What are the biggest indoor environmental problems associated with living in China?
Air pollution is a fact of life in China. Due to the high use of coal, factories, cars, and insufficient environmental laws and enforcement, it is estimated that only 1% of China's 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered “safe” by European Union standards. We frequently find that indoor air in Shanghai during the summer often tests at 3-4 times above the WHO standard for particulates.
The biggest challenge that new residents in China encounter is that many of the construction materials, furnishings, and household cleaning agents used in their apartments are more likely to contain and emit dangerous chemicals than they would encounter back home. This is because most apartments are fairly new or have been renovated recently and haven't had the chance to off-gas, landlords are not required to have apartments inspected or tested, and certification standards for low- emissions construction materials and cleaning products are lacking. Formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are pollutants commonly found in buildings in China.
For expectant mothers and parents of young children, lead poisoning may be the greatest unexpected concern. Lead is linked to irreversible mental and physical retardation. The only remediation is to proactively identify and stop further exposure. While the US CDC estimates that less than 2% of children under the age of three have lead blood poisoning (>10 micrograms per deciliter of blood), some studies have found that 35% or more of Chinese children are affected. There is generally a lower level of awareness of the dangers of lead exposure in China; as a result, few regulations have thus far been enacted to control lead, and no campaign exists to educate the public. Of specific concern to foreigners is the fact that there is no consumer product safety commission and no laws mandating lead-free buildings. Which compound or district has the best air?
In every city, there are high variances between districts from day to day. Even though some 'new district' development zones may have less traffic and more green spaces than the more urban 'downtown' areas, they may also have heavier concentration of industrial plants and hamlets of villages that openly burn trash. Regardless of outdoor variances, the main contributor to indoor air quality are factors like furniture, flooring, wall treatments, construction materials etc. that are within your home – differences in these factors will result in differences in air quality from home to home. What is true, however, is that apartments on higher floors generally have lower levels of PM (particulate matter). A 30th floor unit is typically about 20-30% better than the ground floor.
I don't have asthma or allergies. Why do I need to do anything?
Our bodies are constantly defending ourselves from external elements. Whether filtering air to our lungs, fighting infection, or reacting to pesticides, the body’s immune system has a finite capacity for keeping us healthy. Therefore, when our systems are occupied with fending off the air we breathe daily or the water that we drink and in which we bathe, we are more susceptible to getting sick. Some chemicals in our indoor environments are much more insidious because in small doses, they do not trigger immediate physical symptoms. Formaldehyde, radon, carbon monoxide, VOCs, and lead are all carcinogens that are linked to cancer, respiratory, and/or neurological damage years after exposure. China’s own Ministry of Health cited air and water pollution as the key drivers that have made cancer the most lethal disease for urban dwellers in China.
In addition, it is possible to develop allergies or multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) over time. This means we can actually develop allergies and increased sensitivity from repeated exposure to mold or other chemicals, but we do not realize our developing sensitivity to these elements.
Why don't I just get an air purifier and forget testing? How do I determine the best purifier?
Regardless of which type you buy, it is important to ensure that the machine is appropriate for the range of pollutants that are actually present in the room in which you intend to use it, and that it is placed in the room where it can work most effectively. We believe that the best purifier is the one that will help you solve the problems you have at the lowest price and to do that, you need to know what pollutants are in your home. And remember, there is more to achieving good indoor air quality than just having air purifiers!
Why should I pay to have tests done, when the air filter/water filter company will do it for free?
Air purifier and water filter dealers generally sell good products that help people, but at the end of the day, they are salespeople, not scientists, and are focused on the particular problems that their products address. Therefore, they only test selectively. Air purifier dealers test for air particulates but not VOCs, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, mold, or radon. Similarly, water filtration companies generally only test for chlorine level and total dissolved solids, which is not meaningful, because both beneficial and harmful minerals are included in that solids count. Our testing programs are rigorously conducted to investigate the likely sources of pollutants within your home, determining how serious they are, and what can be done to address them. We work with a number of different brands and technologies so we can recommend what’s best based on a broad spectrum of available solutions.
We use bottled water for drinking and cooking – do I need to test or filter my water?
Water safety scandals and concerns in China are certainly no secret. In one 2011 scandal, a major bottled water provider admitted that city tap water was their source. In 2007, Reuters revealed that as much as 80% of “barreled” water in Beijing was tap water or counterfeit, and a nationwide inspection several years ago found 22% was contaminated with bacteria. More recently, concern has been focused on the fact that China's standards for the safety of bottled water dates from the 1950s and are in fact not as stringent as those for tap water.
Even if we have good quality bottled water, it’s easy to overlook our use of water to wash our fruits and vegetables, provide water to pets, and to bathe. Each of these represents potential exposure to harmful contaminants. Although chlorine effectively kills microbes and bacteria, it is also extremely harsh on skin and hair. Moreover, it reacts with organic material to form toxic by-products called trihalomethanes, which are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, especially while showering. Additionally, water can be safe coming from the treatment plant but may pick up heavy metals and other contaminants from metal storage tanks or corroded piping en route to the faucet. Can you help with mold?
