When I tell friends back in Europe that I am actually checking an iPhone app showing Hong Kong's air quality before I go out for a run I get very strange and pitiful looks. Air pollution is a very common dinner conversation topic here, even though we are not as bad off as people in Shanghai and Beijing where air pollution apparently kills more people than smoking. Among my friends pollution tops the "What I hate about Hong Kong list" beating PCCW & HSBC's customer service and even the 'friendliness' of HK taxi drivers. And they are right because air pollution is a major public health risk in Hong Kong. It can cause a vast array of respiratory diseases and also cancer. Especially vulnerable are children and the elderly.
Why Indoor Air Quality Matters
Of course we all know about air pollution, its negative health outcomes and love complaining about it but quite frankly there is not much we can do to clear up our skies. The HK government tries to do its part by implementing the 'Clean Air Plan' to reduce pollutants from power plants, container ships and vehicles but so far it has been getting worse. What a lot of us don't realize though is that we can take control of our own home and (sometimes) work place. We spent approximately 80-90% of our time indoors and the shocking truth is that indoor air pollution can be significantly worse than outdoor pollution. Up to 5 times worse to be more exact. When I started renovating apartments in Hong Kong some of my first newly renovated flats reeked like a chemical plant. I had to air them for weeks until I dared to conduct viewings with potential buyers or tenants. The pollutants are in the building materials and furniture. A lot of the contractors in Hong Kong use paints, adhesives and glues that contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), cabinetry and cheap couches from China emit Formaldehyde and our kitchen countertops can even off-gass Radon, the number one source for lung cancer among non-smokers. Some of the products available here have long been banned from European and North American markets because their Material Safety Data Sheets read like an article about chemical warfare.
4 Things You Can Do To Improve Indoor Air Quality
I strongly suggest that we take our indoor air quality into our own hands, and ensure that at least at home or work we can escape from pollutants. How do you do this? There are a number of things you can do:
- Practice Source Control: What you put into your home / office matters. Granite kitchen countertops can off-gas radon, cabinetry can expose you to formaldehyde and paints, glues and adhesives may contain VOCs. Use third-party certified green building materials.
- Ventiation: Open your windows regularly (on clear days of course).
- Plants: Turn your home or office into a jungle by installing air-purifying plants. Check out a handy list here. To be effective you need a lot but they have the added benefit of introducing 'Biophilic Design' into your living space.
- Professional Air Purifiers: The world of air purifiers is pretty confusing because shops carry a wide variety of them. I can already tell you that you won't find very effective ones at common electronic stores, such as Fortress. For more information check out our White Paper.