Winter air tips for good health

Ah, winter: frost on the pumpkin, chestnuts roasting…and is there something more than a nip in the air?

Unfortunately, yes: there’s particle pollution. Winter air, when still, tends to trap fine particle pollution near the ground, especially late at night and in early morning hours.

This dirty air is bad for the lungs and heart—and over the long term has been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental harm.

As an OEC supporter, you’re already a clean air champion working for cleaner transportation fuels and energy. But how do you do when it comes to keeping yourself and your family healthy?

See how many of these lung-saving tips are on your to-do list:

Indoors: Stay both cozy and healthy
Cooking, heating, cleaning and simple daily living can cause pollution to build up indoors. In fact, indoor air is typically 5-10 times worse than outdoor air. Consumer Reports has good information on air purifiers that truly work to reduce particles. But experts agree that the first step is to make sure you have these clean air habits:

  • “Flush” your air: Open a few windows—even for a few minutes—in cold weather. Both health experts and energy-saving experts agree fresh air is important, and it won’t significantly increase your heating bill to open the windows for a few minutes. Using kitchen and bathroom fans is also a good way to draw out dirty air.
  • Dust and vacuum: Many of the pollutants in our homes end up in household dust. We’re exposed to everything from pet dander to pesticides and smoke particles when we breathe in dust. Use a wet cloth or a microfiber cloth to keep from spreading dust around.
  • Basic equipment: A carbon monoxide alarm is a very good investment to detect deadly pollutants from cooking and heating.
  • That special “nothing” smell: Cooking, candles and incense are all sources of particle pollution that can harm health. The best fresh air smells like nothing at all! If you do cook or burn scents, be sure to use exhaust fans or “flush” with fresh air.

On the road: three tips to avoid the worst car exhaust
If you can see smoke coming from a tailpipe, chances are it’s either dirty diesel pollution or ordinary gasoline that isn’t burning very well. Either way, you’ll want to avoid breathing it in for the sake of your health.

  • Keep your distance and drive nice: Avoiding tailgating is not only a safe practice, it’s also a good way to avoid a nose full of exhaust. Turns out, driving at a steady pace is also easier on the air. Jack-rabbit starts and pedal-to-the-metal driving burns fuel less efficiently and creates greater pollution.
  • Fan settings: When your car windows are closed, the “recirculation” setting reduces the air coming in from outside. That’s a good thing in heavy traffic, especially if you have a cabin air filter that works to reduce particles in your air.
  • Take it from Click and Clack: It’s not just environmentalists, but car experts too, that will tell you there’s no need to idle your car to warm up the engine.

In your neighborhood: where did those particles come from?
It’s early December 2014, and Oregon officials are already calling on Washington County residents not to use wood-burning stoves and fireplaces on cold, still days this winter. Wood burning is one of the biggest sources of particle pollution in the region, and they’re hoping to avoid the dangerously unhealthy air days that the region saw in 2011 and 2013. Other areas of the state where particle pollution reaches unhealthy levels in winter include Medford, Ashland, Grants Pass, Eugene, Springfield, Oakridge , Klamath Falls, Lakeview and La Grande.

  • Skip the wood burning: According to a state-wide survey in 2009, nearly half of Oregon homes own some kind of wood burning device—but far fewer rely on wood as the primary source of heat. Keep an eye on the air quality forecast, and skip the wood fire on dangerous days.
  • Burn clean: If you do use wood for heat, you can cut pollution by burning only hard, dried wood; keeping your stove or fireplace well maintained; and building small, hot fires instead of smoldering ones. See more tips from Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

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