Particulate Air Pollution Looms Over Beijing Olympics

With the 2008 Summer Olympics less than a month away, millions of eyes study the sky over Beijing. China has taken drastic measures to clean up the air in Beijing. Many polluting factories are being shut down for the Olympic Games, and restrictions are being placed on driving. Drivers are banned from driving every other day, based on whether their license plate number is odd or even.

Still, many scientists expect Beijing’s poor air quality to cause problems for athletes and spectators alike. It’s no surprise that air pollution damages the lungs and can cause respiratory diseases like asthma, but in the past few years, researchers have discovered that poor air quality can also cause cardiovascular disease and trigger heart attacks.

On July 22, the Los Angeles Times reported that air pollution could be deadly for Olympic spectators. Just last year, researchers at Northwestern University discovered the reason why increased air pollution causes increased heart attacks and strokes. Particulate air pollution is made up of tiny particles released primarily from the combustion of wood and fuel. These microscopic particles inflame the lungs, causing them to release interleukin-6. Interleukin-6 causes blood to coagulate, thus raising the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Gokhan Mutlu of Northwestern is worried about the health of those traveling to Beijing: “If you spend a few weeks in Beijing, your blood might become thicker and sticky, and then when you fly 12 hours back to the U.S., that further increases your risk. If clots migrate into the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism, that can kill you.”

Dr. Scott Budinger offers the following advice to people who will be flying to Beijing for the Olympics:

1. Men over 40 should take an aspirin each day to prevent their blood from becoming thick and sticky. Though the benefits of aspirin are less certain for women, it probably wouldn’t hurt for them to take one, too.

2. On the plane, especially the return flight, frequently walk up and down the aisles and do leg exercises in your seat to prevent blood from pooling in your legs and clots from forming.

3. Stay indoors during traffic rush-hour periods. “Indoor air pollution levels are always much lower than outdoor, so staying inside will limit your exposure,” he says. Dr. Budinger cautions that Beijing’s definition of mild pollution is the equivalent of a pollution alert day in the U.S.

While most American skylines are not nearly as polluted as Beijing’s, particulate air pollution is a major indoor health problem in many U.S. homes. Fireplaces constitute the main source of indoor particulate pollution. Other sources include wood-burning stoves, environmental tobacco smoke, and candles.

Smoke Eater Air PurifiersIf you have a fireplace or other source of particle pollution in your home, you can eliminate the pollution with a smoke eater air purifier. These special air cleaners contain multi-stage filters to absorb wood smoke, cigarette smoke, and other sources of particulate pollution.

Allerair DS air purifierA couple of years ago, I moved into an apartment with a fireplace. I was excited about having a fireplace (they’re so comfy and cozy), but I was also aware of related indoor air quality concerns… so I purchased an Allerair 5000 DS air purifier, one of the best specialized smoke eating machines on the market. The Allerair DS not only cleaned the air of dangerous particulate pollution, but it also absorbed the smoky odor from the fireplace. Two years later, my Allerair air purifier is still running strong – a wise investment indeed!

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