Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What does air quality and hockey have in common?

Hockey, eh?

In a fast-paced game like hockey, milliseconds often determine the success of athletes. Did you know that air quality can have a huge impact on performance? Bad indoor air causes fatigue, headache, cough, stuffiness and dryness of eyes and mucous membranes.

I love hockey (like a true Pittsburgher) and I love air quality (like a true CREATE Lab member). I was fairly surprised to find such a strong link between the two, and I hope that this post will bring some awareness to Zamboni choice in ice rinks! Hockey players deserve a safe environment.

In general, bad air quality affects athletes more than the general population. When athletes perform, the deep, heavy breathing both increases the total volume of air moving in and out of lungs and also allows pollutants to bypass the nose, where mucous tissues can trap some of the chemicals before they get to the lungs. Now lets focus on hockey - a fast-paced game where players are constantly skating up and down the rink after the Zamboni has resurfaced the ice. Many rinks are still using diesel-powered Zambonis. We've all watched diesel-powered busses zip past us on the street - a black cloud of smog is emitted after the driver hits the gas. In a diesel-powered Zamboni, the same thing happens. You can imagine the health implications caused by combustion smoke (which includes fine particles and many chemicals) + deep breathing. Immediate effects can include cough, fatigue, headache, etc., all affecting athletic performance. Click here to learn more about fine particles and health.

Photo Credit: NPR. Annette Zoepf/dapd via AP

Below are some real examples of bad air quality affecting hockey player health in ice rinks:

According to NPR, 31 people got sick after spending time at an indoor ice rink in New Hampshire. Some were even hospitalized with lung problems! The culprit? The ventilation system in the rink broke, so when the Zamboni ran, the combustion emissions produced by the diesel-powered engine polluted the air.

ESPN's 2009 E:60 investigation of 34 rinks in 14 states:

At the time, only 3 out of the 50 states set laws to regulate indoor air quality at ice rinks. ESPN also mentions a March 2009 episode where fumes from a poorly maintained ice resurfacer sent 100 people to the hospital and forced four teams to withdraw from a college tournament outside Cleveland.

Growing up, I spent my fair share of time in ice rinks. My brother played on a number of travel teams, and for the siblings (like me) in the fan section, the Zamboni was a crowd-favorite machine - what kid doesn't want to drive one of those?! While I would (still) do almost anything to drive a Zamboni, I care much more about my brother's health and if ice rink conditions are safe for him. Working at Airviz has taught me so much about indoor air quality and maintaining a safe environment. I'm happy to see companies like Zamboni releasing emission-free and electric models and hope that all rinks choose to utilize them. Hockey is a great sport and the players deserve to feel safe!

Noteworthy article: Chicago Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews, speaks on sustainability, environmental impact, and climate change.

Photo Credit: USA Today. Article by Maggie Hendricks and Hemal Jhaveri.

~Sara, Airviz Inc.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Environmental Justice Meets Citizen Science Tech!

This week, we announced something that's never happened before - a national program where we give air quality monitors (for free!) to all libraries who agree to lend Specks to their patrons! We believe that clean air is a human right, so we've developed this program to improve access to air quality monitoring and get Specks in the hands of those who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

Partnered with Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab, we have developed the National Library Program and the Air Quality Advocate Program. For more information on both programs and instructions on how to apply:

Press release

Huffington Post Article:

National Speck Library Program
Our goal for this national library program is to change the relationship between all citizens and the air pollution that affects their health. Together with you, we can take a major step in this direction by improving equitable access to Speck air quality monitors across the country. We are offering 3 free Specks, informational materials, and training to public libraries that agree to make the Specks available on loan to their patrons.

Air Quality Advocate Program
Our goal for this program is to engage with awesome individuals like you to build a community of local experts for Speck and indoor air quality in general. Pairing this program with our National Library Program also has the added benefit of providing local support for libraries as they explore ways to introduce Speck to their patrons. Upon admission, you will receive 1 free Speck!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Compare Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality on your Speck!

Do you have a Speck? A few weeks ago, we launched a cool new feature for all Specks that are Wi-Fi configured for data uploads, geolocated, and within 40 kilometers of a regulated, federal PM2.5 station in our database! Have you seen it?.......

Now you can compare your indoor Speck reading with the outdoor air quality! How does your indoor air quality compare to your outdoor air quality? We spend about 90% of our time indoors and it is important to pay attention to both reports!

Tell us your air quality stories by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Remember to use #SpeckSensor in all of your posts!

