Feng shui means literally ‘wind-water’
Feng shui = wind-water
Feng shui translates as ‘wind-water’. Not ‘wind and water’ as some feng shui authors and consultants incorrectly translate, which changes the original intention behind this concept. It’s two words, not three. Feng shui sign or image is composed of two elements of wind and water, representing the spectrum of life, from matter to spirit. “All that is solid melts into air,” said Marx, echoing feng shui wisdom. Air and water are the most basic and ubiquitous elements that are essential for life.
Feng = wind or air
Air element on a bad air day
Wind or air is the most important element in life. Without air, we can only live for a short while. Oriental people knew how air pollution would affect people in the future. For example, London has suffered from illegal levels of air pollution since 2010, where 26 people die every day from air pollution-related conditions and according to a Friends of the Earth study from 2017, Londoners to be more clued up on the topic of air quality than people anywhere else in the UK. In cities, short of using electric cars, there is little one can do to improve air quality. But you can improve the quality of air in your home. Most people don’t realise that according to research indoor air can generally be between two and five times more polluted than the air outside!
Air pollution cuts short 40 000 lives/year across Britain and costs the economy £20 billion, according to the Royal College of Physicians
Scientisits suggests that the world faces air pollution pandemic with more deaths from dirty air than the total from wars, malaria, Aids and smoking combined.
How to give your home the clean air cure
Clean breathing is becoming the number one trend in the world. You can control how you organise your home and have a water purification system and choose to eat organic. The air we breathe is a much more difficult element to control. “The air in our homes has a much bigger impact on us than we realise.” says Ron Ro, co-founder of Awair, which makes indoor air monitors. There is a ton of research now on the harmful effects of air pollution affecting your health, sleep and productivity (see below), but there are solutions.
95% of global population breathe unsafe air
What makes indoor air toxic?
Top indoor pollutants are:
• Smoking and burning solids are two major sources of indoor air pollution. In some rare conditions, insulation that contains asbestos can be inhaled as it decays. Other common contributors to poor indoor air quality are:
• Furniture (toxic adhesives)
• Flooring and carpeting
• Cleaning products (laundry detergents)
• Air fresheners
• Hobby products and items that collect dust, such as soft toys
• Beauty and personal care products
• Gas appliances (create nitrogen dioxide, an irritant – make sure you have a good vent)
• Toasters (can produce 3000 micrograms particles as opposed to 25 as a recommended safe limit per toast – so if you can’t live without a toast, make sure you ventilate your kitchen according to WHO)
• Moisture, mold, dust mites
• Outdoor pollution sources, such as smog, radon and pesticides
• Central HVAC systems
• Animal allergens
How does air pollution affect our health?
Indoor air pollution – a major health hazard
Indoor air pollution can trigger respiratory problems in children and adults. Air pollution kills about 50 000 people in the UK every year (about 10 000 in London alone – so about 26 people every day in London). The British government has been in breach of its legal obligation to deal with it for years now! Air pollution is the number one public health emergency now. And your home can be polluting you. You have some choice in your home. For example, most modern paints have volatile compounds that are given off as the paint dries, which in the short term can give you headaches and, in the long term, can be carcinogenic. Choose low-odour paints, which are now readily available.
“Indoor pollution is a very serious problem and health threat, not just in China but worldwide.” “Most people spend 90% of their time indoors, and the exposures that we are getting from that time remain largely unexamined.”
Sieren Ernst, founder of environmental consultancy Ethics & Environment.
9m people are killed by air pollution every year – more than by smoking
German researchers evaluated that globally 8.8 million people die from pollution every year (64 000 in the UK). In contrast, the WHO (World Health Organisation), which is a branch of the UN, estimates that tobacco smoking kills 7.2 million people worldwide (2015). Professor Thomas Munzel, from the University Medical Centre Mainz, a co-author of the study, said: ‘Smoking is avoidable, but air pollution is not.’ Currently, the average safety limit for PM2.5 particles in the EU is 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air which more than double the WHO recommendation of 10. “Many other countries, such as Canada, the US and Australia, use the WHO guideline,’ said Professor Munzel. ‘The EU is lagging a long way behind in this respect.” says Professor Munzel. Air pollution mainly comes from fine sooty particles from car exhaust fumes, factories and power plants.
