We talk to a lot of parents on a daily basis. I mean A LOT. One of the most common reactions that we get from Ann Arbor parents is the utter shock that their outdoor air has the same amount of pollutants as living with a smoker for 3 months of the year (see how we calculate that here). So, we did a simple little experiment to show that you are breathing air pollution even if you cannot see it. Try it yourself if you want! The results are the picture above. Which do you think comes from outdoor air?
-Vacuum with hose attachment
For each treatment group, you must use a coffee filter to cover the open end of the hose attachment on your vacuum, and use the rubber bands to keep it in place. This simulates the function of a lung – the vacuum “inhales” air when it is turned on, and the white coffee filter shows any impurities in the air that it is sucking in.
Attach a coffee filter to your vacuum in the manner described above. Bring your vacuum cleaner outside (if you will be present for the entire experiment), or open a window and put the hose attachment out the window (if you will not be present). Turn on the vacuum. Ensure that it is not running at full power so that it does not destroy the coffee filter. Let the vacuum run for 16 hours in this manner (or for any time of your choice). Make sure that the vacuum does not overheat by checking on it a few times through out the experiment.
Attach a coffee filter to your vacuum in the manner described above. Bring your vacuum cleaner outside and turn it on. Ensure that it is not running at full power so that it does not destroy the coffee filter. Light one end of your cigarette to simulate smoking, and hold the hose 2-3 feet from the burning end. You may need to relight the cigarette intermittently to keep it burning. Continue to do this until the cigarette has burned down to the filter.
Inspect each coffee filter afterwards. Did your filters change colors like ours did? In the picture above, the first filter resulted from running the vacuum outdoors in Ann Arbor for 16 hours at an average outdoor particulate matter concentration of 9 micrograms per cubic meter. The second filter resulted from “inhaling” a cigarette that burned all the way down to the filter. Makes the pollutants entering your lungs a little more visible, eh?
Air pollution becomes pretty darn visible once you are able to trap it on a medium visible to the human eye! You can run this easy, low-cost experiment if you want to see air quality for yourself. Try this experiment on days with average PM2.5 levels of 5ug/m3, 10ug/m3 and 15 ug/m3 or greater and see how the results differ. And that filter changes color after only 16 hours! Imagine what happens when you breathe that stuff every single day…
–The Vivergy Team