The Air Inside Isn’t Safe Either

Ugh. I already knew about the air outside and the problems of pollution, but now I’ve learned that the air inside is often much worse.

My friends Vera Kozyr and Igor Mikhenko of NotAnotherOne stopped in Half Moon Bay to see me on their way to Shenzhen, where they’re going to select a manufacturer for their latest product, the Atmotube. Their last wearable product, GERO, which I helped them launch at CES, was the technology behind a device to monitor gait changes that can predict the onset of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

Atmotube is a small wearable personal air quality monitor that helps its users make any number of decisions including where in the home to place an asthmatic child’s bed to minimize attack triggers to whether a job site is safe for someone with a lung condition.

Atmotube monitors the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and CO (carbon monoxide) in the air. We have long known that long exposure to both can have health consequences, and some manufacturers have tried to develop organic products without them. Years ago I was the CMO at an environmental cleaning products company chosen by NASCAR to be its official parts washer because the racing industry already knew it was getting way too much exposure to VOCs for its own health.

Even in ordinary circumstances the Atmotube’s readings spike at crosswalks, prompting Igor to lament about why all cars aren’t yet electric.

Because of cars, we are trained to think about air pollution as something outside. However, Igor tells me that in general, indoor air quality is usually far worse than outdoor air quality. In some office buildings it is monitored to prevent a condition called “sick building syndrome,” in which office workers, typically reported headaches and respiratory problems attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in the working environment such as poor ventilation.

The easy-to-use Android app (IOS iscoming soon) lets you decipher the Atmotube readings of indoor or outdoor air. Igor showed it to me over breakfast at a back table in a local restaurant.

At our location inside the restaurant, which shall remain nameless, the air quality was only moderate — I could spend the amount of time I needed to eat there without symptoms, but if I remained in the building for the day (if I worked there), I’d probably end up with a headache at the end of my shift. He also pointed out that if we moved the Atmotube closer to the kitchen, the air quality readings would deteriorate. That would be a function of what kind of cooking and cleaning chemicals were used, and even of the cooking process itself.

Igor then took the monitor outside, and the quality of the air shot up thirty points almost immediately to Very Good. Why? Because we were a block from the ocean, on a street without traffic.

This demo made me want to open all my doors and windows more often, which most Americans have forgotten how to do. Indeed, many of us live in places where the windows can never be opened, and the air never recirculated. I may also examine whether to move my bed closer to — or further from — the window.

Atmotube will be launching its IndieGoGo campaign in a month or so, but Vera and Igor gave me a prototype to carry around and play with for the next few weeks. I used it to test the air quality at my house in Phoenix, which was also only moderate, which might explain why I sneeze a lot in the house and sometimes wake up with a slight headache. And that’s despite the fact that I open my windows and I live on a quiet street. The doctor’s advice is often to shut all the windows, but sometimes the air outside is better. It’s something I’d want to know.

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