Prevent Exposure to Nitrogen Oxides Gases
March 27, 2013
Nitrogen oxides are a family of gaseous combustion by-products created when tobacco products, wood, and fossil fuels are burned. The worst of these is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a major cause of ground-level ozone.
NO2 is present in motor vehicle exhaust as well as in fumes from kerosene and other non-electric heaters, gas stoves and clothes dryers, fireplaces, and tobacco. It’s also found in emissions from power plants and industrial boilers.
In the environment, NO2 combines with water to form nitric acid, a key component of acid rain. It also increases the levels of nitrates and nitrites in water, and causes algae blooms and fish kills.
NO2 is also a major indoor air pollutant. At low levels, it irritates the lungs, eyes, nose, and throat, and causes coughing, fatigue, and nausea. High levels produce burning, spasms, and swelling in the throat and upper respiratory tract, reduced oxygenation, fluid buildup in the lungs, and even death. Research has linked NO2 to both an increase in the incidence of asthma and the severity of asthma symptoms. Children frequently exposed to NO2 may experience higher rates of respiratory infections. In animal tests, NO2 has been shown to decrease birth weights and affect coordination and behavior. Long-term or repeated exposure may cause genetic mutations.
To prevent NO2 exposures, follow these easy steps:
- Ban tobacco in and around your home.
- Make sure gas stoves, heaters, and dryers are properly vented to the outside. Keep these appliances in good repair, and use the exhaust fan whenever they’re being operated. Some range hoods simply filter air before sending it back into the home. These don’t remove or vent toxic gases.
- If venting isn’t possible, these devices can be replaced with non-gas versions—i.e. swap out a gas stove for an electric model.
- Be vocal! Ask your school to ban idling—both for school buses before and during boarding and cars waiting to pick up kids.
- Keep fireplace flues open when in use. Have woodstoves inspected annually.
- Don’t let your kids play near traffic where NO2 levels can be high.
- Keep in mind that air purifiers will not remove gases like NO2 from indoor air. Prevention is the only effective strategy.