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This is a topic that is totally neglected: What will it feel like when the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (the air) increase as our climate changes? What kinds of effects will it have on our thought processes (our cognition)? The reason I mention this is because research shows that as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels increase in rooms with people in them, it feels "stuffy" and people's thinking (cognitive processes) deteriorate. They don't think and work as effectively. Air starts to feel "stuffy" at about 600 ppm (parts per million). Our current CO2 levels in outside air are already above 400 ppm, and the levels are forecast to keep rising.

Indoor air typically has much higher CO2 concentrations than outdoor air because people are exhaling CO2 with every breath. (Note that research shows that urban city centers can already have outdoor CO2 levels above 500 ppm due to the “urban CO2 dome” effect, and elementary school classrooms are frequently above 1000 ppm, with some going as high as 3000 ppm at times). So as CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere with climate change, it will lead to even higher indoor CO2 levels in our workplaces, homes, and schools.

So... with increases in CO2 levels, what if it feels "stuffy" all the time? We won't be able to escape the "stuffiness" by going outside or opening a window. And remember, it will be worse in rooms with people in it, or in cars and aircraft. The research shows increasing CO2 levels make it harder to work and think effectively - think of it as an indoor air pollutant. Holy mackerel! This scary aspect of the effects of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere needs to be widely discussed and addressed.

The following 2 articles discuss the research showing the negative effects on cognition with increases in CO2 levels (what happens to people's mental processes in crowded classrooms, offices, etc.).  ...continue reading "What Do High Carbon Dioxide Levels In The Air Do To Thought Processes?"

I recently read a nice article discussing indoor air pollution, which can be worse than outdoor air, even that of cities. Yes, that's true! In past posts I've discussed problems (and health issues) with air fresheners, fragrances, incensedryer sheets, scented candles, synthetic rugs, "stain-proofing", and flame retardants in upholstery, but this article is about furniture and how it can emit various chemicals ("outgassing"), especially when new. Think of all the stains, glues, paints, etc. used in making furniture.

The article points out that when buying new furniture, can look to see if it is certified by Greenguard or SCS Global Services as having low or no emissions of  hazardous chemicals. Another thing to do is avoid particle boardengineered wood, or pressed wood (frequently emits formaldehyde, a carcinogen). But in the mean time - it's generally a good idea to frequently get fresh air in your residence by opening windows for a while. Excerpt's from E. Leamy's article in the Washington Post:

Your furnishings could be causing indoor air pollution

We feel safe in our homes, but that can be a false sense of security. The threat I’m talking about is something we can’t see: indoor air pollution. The air in our homes and workplaces can be more polluted than outdoor air in the most industrialized citiesaccording to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA says the problem is compounded by the fact that Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. Many different things can cause indoor air pollution, and they have a cumulative effect on our health.

Let’s look at one of those possible sources: our furnishings. Yes, your new carpet or cabinet could be subtly poisoning you with chemicals such as benzene, ethylene glycol or formaldehyde. It’s called “off-gassing.” Four of the top 10 chemicals emitted from furnishings are considered “acute” hazards, or irritants. “Poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute to the development of infections, lung cancer and chronic lung diseases such as asthma,” according to the American Lung Association.

How do researchers know that some furnishings emit harmful gaseous chemicals? Greenguard, a division of UL Environment, has developed a way of testing furniture to find out. In a ­generic-looking office park outside Atlanta, researchers heft furniture into giant, airtight chambers. .... Greenguard developed the testing method so manufacturers who wanted to sell low-emission furniture could prove their products were healthier. UL awards its Greenguard certification to furniture that emits low or no levels of hazardous chemicals

Manufacturers don’t have to state what chemicals they use in their furnishings. The EPA singles out engineered wood — otherwise known as particleboard — as being particularly prone to emitting formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen. UL Environment adds that products that are applied wet, such as glues and paints, often off-gas while they are curing. Sometimes a strong industrial odor is a good hint that a piece of furniture is emitting chemicals. If you develop a headache while inside a building where paints, stains or glues are being used, that’s another clue. 

However, it is possible to know whether harmful chemicals are not present, because more and more furnishings are being certified as having low emissions. Here are certifications you can look for and other steps you can take to reduce your exposure to indoor air pollution from your furnishings: 

1. Check certifications. Look for an indoor-air-quality certification, such as the one offered by Greenguard. Another firm that certifies low-emission furniture is SCS Global Services2. Air out. .... 3. Paint first. If you’re renovating your house, paint it and air it out before installing carpeting and curtains, because they can absorb chemical fumes from the paint..... 4. Buy used. Off-gassing diminishes over time, so buying older furniture can be better. ....5. Avoid particleboard. This material is also called pressed wood, engineered wood and MDF. The glues used to hold the material together often contain harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde. Alternatively, look for certified particleboard products. 6. Choose unscented. .... 7. Beyond furnishings. Other products frequently used in homes can also off-gas and cause indoor air pollution. 

