Asthma and Allergy In The Animal House
It is that time of the year where things begin to slow down. The kids are home, burdens ease, and the spirit of the holidays is upon us. For many it is what they have spent the previous twelve months pining for. And, with good reason. It makes it a good time to think. And, if you have children living in a college dormitory there is something serious to think about: Air Quality. A Serious Condition It is not something you see often in the headlines. But, is deadly serious. According to Nancy Sander at the Asthma and Allergy network there are college students who die every year due to allergy complications. Most are completely preventable. The American Lung association claims that Asthma is the eighth most prevalent chronic condition in the United States. It causes air ways to become restricted, and lead to the death of over five thousand Americans in the last decade. To anyone who has lived in one, they know that dorm rooms are breeding grounds for allergy triggers like mold, bacteria, and VOCs. Mom and Dad aren’t there to say “Clean your room!” so empty cereal boxes and dirty clothing become rug décor. The carpet itself is riddled with allergen due to the collection of dust, and a messy student only compounds this problem. Even pedestrian young people things can cause problems. Nail polish, hair spray, cigarette smoke, and insecticide can all be perilous. Controlling The Problem In October of this year, The University Of Mississippi was forced to test Crosby Hall, home to 700 women, for mold. This was due to complaints of allergy like symptoms from the residents. Students were given the option to move if they wished, but results have not yet been released. Some schools like Indiana University have tried to get ahead of the issue, by creating Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) guidelines for residence halls. Regrettably such programs require extensive testing before any action is taken. Air tests are performed using air samplers, which deposit air onto something called an agar plate. This particular medium provides mold spores with the nutrients they need to develop. By measuring the activity on the agar plate, testing agencies are able to characterize the species and respective concentrations of mold in the air. However, it takes ten to fourteen days to achieve these results. That is a very long time to deal with a problem if you are asthmatic. Reactions and results will obviously differ from school to school. However, as a responsible parent you should not wait on the administrators at your child’s school to address the problem. Start taking steps now to prevent asthma and allergy symptoms. The first thing is to tell them to Clean Up! Waste and dirty clothing can provide a great home for mold, which can quickly spread to other parts of the room. Make sure to vacuum often. Dust that becomes embedded in carpeting is home to all kinds of allergy triggers. So, send them back to school with a good HEPA Vacuum Cleaner. If you use VOC based products in the dorm (nail polish, nail polish remover, paints, glues, aerosols, etc) then ventilate as much as possible. Wash sheets and blankets at least once per week. This is also a major collection point for dust. Be sure to drink lots of fluids. Drinking water keeps you hydrated, and mucus less viscous. This will ease those allergy and asthma attacks some. And, last but not least get them an air purifier. You can stay on them multiple times per day, every day. But, you can’t control the actions of others. Inevitably, they will have to deal with air quality issues. Selecting An Air Purifier For Your College Student Preventing the adverse effects of mold spores, pollen, and VOCs requires a very unique approach to air purification. A standard filter will not work because the pores are simply too large for these indoor air quality problems. They will pass through even the best allergen resistant filters uninhibited. What is needed is technology. Ozone generating air purifiers have been around for a long time. Most people are probably familiar with them, or at least know what Ozone is. It is a very reactive form Oxygen which is exhausted into a room. When it contacts bacteria or viruses it eliminates them in a chemical reaction that robs the target of electrons. This is formally called Oxidation. However, Ozone doesn’t discriminate between the good and bad. It will react with anything. This includes upholstery, paint, fixtures, and lung tissue! So, using Ozone will fade prized décor, and has been linked to very serious health problems by the EPA. So, this is not a good solution for use in a residence hall. Ozone is also illegal to use around people in many locations. PECO is a new technology. It combines the principle of Oxidation, encountered in the description of Ozone with filtration. Instead of exhausting the agent of oxidation into a room as an Ozone generator does, it embeds it into a filter. A metal oxide catalyst is placed within a filter matrix, and activated by an LED light. The chemistry that takes place has been shown to remove dangerous air quality issues. The problem is that as the filter matrix absorbs dust, those metal oxide sites become coated. So, the PECO reactor will lose air purifying efficiency the minute it is turned on. We lack reliable data on how long it takes to become completely ineffective. But, to keep this operating at peak efficiency it would require very frequent changes of both the PECO reactor and anything acting as a pre-filter. This becomes very expensive.. Also, the LEDs in a PECO reactor can’t be changed. The observed life span of an LED is at best two years. So, the entire PECO device would need to be replaced in that time period. This makes it a very expensive choice indeed. PCO was discovered by two Japanese researchers, and subsequently used by NASA to control VOC emissions aboard the International Space Station.