What You Need to Know About Diesel Particulates and Air Filters

Diesel particulates are a problem in the Eliot neighborhood. There are several organizations, both inside and outside of the neighborhood working to change legislation and business practices, including the Eliot Neighborhood Association’s eACT group and Portland Clean Air. While activists are working to limit pollution in the future, we need to reduce the impact of diesel particulates we currently face to the greatest extent possible. Because Portland Public Schools commissioned research into the air quality at Harriet Tubman, we have data on what sort of changes can make a difference in the air we breathe here in Eliot, especially indoors. Harriet Tubman Middle School relies on an $18 million air filtration system. Most Eliot neighbors aren’t in a position to spend millions of dollars on air filtration systems, but there are air filtering options available at a variety of price points.

Adding an additional filter or two to your home can make sense, but there are several factors to consider. Not all air filtration systems are capable of catching diesel particulates. Air filters are graded the MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) scale, which runs from 1 to 20. MERV ratings are based on the size of the particles that can pass through the filter, with a filter with a rating of 1 stopping relatively large particles like pollen or spray paint dust and a filter with a rating of 20 stopping viruses and smoke particles. Filters rated MERV 16 or higher are typically needed to stop diesel particulates. MERV-rated filters may also be HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters. HEPA filters must pass a test on their ability to stop particles the size of bacteria and paint pigments, corresponding roughly to a MERV rating of 16. That’s also about the size of the diesel particulates we’re trying to stop.

If you have an existing HVAC or furnace system with a built-in filter, make sure you replace filters regularly, as well as clean any prefilter system. They’ll help improve air quality, although they may not be entirely effective on diesel particulates. Many residential systems aren’t equipped to use filters with a MERV above 10, though some homeowners choose to use filters with higher MERV ratings with minimal issues.

Consider adding a portable air filter to your space. The most effective air filters, like the Coway AP1512HH Mighty and the Austin Air HealthMate HM400, range from $125 to $600. There are options at every price point, however: you can even build your own air filter with a box fan and two replacement filters. Popular Mechanics provides a tutorial at https://bit.ly/2Ldtmt1.

Limiting time spent outdoors can be helpful, especially for folks closer to the interstate. For those with health concerns, using a respirator mask (look for an N95 or a P2 rating) will limit exposure to diesel particulates while outside. Increasing the greenery within Eliot is one of the most effective options we have. In the PSU study on Harriet Tubman’s air quality, researchers recommended increasing vegetation around the school by 50 percent. (The full report is available as a PDF at https://bit.ly/2Y6gBG8.) A similar increase throughout the neighborhood could help reduce diesel particulates somewhat.

Plants can help mitigate pollution in the air, without the replacement costs that go along with filters. Trees are particularly helpful — and organizations like Friends of Trees make the process of planting trees simple. Certain plants are especially effective at filtering air indoors: during a NASA study on which plants filtered air most effectively, these plants removed the most particulates from the air.

English ivy (Hedera helix)
Green Spider plant (Chlorophytum elatum)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Variegated snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)
Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum)
Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Aloe vera (Aloe vera)
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”)
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei”)
Banana (Musa oriana)

Consider adding a few of these plants to your home — NASA suggests adding one plant per 100 square feet.

We may not be able to stop diesel particulates overnight, but we can lessen the impact they have on our community.

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