United States. Although it cannot be cured, most of the time, symptoms can be controlled by avoiding or reducing exposure to triggers (allergens and irritants).7
Unfortunately but predictably, this disproportionately affects low income and non-White households. In 2018, Black children (10.9%) were 42 percent more likely than White children (7.7%) to have asthma. Childhood asthma is a leading cause of student absenteeism and accounts for 13.8 million missed school days each year.8
Additionally, a study conducted at Washington State University showed a significant association between increased indoor carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations and student absence rates.9 Of concern, the study also found that almost half of the classrooms had CO2 concentrations above 1000 ppm, which is considered unsafe. Other studies have shown that reductions in ventilation rates, which causes elevated CO2 levels, correlated with increased office worker absences.
High CO2 itself is a concern as it causes dizziness, headaches, and poor concentration. It also serves as a proxy for air quality because high levels indicate poor ventilation. A lot of CO2 in a space likely means that plenty of other pollutants are present, as well.
Understanding the mechanics of air quality can help point us toward a solution.
Don't Welcome Air Pollution Inside
Poor ventilation and filtration results in indoor air pollutants reaching two to five times higher levels than outdoors.10
Outside air—or ambient air—makes its way indoors with harmful bioaerosols and particulate matter. Even in areas with good outdoor air quality, contaminants can accumulate indoors due to chemical outgassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from building materials, furniture, flooring, carpeting, and cleaning products.
PM2.5 is one of the most deleterious indoor air pollutants. Because of its small size—2.5 microns (2.5µ) in diameter—it is easily inhaled and can accumulate in the lungs and bloodstream. These particles can contain hundreds of different chemicals that may contribute to heart and lung disease. Aerosols that are contaminated with infectious microbes that cause respiratory diseases like RSV and COVID also accumulate inside.
The implications for policy makers are fairly straightforward: clean the air.
While more can surely be done, the general trends are positive. In the United States, average exposure to harmful airborne particulates has decreased by almost a third in the last two decades.11 Environmental regulations, the decrease of coal emissions, and other measures are helping improve air quality across the board.
You can still do more, however, to clean the air in your home, school, or workplace. The solution is ventilation and filtration.
Why Clean Air?
Unfair systems and policies lead to unfair outcomes.
Discrimination means that Black, Latino, and low-income children are the most likely to be impacted by factors that diminish air quality.
Air quality changes our ability to think and learn.
Students with clean air in their classrooms consistently demonstrate better performance, attendance, and achievement than their peers.
Imagine a Future with Clean Air for Everyone
A breath of fresh air makes all the difference for our well-being, learning, and quality of life—learn more about our clean air initiative today.
Get a Breath of Fresh Air Inside
We spend 90 percent of our lives indoors, yet we rarely think about the quality of the air we breathe there. Even though we’ve long known about the health benefits of fresh air, it is a lesson many of us seemed to have forgotten—until the COVID-19 pandemic.12
The concept of ventilation is simple but important. The exchange of indoor air with fresh outdoor air dilutes the pollutants and contaminants that accumulate inside. Tanya Lewis from Scientific American uses a simple but powerful comparison.12 Inside, airborne particles are easily noticed, like a drop of food coloring in a cup of water. Outside, however, they are like a drop of dye in the ocean. It rapidly becomes so diluted as to be undetectable. The purpose of ventilation is to make the inside cup more like the outside ocean.
More than a century ago, nurse and statistician Florence Nightingale realized the importance of open air ventilation for tuberculosis patients. These same concepts are proven to work today on diseases as modern as COVID-19.
A 2022 Italian study showed that efficient ventilation systems can reduce the transmission of COVID in schools by more than 80 percent. In the 316 classrooms that had mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, COVID infections were steeply lower than those without.
Furthermore, the reduction in cases correlated with the strength of the systems. The more air changes per hour (ACH) in the classroom, the higher the reduction of COVID-19 transmission.13
Classrooms with 2.4 ACH saw reductions of 40% Classrooms with 4 ACH saw reductions of 66.8% Classrooms with 6 ACH saw reductions of 82.5%
In addition to ventilation, filtration helps clean the air by removing harmful particles from circulation. Instead of just diluting the food coloring as in the ventilation example, we're taking it out of the cup altogether.
High-quality MERV and HEPA filters can't remove CO2 and other gasses—that's why ventilation is so important—but can substantially reduce the levels of PM2.514,15 and bioaerosols, including those that cause infectious diseases like influenza and coronavirus.16
Introducing Clean Air for All
Project N95 wants to be a part of the solution. You can help.
Poor air quality is a sometimes invisible affliction that influences all of us. Unhealthy air is correlated with many health effects mentioned above, such as worsening asthma, respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even premature mortality. It also impairs cognition and increases work and school absenteeism.
We will make a difference through education, awareness, empowerment, and donations of portable air cleaners to congregant settings. Improving indoor air quality is one of the fastest ways to mitigate the effects of air pollution. Low-cost, portable air purifiers are an excellent and realistic solution.
Project N95 is working to donate air purifiers to schools and other gathering spaces in 2023. Your contribution can make a difference: Learn more and see how to get involved.