The Air We Breathe

wind_breathI thought this article was so interesting. It’s all about what exactly is in the air that we breathe in and out.  I never thought it was anything more than just air!


You take an average of 24,000 breaths every day. This amounts to about 2 gallons of air taken into your body every minute, and almost 3,000 gallons every day.

While you may typically think of “air” as oxygen, this vital gas makes up only a small portion of the gaseous mix you inhale. In fact, air is made up of:

  • 78 percent nitrogen
  • 21 percent oxygen
  • Less than 1 percent carbon dioxide
  • Trace amounts of other gases

Of course, there are also contaminants in our air, more commonly called air pollution, that come from various human activities. This includes particle pollution, the kind that comes from diesel exhaust fumes, power plant and factory smoke and soot from wood burning and ozone pollution (also known as smog).

Just what types of contaminants are released into the air? Cancer-causing formaldehyde (to the tune of 250,000 tons a year), benzene (about 375,000 tons a year) and ammonia from agricultural operations (2 million tons year), to name a few.

But while you may expect some of these environmental pollutants to be lurking in the air you breathe, there are other, quite shocking, things — from underground, outer space and more — in there as well.

Your Air Travels Around the World

Molecules in air ricochet off one another at hundreds of miles per hour. In just weeks, any given volume of air molecules will have traveled around the world. In a few years, those same molecules will be evenly spread throughout the entire lower atmosphere of the planet, according to DISCOVER Magazine.

What does this mean to you? In short, that any and every particle that’s released into the air will eventually make it to your neck of the woods, and very likely into your lungs.

Certain pollutants ARE exempt from this rotating process because they’re broken down before they travel too far, yet many chemicals do travel thousands upon thousands of miles.

Take, for instance, cosmic dust. This once belonged to huge space rocks that, fortunately, were broken down by the Earth’s atmosphere. Still, the particles trickle down and move through the air, and we all reportedly inhale three particles from a meteoroid every year, according to DISCOVER.

The Air in Your Home

While your outdoor air may be ripe with chemicals, your indoor air is an entirely different animal. DISCOVER has pinpointed the numerous sundries in your home and office environments. Consider that in your home you’re breathing in:

  • Chlorine gas from your cleaning products
  • Pieces of cockroaches and other bugs
  • Microscopic dust mites

Meanwhile, at work, a cubic meter of air in your office contains:

  • Several hundred fungal spores
  • 89 micrograms of ethanol
  • 42 micrograms of acetone
  • 16 micrograms of formaldehyde
  • 1/2 microgram of chloroform
  • Byproducts of your coworkers’ flatulence

But that’s not all. Every time you change your clothes, you jostle up 1 million microbes into the air every minute.

And if you’ve ever experienced flooding in your home, indoor mold is most assuredly also in your air.

Is all of this random “stuff” in your air harmful? Quite the contrary.

The low levels of bacteria and other microbes in your air may help to boost your immune system, according to Eoin Brodie, a microbiologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

“It may actually be protecting us,” he says in DISCOVER.

Of course, the idea of breathing in cockroach bits is not pleasant. Household dust alone contains not only insect parts (including ant heads and more) but also:

  • Shed human skin cells
  • Flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)
  • Paint particles
  • Cigarette smoke (and its toxic byproducts)
  • Pesticides
  • PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
  • PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)
  • Fabric fibers from your clothes, carpets, upholstery, etc.
  • Sand and soil particles

To help keep your home, and your home’s air, at least partially free of insect parts and chemicals, dust your home often.

Of course, it’s impossible to remove EVERY particle from your air, and, as Brodie pointed out, you wouldn’t want to. Simply using commonsense in regard to the toxins (pesticides, cleaning products, etc.) you release into your home, and dusting your home regularly to keep it clean, will go a long way toward keeping your and your family’s indoor air safe and sound.