We can perform a walkthrough mold inspection to look for mold in likely places and detect water damage and sources of moisture; we document and report to you our findings and recommended action plan, including remediation recommendations. We can also perform mold testing, which involves taking 100L of air and then counting the mold spores within that sample of air to determine whether there is active mold growth in that area. Our samples are then sent to a specialist microbiology lab in the US, which analyzes the amount of mold growth by type. Our report includes both the results of the analysis and we provide clients with a “DIY” plan for remediation or, if needed, we can assist with mold removal. To our knowledge, we are the only ones currently working in China doing residential mold removal according to international protocol using specialized equipment in order to prevent cross contamination.
My child’s blood lead levels have tested high. Can you help me figure out the source?
We can conduct a specific lead investigation, testing for lead in air, water, and in common items like toys, paint, soil, and food, even at low concentrations. Although China can be a safe place to raise a child, lead and other pollutants are a very real concern. China's air and water pollution is a fact of life, but the good news is that we can help clients control their home environment by benchmarking their home's “healthiness” and suggest changes to daily habits and implement solutions to optimize the indoor environment. Since children are more susceptible to ambient pollution due to faster breathing rates, immature immune systems, and developing brains, it is especially important to ensure we are minimizing their exposure.
Can you tell me if the health problems I've been having are because of bad air?
We are not doctors and cannot provide medical advice. There are many symptoms a person might display that could be an indicator of exposure to poor air quality. Wheezing, headaches, sore eyes, general fatigue, ear or sinus infections, scaly patches of skin, poor sleep - just to name a few. In some cases they might be caused solely by poor air quality, or it may be that the air quality simply exacerbates or magnifies a pre-existing condition. It is strongly recommended that clients first consult with their physician about their symptoms to rule out other possible physiological causes and/or to narrow down possible environmental factors before embarking on a course of home testing. Following that, we can assist in recommending an appropriate test panel based on the reported symptoms, doctor's assessment, and our knowledge of correlated pollutants.
Why PureLiving? I have seen other local testing companies offering lower prices.
A healthy home is extremely important but is complicated by many factors such as one's health, type of dwelling, and even the relationship with the landlord. The local market is filled with product vendors and testing companies, but there are few independent services that can provide an all-around solution with the client's interests at heart. In addition, local testing companies provide you simply with numbers compared to China's standards, with little or no interpretation and rarely if ever in English; PureLiving provides you with a full English report (or Chinese if requested) with your results presented on a practical context and benchmarked against international standards.
Most importantly, we are not just here to test – we are here to listen to our client's needs and concerns, to guide them through a testing program that is most appropriate for their individual circumstances, and to provide concrete direction in helping them create the healthiest possible home environment. Our consultants are knowledgeable, experienced, English-speaking professionals from the environmental sciences and green building industries. How much will it cost? Can you give me a quote over the phone?
Testing needs vary from client to client – for example, a home with just one or two adults requires a different testing program from a family with young children. Some people are after a “general check-up” of their home's health, whereas others may be experiencing a very specific set of symptoms and need to know if it is something in their environment that is triggering them. So for each client, the process starts with a brief telephone consultation, during which we will ask you some questions about your home, your family, and your main concerns. We evaluate this information and then email you a customized program proposal outlining our recommendations, including explanations of what parameters we suggest and why, as well as associated costs. You can expect our most basic testing programs to start at around 2500rmb, but costs vary greatly depending on factors such as how many rooms or water sources in the home are to be tested, the ages of the residents, existing health conditions, and so forth. We are sensitive to the fact that everyone must live within their means, and we work with our clients to create a program that addresses their needs within their budget wherever possible.
How does testing work?
Once we've agreed to a testing program, we can generally come to the client's home within ~3 days. Depending on the program, two or three people will arrive at your residence. One of these people will be our trained and experienced English-speaking consultant who will explain what is happening as they are working and walk through your home with you to address any additional areas of concern you may have, answer any questions, and take some readings using handheld equipment. They are also there to oversee the lab technician(s) who will be collecting samples for laboratory analysis. A typical home testing visit takes approximately 90 minutes. Following testing, we get the results back from the lab and prepare the client's report. Reports are issued in 8-10 working days (depending on city) from the date of testing. At the time we issue the report, the consultant will also schedule a time for a telephone consultation with the client to review the results with them to ensure they understand the results clearly and to help them develop a strategy for remediation if testing does reveal any specific areas of concern. Remediation might be something quite simple (as easy as, say, "get some more plants") or it could be something more complicated; we have no way of knowing until we receive the results. Regardless, we will provide guidance on what to do next.
What kind of solutions do you offer, and how much will they cost? Do you sell air and water filters?
We have tested and proven solutions for all identified indoor pollutants that we might find, although it's impossible for us to predict what may be needed and associated costs until after the testing data has been analyzed. Included in every test report are brand-independent recommendations that clients can implement themselves, and as mentioned above, a PureLiving consultant will debrief with clients following testing to ensure that they understand their results and what options are available to address any issues identified in the course of the testing. If there are more serious issues that the client cannot implement on their own, we will work with them to develop a practical strategy. There are many tasks that we can handle with our own team, and we also have trusted partners we work with to bring you expertise and equipment at the best possible prices. We have conducted extensive brand testing, and we know what works. We partner with manufacturers directly to be able to provide best-in-class filters, services, and products to our clients at or below market rates.
Can you also test non-residential properties?
At PureLiving, we are pleased to offer an extensive range of services to a diverse range of commercial clients. We have worked across many industries to find indoor air quality solutions for offices, international schools, embassies, retail spaces, and manufacturing facilities.