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A look back at the year in air

It’s been quite a year for air. As we begin 2019, it seems like a good time to look back at last year’s air-related news highlights.

Wildfires devastate California and other areas

The Woolsey and Camp wildfires ravaged parts of California, with heavy smoke enveloping many areas. Wildfire smoke created severe air pollution levels with serious health effects, as it filled the air with harmful particles that can cause everything from coughing to cardiac disease. But California wasn’t the only area to experience wildfires. British Columbia, Seattle and other areas also experienced dangerous blazes.

Can poor air quality cause crime?

New evidence suggested that air quality may affect our behavior, including criminal activity. UK researchers studied 1.8 million crimes over two years and compared that to pollution data in London. Their finding: a 10 point increase in the air quality index correlated with a nine percent boost in the rate of petty crimes such as shoplifting and pickpocketing. By way of explanation, researchers pointed to the connection between polluted air and higher levels of stress and anxiety which, in turn, can lead to increases in criminal behavior. Specifically, poor air quality can boost the stress hormone cortisol, impacting risk perception and causing a rise in criminal activity.

New methods for detecting air pollution

A new generation of portable air sensors can be placed in backyards and inside homes, providing real-time information about air quality. For example, the EPA is testing portable air monitors installed in park benches that measure ozone and fine particle pollution, along with weather conditions. The next step: developing low-cost air monitoring devices that are wearable. For example, engineers at Arizona State University are testing a wearable sensor that detects hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds and acid vapors. It wirelessly transmits location, time and exposure data to a smartphone with an application that stores, displays and transfers the information to researchers.

Bad air leads to more hospitalizations

Research provided more evidence that air pollution is associated with increases in hospitalizations. Researchers at Harvard University focused on acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a rapidly progressive disease in critically ill patients suffering from conditions such as pneumonia and traumatic injury. Because the elderly are particularly at risk for the disease, researchers studied nearly 30 million Medicare beneficiaries discharged from U.S. hospitals from 2000 through 2012 to find a connection between ARDS sufferers and air pollution. They found a significant association between annual increases in particulate matter and ozone concentrations, and in hospital admission rates for ARDS among elderly patients.

WHO air quality ratings

Ratings from the WHO, or World Health Organization, the United Nations’ agency focused on international public health, revealed the areas in the U.S. with the worst and best air quality. The top five locations for low air quality were mostly in California, though Hawaii also made an appearance. The cleanest air could be found in Sinclair, Wyoming and Wasilla, Alaska. The research measured the annual mean concentrations of particulate matter, tiny particles emitted from such sources as cars and power plants, in cities around the world.

How can you keep the air in your own home clean? One way is to install a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, like Coway Airmega, which can eliminate up to 99.97 percent of harmful particulate matter from the air.