The worst air quality in cities
Average yearly PM2.5 concentration (levels of dangerous particles in the air) based on IQAir Air Visual, 2018.
Delhi 113.5*, Dhaka 97.1, Beijing 50.9, Tokyo 13.1, London 12, Washington DC 9.2
*Micrograms per cubic meter. WHO’s annual mean guideline is within 10µg/m3.
Scientists agree that reducing outdoor air pollution would save more lives than curing breast and lung cancer combined. The WHO estimates that 571 000 breast cancer and 1.69 million lung cancer patients died in 2015.
PM2.5 particles of air pollution
There is overwhelming evidence and a well-known fact that PM2.5 particle air pollution is a major global killer and that microscopic particles inhaled increase the risk of asthma, dementia, heart disease, lunch cancer, stroke and premature birth (read below about air pollution particles found in the womb). PM 2.5 particles are tiny specks of pollution, smaller than 2.5 microns (20 times tinier than the width of a strand of human hair). PM2.5 particles form as a result of burning off diesel, petrol, wood and coal, which creates carbon particles. Other sources PM 2.5 particles include farming practices (grazing animals and fertilisers in agriculture give off ammonia which breaks down into PM2.5) and cleaning agents reacting with others in the atmosphere to form PM2.5, as well as a result of abrasion from tyres, brake wear and road surface friction. PM2.5 particles are dangerous because they can move through the body’s immune defences and penetrate deep into the lungs and into the circulatory system, affecting the heart and brain.
Air pollution “causes a huge reduction in intelligence.”
Researchers found that air pollution can make people less intelligent, resulting in the equivalent of a year of education. “The effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men and for those with low education.” says the researcher professor Xi Chen from Yale School of Public Health in the US. The WHO suggests that air pollution is responsible for seven million early deaths a year and in the UK alone, 40, 000 people die each year (in London 10, 000 people). The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was based on data from China, but it suggests that the claim is relevant worldwide since 95% of the global population breathe unsafe air.
Across the UK, at least five million working days are lost to pollution-related health issues every year.
Air pollution can reach the baby in the womb
Scientists find toxic soot particles inside the placenta after being breathed in by pregnant women. Air pollution has been linked to lower birth weight and higher infant mortality. Soot particles have been discovered in the placenta in a recent study led by a team from the Queen Mary University of London, which was presented to the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Paris. This raises the possibility that the poisonous particles could reach the foetus. Dr Lisa Miyashita, a post-doctoral researcher, said: “We’ve known for a while that air pollution affects foetal development and can continue to affect babies after birth and throughout their lives. We were interested to see if these effects could be due to pollution particles moving from the mother’s lungs to the placenta. Until now, there has been very little evidence that inhaled particles get into the blood from the lung.” Another researcher, Dr Norrice Liu, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that inhaled pollution particles can move from the lungs into the circulation and then to the placenta.”
Air pollution linked to depression and suicidal thoughts in children
Traffic pollution is putting children at risk. “Children are extra sensitive to pollution as their brains and lungs are still developing,” says Sara Alsen of Blueair, a company that produces clean air tech. Dr Ian Mudway, a respiratory toxicologist at King’s College London, states, “The data show that traffic pollution stops children’s lungs growing properly… by eight-to-nine years old, children from the most polluted areas have 5010% less lung capacity and they may never get that back.”
Cole Brokamp of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital conducted a study which suggests that short-term rises in air pollution have been associated with worse symptoms among children with mental health issues such as depression and suicidal thoughts. There is a greater increase among children in poverty, with suicidal thoughts doubled and a 39% increase in anxiety. Research suggests that particle pollution causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord which may in turn, trigger anxiety and other cognitive behaviours.
Air pollution and heart problems
Dr Nay Aung, a cardiologist at the Queen Mary University of London, states that air pollution is a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Research shows that particle matter pollution is among the top five factors for increased risk fo death (heart attack and stroke are the major causes of death). Even a short exposure to air pollutants at similar levels found on roads leads to increased stress on the heart, causing the reduction of the blood supply and increased risk of clots and plaque formation as well as the inflammatory stress response in the body, which can trigger all kinds of harmful biological effects.
