We take about 20,000 breaths daily, absorbing between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of air. Oxygen is the reason for all this. Every cell that builds our bodies needs it to function. Especially the brain, which consumes about 80% of all the oxygen we inhale. It is oxygen that allows us to break down the glucose needed to produce energy, thus powering the body.
Correct breathing and the right amount of oxygen in the body help the tissues and cells to absorb nutrients and contribute to the vitality and a good mood. It helps regulate the heart, liver, digestive system and respiratory system. Additionally, over 70% of the body’s redundant substances and toxins are removed during breathing.
Good air quality: what does it contain?
It’s thus no surprise that air quality is important for health. There are two main types of air constituents: constant and variable. You should know that while the composition of the Earth’s air has changed over the years, and natural changes continue to occur, they are very minor today. Inhaled air consists of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), carbon dioxide (0.04%) and other gases (1%) such as argon, neon, helium, methane, krypton, hydrogen and xenon as well as mineral and organic suspended solids, and plant germs.
Good air quality: the elements that do not belong there.
Sometimes the air contains substances that are not naturally present. These substances are usually closely related to human activity and lead to smog and air pollution. They have an impact on health, a matter that is being investigated by scientists who set air quality guidelines. The World Health Organisation (WHO), which operates within the framework of the United Nations, determines one of the most recognised standards. The guidelines were last updated in the second half of 2021, aligning with the current situation.
Particular attention should be paid to particulate matter (atmospheric aerosols) and nitrogen dioxide. Particulate matter contains sulphates, ammonia, aluminium and iron oxides, which have adverse effects on health. Particulate matter is classified according to size – the smaller the particles, the easier they penetrate the body. Nitrogen dioxide is also very harmful.
- PM 10 particulate matter contains particles with a diameter of fewer than 10 micrometres. It is referred to as coarse dust particles, even though they appear very small. In comparison, human hair is about 50 micrometres in diameter. PM10 consists mainly of mineral particles carried from the ground by wind or traffic. Due to its relatively “large” size, it does not go deeper than the bronchi when it enters the respiratory system.
In fact, the level of PM10 is the most frequently measured one and causes most of the smog alerts. Last year the WHO lowered acceptable daily concentrations by 10% (from 50 ug/m3 to 45 ug/m3 air) and the annual average by 25% (from 20 ug/m3 to 15 ug/m3 air).
- PM 2.5 contains particles with a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometres. It is defined as fine particles. During summer, PM 2.5 particles account for an estimated 60% of all PM10 particles and more than 75% in cooler seasons. The fine particles are generated by combustion processes such as domestic chimneys and diesel engines. Due to its very fine size, it can penetrate the bloodstream.
WHO changed its acceptable level last year as well. It was altered significantly, by 40% in the case of the acceptable daily concentration (from 25 ug/m3 air to 15 ug/m3 air) and by 50% in the case of the acceptable annual average concentration (from 10 ug/m3 to 5 ug/m3 air).
- Nitrogen dioxide NO2 is a gas that very clearly signals that it is harmful. It has a brown colour and a sharp, acrid smell. It is produced by transport, industrial energy, and the production of artificial fertilisers. Diesel cars are the biggest emitters of NO2.
The WHO introduced a daily standard for N O2 – 25 ug/m3 air in the latest update. Scientists have also tightened the annual standard by as much as 75%. Instead of 40 ug/m3, this is now 10 ug/m3 of air.
How can you check the air quality?
Air quality has become an important topic over the last few years. The most common and free way to check current values is by following websites, including aquicn.org, run by The World Air Quality Project. The website shows a real-time visual map of air quality. The map is very easy to use – all you have to do is zoom in on the area and click on the station. The results are colour-coded with easy-to-read pictograms, and there are also detailed descriptions of the content of individual components in the air and data sources.
Together we can do more
There are many similar websites and projects where you can check and compare the data. Once you know how to check your air quality, you can finally take a breath! Follow the TerGo blog to find the latest climate and environmental protection news. Together we can do more!