Meet the Big 3 Potent Airborne Toxins & Learn How to Limit Your Exposure

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Numerous factors can play into how toxic our outdoor air is from one day to the next.

For example, natural climatic changes such as wind speed, cloudiness and humidity often interact with man-made changes such as local chemical plant emissions.

This can mean you have an air quality alert for one day that is lifted the next day (such as this one that lasted for several days back in March of this year).

The more you learn about the most common airborne toxins, what makes them dangerous and how to keep them out of your indoor air at home and at work, the safer and healthier you, your family and your workers will stay.

The “Big 3” Airborne Toxins: Ozone, Nitrous Oxides and Particulate Matter

There are thousands of different liquid, gaseous and solid toxins that build up in the air we breathe each day.

Three of the most commonly found and thus the most commonly tracked toxins are ozone, nitrous oxides and particulate matter.


This first one has many people scratching their heads in confusion – after all, so much has been written and published about the dangers of the widening hole in our planet’s ozone layer.

High above our atmosphere, having more ozone is a good thing. But as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out, down near the Earth’s surface, ozone is a potent airborne toxin that can cause a range of health symptoms from respiratory distress to lung damage.

What is ozone, exactly? Basically, ozone is made up of three atoms of oxygen, which explains why ozone is often notated as O3. The first two oxygen atoms are harmless – this is the same oxygen structure we breathe into our lungs up to 23,000 times each day.

It is that third oxygen atom that causes trouble. It can become a free agent, attaching to other airborne molecules, including toxins, that then pass inside our body and proceed to cause damage to our respiratory system.

Nitrous oxides

Nitrous oxides, or Ox, actually represent seven different gases that have a variety of uses in the modern industrial world.

Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is perhaps the best known of the seven, on account of how many dental patients receive it while undergoing oral surgery!

Nitrogen dioxide is the other well-known compound of the group. This gas is used to make explosives and rocket fuel, among other products.

These are called “greenhouse gases.” They damage the environment, create smog and acid rain and speed up the process of climate change.

Health hazards associated with nitrous oxides include skin irritation, respiratory distress, headaches, nausea, stomach pain, trouble breathing and even death.

Particulate matter

Particulate matter is quite a broad term that encompasses everything from dust and dirt to ammonia and carbon.

The smallest form of particulate matter is often notated as PM2.5 – this type of matter is most hazardous to human health, especially to the very young and to the elderly.

Particulate matter forms for all kinds of reasons, but the most common causes include anything that burns (forest fires, wood stoves, industry, vehicles) and environmental chemical reactions.

The smallest forms of particulate matter are so tiny that most regular HVAC air filters are simply no match for them – the particles just float right through and get inhaled by you, your workers and your family.

The smallest particulates are generally human-made and include ammonia, carbon, lead, sulfates, nitrates and some organic matter.

The most concerning health impact is to the lungs. These tiny particulates easily pass through cell membranes and can cause disastrous changes to the lungs, heart and internal organs and body systems. Lung and heart disease can occur over time. Left untreated, exposure may be fatal.

Keeping the “Big 3” Out of Your Indoor Air

Ozone, nitrous oxides and particulate matter are always present in the air. Quantities and concentrations will change from day to day, something you have little control over, especially if you happen to live or work near an industrial center.

But there is still a lot you can do to limit your exposure and safeguard the health of your family and your workers.

If you are not sure what to do or which to add first, we are always just a phone call away!

Install a heat recovery ventilator

A heat recovery ventilator does much more than simply ensure that stale indoor air is removed and replaced with fresh air.

It also helps conserve heat energy that would otherwise be lost (which lowers your monthly utility bills all year long) and pulls toxins and excess humidity from your indoor air and exhausts outside.

Adding a heat recovery ventilator to your HVAC system is like giving everyone in your family an extra set of protective lungs. In this modern era, no home or workplace should be without one.

Add an ultraviolet air purifier

If your chief concern is airborne liquid or gaseous particles like ozone and nitrous oxides, adding an ultraviolet air purifier to your existing HVAC can render them harmless at point of entry.

UV air purifiers direct potent ultraviolet band-C light to change the molecular structure of gaseous or liquid toxins so they can do no harm.

Add a HEPA air filtration system

If your chief concern is tiny airborne particulate matter, a HEPA filter is the right tool for the job.

Developed during World War II to protect scientists from atomic radiation, HEPA remains the gold standard today and easily retrofits with any HVAC system.

Get in Touch

Do you need guidance on how to clean and purify your indoor air? We can help!

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.     

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