Air pollution and dementia
A study at King’s College London shows that air pollution could be responsible for 60 000 cases of dementia in the UK and the number of people with dementia in the UK is predicted to reach 1 million by 2025. Living in polluted areas increases the risk of dementia by up to 40%. The other risk factors for developing dementia are smoking, obesity and lack of exercise. One in 14 cases of the disease could be caused by air pollution; the study says Professor Kelly, of King’s College London and a government adviser on air pollution. He also said: ‘This is a very serious problem. The more we look at all the chronic diseases in society, the more air pollution crops up as a recurring factor.” Science shows that the microscopic particles in air pollution enter the bloodstream, travel into the brain and cause inflammation – which is believed to trigger dementia.
For more info on air pollution read Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution, by Tim Smedley
Air pollution and academic performance – air filters help pupils perform better at exams
A study led by Mike Gilraine at New York University suggests that air filters in classrooms can help pupils to perform better in exams by the same amount as cutting class size by a third and with the improvement maintained the following year. He said the improved scores were the equivalent of to “roughly two-and-a-half months of extra learning”, indicating that installing air filters in the classrooms is a highly effective and cost-effective policy – especially in deprived areas. “Parents and workers should be asking the same questions of hospitals and offices.” suggests Simon Birkett, founder of the campaign Clean Air in London.
Indoor air pollution
“Indoor air is more polluted typically than outdoor air and we spend 90% of our time indoors, unfortunately,” says Oyvind Birkenes, the CEO of Airthings, a Norwegian company that produces indoor air monitors. Air purifiers and monitors are big business now, with sales increasing 400% in the past ten years.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which overlooks air pollution, says that indoor pollution is an emerging problem. The latest research suggests that each Briton releases 2.3kg (5lb) of the volatile chemical into their homes annually, so many homes have pollution levels much higher than the busiest city streets. Much of the indoor pollution is caused by cleaning products and chemicals, cosmetic sprays, aerosols, propellants and DIY products such as WD40. So most of the kitchen and bathroom cleaning sprays that have nice smells are toxic to us, according to government scientists.
Who is most susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution?
- Individuals with heart disease, coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure
- Individuals with lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Pregnant women (read above about the dangers of air pollution to babies)
- Outdoor workers
- Older adults and the elderly
- Children under the age 14
- Athletes who exercise vigorously outdoors
What can you do at home and outside to minimise pollution and reduce the risks?
Top tips for minimising air pollution you can do:
- If you live on a busy road, plant hedges (Portuguese laurel and privet) which will dilute pollution. Planting a hedge, tree/hedge combination or a ‘living wall’ can significantly reduce pollutants in busy, wide streets.”Planting a hedge outside your home can filter out traffic fumes at the level of exhaust pipes,” says Professor Prashant Kumar, chair in air quality and health at the University of Surrey. Professor Kumar suggests that planting ‘hedges only’ showed greater reductions in pollutants, including PM2.5, than either planting a hedge and trees in combination or trees alone. It’s important to notice if there are tall buildings on either side, trees alone only seemed to increase PM2.5 underneath. ‘Trees may trap pollutants and restrict natural movements of the flow — so in those narrow “street canyon” scenarios, it’s better to build green living walls [walls planted with vegetation] and hedges instead,’ says Professor Kumar. Researchers in Sydney (a study published in the Journal of Living Architecture) last year found that ‘bio’ walls can significantly reduce PM2.5 levels in an indoor environment.
- Get air-cleansing plants (1980s NASA research suggests red-edged dracaena, spider plants and peace lilies as the three most effective – read more about air cleansing plants). Other research shows that ground cover plants such as iris, hemerocallis, sedum and hosta can absorb lung-blighting particles.
- Open windows to air your home but use those that are furthest from the road
- Don’t use fireplaces (studies suggest that up to a third of fine particle matter in London is from woodburning stoves). If you have to use wood, burn the right kind of wood. Use ‘seasoned’ wood with the Defra ‘Ready to Burn’ logo (it’s more expensive than wet wood, which produces more smoke that carries particulates). Use a moisture meter to monitor the water content of the wood. For more info: https://burnright.co.uk/
- Check the boiler (faulty gas appliances are the major source of carbon monoxide poisoning – which kills about 50 people a year in Great Britain)
- Stop using detergents which are chemical-laden
- Stop using candles, spray, etc., which usually give off pollutants. If you have to use candles, use beeswax or soy candles and although these will still give off carbon particles, it’s likely to be less than candles that are made of paraffin (which is derived from petrol).
