7 Tips to Protect Your Kids From Air Pollution
Everybody needs clean air to stay healthy, but it’s especially important for our kids.
Kids spend a lot of time outside, and do a lot of running around and breathing hard. Their bodies are still growing so pollution has serious impacts. It hurts brain development, can trigger cancer and breathing problems including asthma — the most common chronic condition in kids, currently affecting 6 million. Kids exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases later in life.
Air pollution is reaches more kids and families than you might realize. 40% of Americans were breathing unhealthy air last year. And air pollution is actually getting worse, as rising temperatures are causing more wildfires, and worse smog.
May is National Clean Air Month. Here are a few tips to protect your kids from air pollution, and ways that you can help clean the air for everyone.
But first: What is air pollution and where does it come from?
Air pollution are any particles and gases in the air that aren’t, well, air. Most air pollution is created by burning or heating things: Power plants burning coal and methane gas to make electricity, oil refineries boiling crude oil to make fuel and plastic, car and truck engines burning gasoline, homes burning oil or wood for heat, wildfires burning forests, even your stove burning methane gas for cooking. Other chemical-heavy industrial processes like dry cleaning or oil and gas drilling release pollution into the air that we don’t want in our lungs.
Tip 1: Check daily pollution forecast reports
Especially if the air looks hazy! Check pollution levels at airnow.gov, explore the live map at map.purpleair.com, or look for forecasts in local newspapers, radio, and TV stations. When pollution levels are high (orange, red, purple), avoid playing and exercising outside. What can you do instead? Play a board game, do an arts and crafts project, read together, go to the movies, or have a flashlight dance party. (We’re not the only ones, right?)
Check your air: airnow.gov
Stay informed: Get local, climate-aware weather updates from currentlyhq.com.
Tip 2: Avoid play or exercise near high traffic areas
Even when the pollution forecast is green, pollution from gas-powered vehicles in high traffic areas can make breathing unhealthy, especially for little lungs. Those living in cities should look for parks and open spaces away from cars, or indoor spaces like a community center, gym, pool, or other indoor play areas.
Tip 3: Encourage your schools to cut school bus emissions
Remember that school bus smell? It’s not what you want to breathe on the way to school. The pollution from the old diesel engines found in many school buses interferes with kids brain development and learning. Encouraging your school to reduce bus-idling can make a difference (and save money on fuel.) But many school districts are now switching to cleaner busses, with parents leading the charge. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $5 billion for schools to switch to electric busses.
Take Action: Tell your school district to apply for a rebate through the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program.
Tip 4: Clean your house (sorry!) and don’t smoke inside.
Not all air pollution is outside. Pollution in your home stays concentrated, and can rapidly reach levels that would be illegal outside. Smoking and secondhand smoke can be a significant source of indoor air pollution. Another is dirt — dust, mold, some household pests, and pet dander can all trigger asthma attacks and allergies. Air purifiers help. So does vacuuming. (Would we clean up more if we started thinking of dirt as “house pollution”?)
Take Action: Wirecutter: The Best Air Purifier
Tip 5: Use ventilation when cooking with a gas stove, or ditch the gas entirely.
This one burns. That little blue flame is releasing formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide into your kitchen (and the lungs of anyone who might be hanging on your ankles as you prepare your famous mac and dogs). Nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves increases kids’ asthma risk by as much as 40%. If available, use fans and ventilation to the outside, and open windows. Unfortunately turning off the burner doesn’t end the problem. Gas stoves can leak significant amounts of methane even when off. Despite mounting evidence of health risks over the last 30 years, the methane gas industry has kept trying to sell us on “cooking with gas” (cue the Bob Hope clip from the 1930’s, and whatever this video is.) The good news is, there’s now a better and more kid friendly option. New induction ranges boil faster, offer precise control, are a breeze to clean, and won’t burn little (or big) hands.
Take Action: Carbon Switch: Induction Cooktop and Stove Guide
Tip 6: Electrify your landscape maintenance (or use a rake.)
Old two-stroke engines like the ones found in gas-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and snow blowers often have no pollution control devices. They can pollute the air even more than cars. Mow your lawn and clean up leaves with a plug-in or battery-operated device. Or better yet, ask your teenagers to do it. (As long as the air quality forecast is green, of course.)
Tip 7: Urge lawmakers to support clean energy and phase out fossil fuels.
Using fossil fuels make air pollution worse, both directly and indirectly. Fossil fuel pollution is not only unhealthy to breath (causing 1-in-5 global deaths) but the hotter temperatures caused by carbon pollution in turn causes more pollution: More wildfires and wildfire smoke, more drought and duststorms, longer and more intense spring pollen levels, and makes smog from cars and factories worse. The more clean energy we have, the less polluting energy we need, and the clearer our air can be.
Take Action: Tell Congress to Protect Our Kids From Pollution