Research study after research study finds all sorts of health benefits from exercise. But what about the air quality in those stuffy crowded gyms, especially those in already polluted areas? From November 2014 NY Times:

The Bad Air in Our Gyms

But a new study of air quality in gyms raises some interesting questions about whether the places in which we work out are as healthy as they should be. Science and common sense tell us that exercising in polluted air is undesirable. People who frequently run alongside heavily trafficked freeways and breathe great lungfuls of exhaust have been shown to have an increased risk of heart disease, even if they are otherwise in admirably good shape.

...researchers at the University of Lisbon in Portugal and the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands decided that they would place air-quality monitoring equipment in gyms throughout LisbonPortuguese fitness sites are similar to those in the United States, said Carla Ramos, a graduate student at the University of Lisbon who led the new study. Most feature a weight room and multiple, smaller studio spaces for aerobics classes, yoga sessions and similar programs.

For the new study, Ms. Ramos obtained permission from 11 Lisbon gyms to position air-quality monitors in each site’s weight room and several studios. The machines were set to measure pollutants during the late afternoon or evening hours, when the gyms were at their most crowded. For about two hours at each gym, the monitors measured the levels of commonly found indoor pollutants. These include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, airborne particulates such as dust, and various chemicals released by carpeting, cleaning products, furniture or paint, including formaldehyde.

To gain even more detailed readings, the scientists subsequently placed additional monitors in three of the gyms, which measured air quality throughout the building and throughout the entire day.Then they checked the pollutant levels from all of the gyms.

Their findings were disquieting. In general, the gyms showed high levels of airborne dust, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide. The concentrations of these substances generally exceeded most accepted standards for indoor air quality. (No government agency in the United States formally monitors air quality in gyms.) The levels were especially high during evening aerobics classes, when many people were packed into small studios, stirring up dust and fumes and puffing heavily, producing carbon dioxide with every breath.

The high concentrations of dust and chemicals like formaldehyde in the air at the gyms represent perhaps the greatest potential concern, Ms. Ramos said. In sufficient concentrations, these substances can contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems, she said. Almost all of the gyms in the study had levels of these substances that significantly exceed European standards for healthy indoor air standards.

Carbon dioxide, though not toxic to people, could also be cause for concern. In high concentrations, Ms. Ramos said, it has been found to contribute to bodily fatigue and cognitive fogginess, neither of which is desirable during a high-intensity aerobics class. Elevated levels of carbon dioxide can also indicate a poorly ventilated building, she said, especially if they remain inflated for hours, as they did in her study.

We consider that the gymnasiums meet the criteria for a poor indoor quality,” Ms. Ramos said. Poor indoor air quality is a particular issue in gyms, of course, because people there tend to be breathing heavily. “When we exercise, we take in more air with each breath and most of that air goes through the mouth, bypassing the natural filtration system” in the nostrils, Ms. Ramos said. “The pollutants go deeper into the lungs compared to resting situations.”

The findings should not, however, discourage anyone from visiting a gym, Ms. Ramos said. None of the sites in the study had measurable levels of carbon monoxide, she pointed out, one of the most dangerous of known air pollutants.

Think of incense burning as indoor air pollution, with some of the same chemicals and particulates as cigarettes. From Environmental Health Perspectives:

Ritual Risk: Incense Use and Cardiovascular Mortality

Numerous studies have examined exposures to indoor combustion products such as secondhand smoke and emissions from burning of solid fuels. However, only a few have examined incense burning as a potential health threat, even though incense is commonly used for religious and ritual purposes in China, Taiwan, Singapore, India, and Middle Eastern nations.1,2In this issue of EHP, investigators report an association between long-term incense use and increased cardiovascular mortality.1

The study used data from the Singapore Chinese Health Study, which enrolled a cohort of 63,257 Chinese adults aged 45–74 years between 1993 and 1998. The authors identified cardiovascular deaths of cohort members via a nationwide death registry, checking the registry yearly through 31 December 2011.

More than three-quarters of the participants reported currently using incense, and another 13% were former users. Most had used incense daily for at least 20 years, typically keeping it burning intermittently throughout the day. The authors estimated that current long-term incense users had a 12% increased risk of cardiovascular mortality compared with former and never users, including a 19% increased risk for stroke and a 10% increased risk for coronary heart disease.1

Previous studies reported concentrations of volatile organic compounds and particulate matter in incense emissions similar to those in cigarette smoke.3,4 Others showed that long-term exposure to incense smoke increased blood vessel inflammation and affected blood flow in rats.5 In vitro studies have indicated adverse impact to human coronary6 and lung cells.4 

 In contrast with outdoor air pollution, incense exposure may be easier for an individual to avoid, but Yeatts says education will be needed to help people understand the risks of these exposures, similar to educational campaigns about cigarette smoking.Koh published an earlier prospective study that found an association between incense use and upper respiratory cancer.7