- Stop using cleaning sprays which contain toxic sents
- When possible, use back streets when jogging or walking to avoid the most polluted areas. Don’t use main roads at rush hour if walking. “Or walk alongside streets or through a park rather than on main roads,” says Professor Prashant Kumar, chair in air quality and health at the University of Surrey. “Walk on the side of the kerb furthest from traffic and stand back from traffic lights while cars are idling, when levels of pollutants are higher.”
- When choosing a new home, avoid busy roads or crossroads where there might be increased traffic and pick higher floors to avoid air pollution.
- On which side of the road should one walk to avoid car pollution?To minimize exposure to car pollution while walking, it is generally recommended to walk on the side of the road opposite to the flow of traffic. This means that if you are in a country where vehicles drive on the right side of the road, you should walk on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. Similarly, if you are in a country where vehicles drive on the left side of the road, you should walk on the right side of the road, again facing oncoming traffic. Walking on the side of the road opposite to the flow of traffic allows you to see the cars coming towards you, which can help you stay alert and take necessary precautions. It also reduces your exposure to exhaust emissions from vehicles since you are not directly walking into the stream of pollutants being emitted by passing cars. However, it’s important to note that walking on any road with heavy traffic will still expose you to some level of pollution, so it’s advisable to find alternative routes with less traffic or use pedestrian pathways whenever possible.
- Cook with electricity, which gives off fewer emissions than gas. Ventilate your kitchen well by opening windows and use extractor fans to remove the pollutants from your home. Cooking at high temperatures, such as roasting, or making toast, releases toxic particles into the air. Studies done by Birmingham University found deep-frying created the largest amount of particulate matter 20cm from the cooker and steaming the least. Also, cooking with oil rather than water contributes to higher concentrations of particles.
- Decorate your home or office with low-volatile organic compound paints and ventilate the rooms well during decorating and afterwards. “Paints contain thinners (oils), and when you put them on the walls, they evaporate as the paint dries and volatile compounds are then emitted into the room,” says Professor Kumar. These compounds react with other chemicals in the air and form PM2.5. Top brands for paints:
• Aglaia eco-paints has been manufacturing in Germany since 1968 using only natural ingredients. aglaiapaint.co.uk • Auro Petrochemical-free paints made using natural raw materials from environmentally managed sources. Tel 01452 772020; auro.co.uk • Biofa All types of eco paints for all use. Tel 01273 808370; https://www.biofapaint.co.uk • earthBorn The only UK brand to carry the EU eco-label flower accreditation. Tel 01928 734171; earthbornpaints.co.uk • EcosTotally VOC and solvent-free eco paints for interior and exterior use, with the British Allergy Foundation’s seal of approval. Tel 01524 852371; ecosorganicpaints.co.uk
- Invest in an air purifier for your car since air pollution inside the car is higher than outside
- Get a home or workplace air purifier – for home, I use Dyson Pure Cool Air Purifier
- Think future prevention – make sure that air pollution is high on the political agenda – contact your local politician now
Living within 100 metres of a park as a child slashes the risk of asthma as an adult by up to 71%
Growing up near green spaces is good for your health
If you lived within 100 metres of ‘green space’ or a park between your birth and when you reach 18 years – good news. Scientists at Haukeland University Hospital, Norway, have shown that green spaces can offset the damaging effects of air pollution, especially asthma which affects around one in 12 adults in the UK and one in 13 in the US. Also, children who grow up in green surroundings have a 45% reduced risk of developing mental illnesses, substance abuse, stress-related illnesses and schizophrenia. The researchers suspect that this is because green spaces tend to decrease noise and pollution and when kids spend more time outdoors, they develop a more robust immune system. Greener neighbourhoods also reduce stress and encourage exercise and improve social coherence.
