Air pollution spikes during Christmas. Burning wood and operating coal power plants to heat our homes contributes to existing air pollution. A greater number of diesel trucks on the road delivering our Christmas presents and the general decline in air quality during winter are among other factors.
According to research, the number of asthma-related hospital admissions spikes during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Coincidence or not, cardiac mortality is highest during December and January as well. Can Christmas be a hazardous season for sensitive groups of people? It might be.
Traditional Christmas activities increase the level of air pollution both indoors and outdoors, and it’s dangerous. Even short-term exposure to polluted air has been associated with such health effects as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Recent studies have also found that dementia, child immune system alteration, a decline in cognitive ability, lower productivity and poor sleep are among the consequences of a drop in air-quality levels.
Luckily, your choice towards a more environmentally sustainable Christmas can also improve the air you breathe at home. Here are some tips on how to keep the air clean this Christmas.
There are 2 major sources of air pollution when you’re preparing your Christmas meal.
First, the appliances used for cooking. Third of all US households use gas stoves, but rarely do you consider that they emit formaldehyde and particulate matter. Besides that, gas burners may add 21–33% to average weekly indoor nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations. Although electric stoves still produce airborne particles, their concentration isn’t as high compared with gas stoves.
Cooking itself also emits a bunch of particle pollution. Stir-frying, charbroiling, roasting, and grilling send oil droplets, combustion products, and condensed organic particles into the air. What you cook matters too. Cooking meat is more polluting than vegetables. The type of meat, percentage of fat in the meat, and the type of oil used for cooking influence emission levels. So, if you plan to charbroil that hamburger or steak, opt for less fatty meat for the sake of your lungs. A year ago, a HOMEChem study revealed that cooking a roasted turkey releases particulates up to 200 micrograms per cubic meter (m/cm), while safe levels shouldn’t exceed 10.
To control pollutants, get a range hood or appropriate kitchen exhaust ventilation. Hoods with airflow more than 100 L/s reduce pollution concentrations by more than 80%.
Exposure to total particles due to cooking stays up to 3 hours after cooking ends and sometimes it’s even more significant than during the cooking. Considering the fact that on average we spend 4.5 hours on cooking Christmas dinner, those cooking and spending time in the kitchen, predominantly children. inhale a high amount of ultrafine particles and other pollutants for around 8 hours on end.
After you’re done with cooking, keep your fans or ventilation on for continual air exchange.
What could be more comforting than a crackling fire on Christmas Eve? Meanwhile, fireplaces are a major source of pollution both at home and outdoors. The wood smoke released from fireplaces emits fine particles that can trigger an asthma attack. Particulate matter in the city air also stems from log fires. For example, in Norway, 61% of particles originate from wood-burning. To tackle the problem local governments in various countries impose no-burn day restrictions.
One of the solutions is to use an electric fireplace.
If you still prefer to burn real wood, try to use wood that is as dry as possible as wet wood produces a great amount of smoke while burning. Don’t put plastic, wrapping materials or garbage into the fire.
Fireworks emit metal particles, toxins, harmful chemicals, and smoke into the air and some of the elements don’t completely disintegrate. No surprise, air pollution spikes during big festive events. Traditional fireworks increase the concentration of particles by 40% on average across the US.
First of all, if you’re an observer, keep your windows closed for the first 1-2 days after the fireworks to prevent pollution leakage into your house.
If you prefer to set off fireworks by yourself, buy eco-friendly fireworks with a reduced amount of perchlorates and barium. You also might want to go for white fireworks as metal particles are used to add color: blue from copper, red from strontium or lithium, and green from barium.
Did you know that the Indian Ministry of Environment has banned party poppers? These low-intensity explosives emit a high concentration of ultra-fine particles that are harmful to your health. If you still want something explosive yet beautiful, you can go for a biodegradable flower-petal toss.
Beautiful mandarin and cinnamon-scented candles standing on your mantel may make you feel merry. but they poison you at the same time. When burned, paraffin emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene and toluene – toxic chemicals that can be harmful to people with respiratory conditions.
Go for alternatives such as soy-based candles which release a minimal amount of air pollutants compared to paraffin ones.
To minimize the environmental impact, some of us go for plastic Christmas trees, but still, the production and shipping of artificial trees leaves a huge carbon footprint. Moreover, storing the Christmas tree and decorations for a long time may lead to mold growth and dust collection on them. If you store them, use plastic containers.
Potted Christmas trees are the most environmentally friendly way to celebrate year after year. Or if you live in California, you can “adopt” a Christmas tree and then return it to the non-profit to let them plant it.
All these actions are good, but how can you know if the pollutants are completely or mostly gone? Consider getting an air quality meter. If the readings are above the recommended level, you may want to crack your window open, turn on your air vent or even blow out those candles.
You can opt for stationary or portable devices. The advantage of the stationary ones is that their size allows them to fit more sensors that can detect a wider range of air pollutants and they don’t need to be charged.
Wearable air quality trackers like Atmotube help people easily monitor the air around them and get notifications when the air quality falls below safe levels. You can check the air in different parts of your house to identify the source of pollution and immediately determine if the air quality has improved over time.