This feature is currently only available to those who live in the United States and some parts of Canada and Mexico. For a map of all federal stations currently in our database, please see the Public Data page, and uncheck the "Outdoor Specks" and "Indoor Specks" checkboxes.
If you know of an online source for federal PM2.5 data outside the USA, and/or are interested in helping us expand our database of federal data, please email us at!
For more information, visit!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

These elementary school students used Speck to launch an anti-idling campaign!

Utah has experienced some of the worst air quality in the entire United States! The particle concentration in Utah is consistently higher than most other cities (especially this past February). One school in Salt Lake City has taken matters into their own hands - thanks to the hard work of Quail Hollow Elementary and Speck!

About a year ago, Quail Hollow Elementary borrowed Speck monitors. For three weeks, students used Specks to gather baseline information about vehicle pollution and PM 2.5 levels (which turned out to be quite high) at the school and counted all cars that were idling during drop off/pickup times in front of the school between January 24, 2014 and January 27, 2014. Students then learned how to talk about air pollution with their parents and took home an air quality informational packet and an anti-idling pledge sheet - thus launching an anti-idling campaign!

Photo from Look how beautiful that background is!

After a number of parents signed the anti-idling pledge sheet, they started to carpool and/or turn off their car engines during drop off/pickup times. After seeing this change in behavior, students used Specks again to measure vehicle pollution and counted the number of cars outside of the school.

Below is a chart of Speck data collected by the elementary students before and after the anti-idling campaign.

Results: The anti-idling campaign worked! Vehicle emission directly effects the indoor and outdoor air pollution in the school. The best part? Elementary school students used Speck technology to make a direct change to their community and promote a healthier society! How SPECKtacular!

Here is a full recap of the study:

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

InSPECKtion Series: Electric Clothes Dryers and High Speck Numbers and Possible Solutions.

About a week ago, we got an email from Jim in Portland, Oregon. He purchased a Speck 2.0 and has been using it to explore how his appliances affect the air quality in his home.

Jim states below...
"The [Speck] reading went from 200 to 7,000 counts while we were running the clothes dryer today! Yikes. Clothes dryer probably pulling in outside air by a vacuum when running according to my engineer son, who knows about particle sensing as he works for Intel Corp."

According to FineHomeBuilding, electric dryers typically act as an exhaust fan and can create lower air pressure inside the house than outside. This pressure change can case a backdraft - by definition, a backdraft can overpower the chimney draft of a naturally vented combustion device - including a furnace, boiler, water heater, or wood-burning fireplace. A backdraft will pull the exhaust particles back into your home (which could be why Jim saw an increase in his Speck count)!

In order to fix the problem, it's best to consult a professional. Reuben Saltzman writes a Home Inspector blog and poses some viable solutions here:

Thanks to Jim for sharing his story! We are happy to hear that Speck allowed you to perform a home inSPECKtion!

InSPECKtion Series: Everything you need to know about carpet cleaning. Steam v Shampoo and Speck!

It's Spring cleaning time! Do you wash your carpets? Renée from Pittsburgh, PA used her Speck in a home inSPECKtion to explore why a non-asthmatic like herself was having trouble breathing when the carpets were cleaned.

Renée is a preschool teacher, mother of 3 (1 with asthma), dog owner and very much like you and I! Renée submitted the following story to us after shampooing her carpets just before the holidays.

I deep clean my carpets at least twice a year to remove dust and allergens - it makes me feel like my house is cleaner and like I am doing good for my family and my asthmatic daughter. I don't have Asthma myself, but when I use the carpet cleaner, I cough, sneeze and have trouble breathing. I've even used a rescue inhaler and left the house for HOURS after using the carpet cleaner. When I got my Speck, I decided to use it alongside of the carpet cleaner to expose exactly what was happening. See photo below.

My Speck number climbed to almost 7,000 counts at one point! No wonder I have to leave the house after I use this thing!

For reference, Renée used a a Bissel deep carpet cleaner rented from a local grocery store partnered with the wash that is purchased separately. What she now knows, thanks to Speck, is that the chemicals in the shampoo solution and the dust/allergens in the carpet are sucked up by the machine and then spit back out into the air resulting in a HUGE increase in indoor air pollution.

It is no secret that hardwood floors remove bad indoor air quality problems, but depending on the size of the home and quality of the wood, this can be an expensive fix. Renée has now switched to using a professional carpet cleaning company (certified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) to steam clean her carpets. Check out the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification for more details on why steam cleaning is more sanitary.

Thank you Renée for sharing your story! We are happy to hear that Speck helped you find a solution to keeping your family's home safe and clean!