3 Key Urban Air Pollutants

Airlabs technology filters the air of the three major pollutants:

  1. Nitrogen Oxides
  2. Particulate Matter
  3. Ozone

Airlabs technology filters the air of the three major pollutants: ozone, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides. These species are listed as ‘criteria pollutants’ by the World Health Organisation. The criteria pollutants are generated from a myriad of human activities including industry, transport, and building emissions, and effect humans in every aspect of their daily lives. Airlabs technology is different from others because it is small, effective, and efficient. There is less air flow resistance, so less energy is needed than common air filters. Our technology can be tailored to treat specific the ‘pollution cocktails’ made of varying amounts of the key pollutants found in different urban areas.

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)

NOx includes NO and NO2 and is formed from the nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere when air is exposed to intense heat. This heat can be generated by lightning or combustion, making cities packed with vehicles extremely prone to this form of pollution.

NOx is particularly dangerous because it is a catalyst for the formation of additional pollution, including ozone and particulate matter.

Particulate Matter (PM)

Particulate matter is a solid or liquid state pollutant that comes in varying sizes. These sizes are represented as PM10, PM2.5, and PM0.1, ranging from coarse to ultra-fine particles, depending on their diameter. See the diagram below to understand the scale.

The composition and size of PM is highly variable and there are multiple primary sources. PM can enter the air through direct release from different sources such as fires or transport. PM can also be the result of reactions in the atmosphere, from NOx for example.

Ozone (O3)

Ozone in the stratosphere, an atmospheric layer many kilometers away from earth, absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun, protecting life on Earth from this damaging radiation. In contrast, ozone in the troposphere is very dangerous. Simply put, ozone breaks many molecules into dangerous substances, such as acids and ketones. This also happens in the human body when ozone from the air enters it, leading to upsetting health concerns such as cancer. Ozone plays a large role in the NOx formation seen above.

The Sources of Toxic Air

Every year, during the month of November companies and individuals alike come together to raise awareness of common life-threatening diseases and cancers, including rare diseases that develop in the lungs. As individuals become increasingly concerned over environmental pollution and airborne contaminants, combined awareness efforts engage, educate, and encourage individuals and community leaders to address air quality; such as the presence of carcinogenic materials and air pollutants resulting from heavy manufacturing, traffic congestion and more.

However, although advancements in air monitoring and filtration equipment have made it easier for both individuals and communities to track and manage pollution, it is crucial to health, to know exactly how and which airborne contaminants and pollutants cause respiratory health concerns and numbers don’t lie. Nearly 1 in 8 deaths are attributed to air pollution, making pollution one of the largest environmental health concerns at present. Other environmental health concerns such as airborne asbestos or erionite fibers are just as concerning, so in observation of Lung Cancer Awareness month this November, we’ve joined forces with the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center to raise awareness of harmful airborne pollutants and carcinogens to prevent their exposure and draw attention to the health concerns associated with air pollution.

Carcinogenic Materials:

Over the past 100 years, manufacturing processes have changed significantly. However, some industries still utilize carcinogenic minerals or additives for a verity of different purposes. For example, the naturally occurring mineral asbestos maintains fire-resistant properties under direct contact with an open flame. Once processed, the brittle and fibrous mineral became a common ingredient within thousands of products stretching across the construction and manufacturing industries. Due to the malleability and fibrous nature of asbestos, it found its way into a variety of different applications, world-wide including plumbing, HVAC, electric, insulation, roofing, tiling, cement, concrete, paints, gaskets, and other materials found in structures or machines built prior to 1980.

Exposure to airborne asbestos is especially hazardous, causing severe lung damage, inflammation, and eventually, asbestosis or mesothelioma, a life-threatening rare disease, which develops in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Although classified as a rare disease, the only scientifically proven cause of mesothelioma is a result of asbestos inhalation or ingestion. Erionite is another similar, fibrous mineral, which has been linked to peritoneal mesothelioma of the abdomen, so it is crucial to health that workers in high risk occupations such as; construction, manufacturing, plumbing, mining, railroads, and shipbuilding are informed and aware of the dangers of such carcinogens.

Heavy Manufacturing & Combustion:

Pollution generation from manufacturing, industrial practices and combustion, vehicle exhaust, and even construction debris, can toxify and contaminate air quality with particulate matter and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), directly affect human health. Such processes produce, often-invisible clouds of airborne hazards that are known to cause respiratory health concerns including asthma, lung disease and cancer.

Depending on the source, particulate matter (PM), dust or pollen, mold spores, soot, and airborne acids, may also be released into the air as a result of the above processes, posing additional threat to health. With extended exposure, individuals may experience worsening allergies or respiratory issues and are at risk of developing more serious complications such as COPD.

Vehicle Exhaust and NO2

 There are two main sources of air pollution: mobile sources and stationary sources. Mobile sources including cars, buses, vans, motorbikes or cycles, planes and trains, which each contribute to pollution. Mobile sources running on diesel fuel especially, release NO2 into the air, as well as PM, which pose respiratory health concerns such as intense asthma, coughing, bronchitis, among other issues, to those who inhale it. NO2 also plays a large roll in smog formation, which is prevalent in cities across the globe.

Vehicle exhaust also emits Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) including NO and NO2, formed from nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere when air is exposed to intense heat such as with lightning or combustion, making cities packed with vehicles, extremely prone to nitrogen oxide pollution.

With every breath of polluted air consumed each day, the lungs, one of the 5 vital organs essential to human life, are directly affected. Little by little and especially over time, lung function is impaired, which as a result directly affects blood-flow and health of other parts of the body.

World-renowned astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking once stated that, “air pollution is one of the top 3 threats to our global society.” His statement is simple, yet profound and based on fact as the World Health Organisation attributed nearly 7 million deaths to our global air problem, air pollution in 2012. Considering this number aside the 1.69 million lives attributed to lung cancer, air pollution, airborne toxins and carcinogens deserve attention year round, in addition to Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Can you add filters directly to the exhaust of a vehicle to reduce roadside air pollution?

It is a tricky situation to add a pollution removal system to the exhaust pipe of a car. Any such system would have to address the problem of dilution. As soon as pollution leaves a car it quickly becomes diluted and that means that you would have to treat a very large volume of air in order to solve the problem.

A quick example is that the polluted boundary layer over a city could be a kilometer thick. Imagine a car able to remove all pollution from the air going through the engine bay. A one square meter grill moving at 10 m/s can treat 10 cubic meters per second. To remove pollution from the atmosphere over a 1 km by 1 km area of a city would require 100 million seconds for one car; to do it in an hour would require 30,000 vehicles with the perfect system running continuously.

A major manufacturer played with the idea of putting a pollution control catalyst on the radiators of cars in the 1980s, and they ended the project due to the fact that even if the catalyst removed all pollution, it would not have had a significant effect on urban air pollution.

Because of the problem of dilution, most effort has gone into controlling pollution at the source by developing emissions catalysts, de-nox systems, particle filters, or by removing the engine altogether. For example over half of new car sales in Norway today are for electric vehicles. There is still the problem though of road dust, and particles from tires and brakes. One solution to reduce roadside pollution sources ride a bicycle to work as they do in Copenhagen.