Hotel Cardis in China charges for clear air
You can buy clean air
It is a well-known fact that China is struggling with the problem of heavily polluted air. “Airpocalypse” is dubbed the name for smog in Beijing. No one is surprised by passers-by who wear filter masks, as well as the Cardis Hotel in Shanghai, which offers its visitors a rather unusual service, consisting of breathing extremely clean air. Hotel Cardis has a double air filtering system, and each room has its pollution sensor. It can, therefore, be assumed that nowadays, breathing with clean air is a real luxury for which you need to pay extra. Such a reality exists at least in cities like Shanghai, Beijing or Delhi. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) prepared a report that informs that every year about 7 million people die prematurely due to diseases resulting from air pollution, such as lung cancer and heart attack. As you can see, there are many businesses willing to cash on these statistics. Clean air is already gaining the title of “bio” and “eco” food, several times more expensive than standard products on shelves. So far, a hotel from China is just an example, but in some time, it may be the norm for the majority of the urbanised world.
In London: CityTree, Airlabs bus stop and pigeon patrol
Oxford Street in London has the worst diesel pollution in the world. Oxford Street pollution levels are usually breached the EU annual limit just a few days into a new year.
Vertical gardens in London
CityTree a 4m high vertical garden in Piccadilly Circus, inhales pollution and exhales fresh air – doing, its creator, Green City Solutions, claims, the work of 275 trees in 1% of the space. Powered by solar panels, the “living wall” which is made of moss cultures – also collects rainwater and redistributes it using an inbuilt irrigation system. Last year Piccadilly-based start-up Airlabs transformed three London bus stops into clean air zones, with units filtering out up to 97% of nitrogen dioxide from the air for commuters. The technology was independently tested by King’s College London at its air quality monitoring location on Marylebone Road, one of the most polluted roads in London. In 2016 marketing agency DigitasLBI launched a squadron of pigeons wearing air quality sensors to fly around London, mapping the pollution that was affecting the capital. These racing pigeons, now sadly retired, could fly at 60·80 mpb, which resulted in comprehensive mapping. See the data at pigeonairpatro.com
Stella McCartney’s store
Stella McCartney’s store on Old Bond Street has a clean-air hotspot regulated by a state-of-the-art nano-carbon filtration system built by the tech company Airlabs.
How can you improve the air quality in your home or workplace?
Reduce air pollution in your workplace to boost performance
The first step is obvious: reduce the air pollutants (see above) which includes candles or incense. Make sure that you have proper venting around combustible appliances and that the vents go directly outside as well as in your bathroom (you absorb more chlorine from showering than from drinking water because of water droplets).
Key additions and health measures
Top reminders for combating air pollution
1) Open windows regularly – the indoor air is much worse than you think – ventilate the home during and after cooking and cleaning
2) Have many air-cleansing plants
3) Invest in air filters
4) Get negative ions ionisers (research on the benefits of negative ions)
5) Wear a face mask when cycling or walking in polluted areas or RepAir T-shirt made from a fabric that absorbs pollutant molecules such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide and benzene (a hydrocarbon used in solvents). Or just wear cotton, which is more effective at absorbing pollutants than synthetic fibres.
6) Eat ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) foods and oxygen-rich foods such as quinoa
7) Learn how to breathe coherently
8) Visit the seasides regularly
9) To protect your face/skin from air pollution, use REN Flash Defence Anti-Pollution mist
10) Grow your nasal hair which is your first line of defence against bad air and has been shown to help filter all but the smallest of particles. Or get micro nose filtersg
Air pollution monitoring apps
There are a number of air pollution monitoring apps for iPhone and Android. Measuring air pollution is the first step to improving the quality of the air.
• London Air
• Birkett Index in Cities
Check your local pollution here https://addresspollution.org
Especially before buying a property, since the prices can be driven down by local pollution.
The new generation of smart air purifiers can filter lots of air pollutants such as particles, chemicals, dust, pollens, mould, odours and germs. Indoor air pollution is generally worse than outdoor pollution, so an air purifier is a good investment, especially when you’re spending lots of time indoors. When choosing the right air purifier for your home or workplace, check CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) measured in cubic meters per hour or m3/h and compare it with the space volume of your home or workplace. You need a CADR to be at least five times the volume to clean all the air five times an hour. The top models are: Dyson, Philips AC3033/30, MeacoClean CA-HEPTA 76×5, Blueair Blue Pure Fan.
Read about the water element = shui