Our air quality has been getting worse and worse over the years and although it isn’t ideal for so many of us with respiratory issues the effect on the average person is largely unknown. It has been expected to be detrimental but until now the ability to study it and put a figure on it has been difficult.

Dyson teamed up with several elite athletes including a couple in Australia, World Champion cyclist Annette Edmondson and our very own Trevor Long (see image below) to study the effect air quality had on their performance and wellbeing. The monitor used was a wearable air monitor in the form of a backpack housing on-board sensors, a battery pack and GPS.

The athletes wore the backpack for three days, using it all day long completing various activities, to collect data to track their personal exposure to air pollution. Australian cyclist Annette Edmondson tested out the backpack around Adelaide and surrounding suburbs and showed that when cycling at various times (inside and outside) there were spikes in NO2 and PM2.5. These were noticed during peak hour traffic times while at non-peak hour times the levels of these pollutants were not as high.

Interestingly, even while wearing the backpack around the home showed pollutants at various times. For example, cooking a stir fry increased NO2 levels due to cooking with a gas stove and also VOC levels thanks to the cleaning solutions used afterwards to clean up. Painting the house, visiting a flat pack store (we assume Ikea) showed significant spikes in PM2.5 and VOCs, attributed to the formaldehyde in paints, wood and furniture.

The presence of these pollutants around the home over several years has been shown to be carcinogenic and even short term exposure can cause detrimental health effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

Professor of Global Environmental Health, Sotiris Vardoulakis, at the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Population Health said that: Air purifiers with formaldehyde sensors and sealed HEPA 13 standard filtration, when appropriately used, can reduce exposure to formaldehyde and significantly improve indoor air quality. They can also provide added protection from smoke as well as keeping the air clean of everyday pollutants found in our homes. This includes indoor pollutants such as dander from pets, fumes from gas stoves and VOCs from beauty products like hair spray.”

The impact on your and the athletes in the study has shown that choosing a greener route is more beneficial to your health and wellbeing — choose less busy roads and quieter times of the day. If you are particularly sensitive to the effects of air pollution then it is even more important that you attempt to limit exposure.

I always wondered what the use of an air purifier was for: now I know. If you are in the market for one make sure you choose one with all the correct filtration (HEPA 13 minimum) and formaldehyde sensors.

Although this study is obviously performed by Dyson with an eye on their at-home air purifying products it may also signal a possible future wearable to monitor pollution. Imagine if your everyday wearable such as your Fitbit or Apple Watch could detect harmful air pollutants and warn you when levels are dangerous. Now that is a wearable I could get behind because I certainly couldn’t see myself wearing a backpack around all day long.