Air Pollution & Diabetes

On an individual basis, there’s not much we can do about outdoor air quality, other than drive an electric car and plant more trees and shrubs around our home. But we do spend roughly half of our life within our home.  And we can do something about air quality inside our homes.  First, some research exposing the link between air quality and diabetes.  Then, after the research report, some specific suggestions.

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Air pollution plays

significant role in

diabetes: study


June 30, 2018


Paris (AFP) – Air pollution caused one in seven new cases of diabetes in 2016, according to a US study, which found even low levels raised the chances of developing the chronic disease.

Diabetes has primarily been associated with lifestyle factors like diet and a sedentary lifestyle, but research by the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis said pollution also plays a major role.

The study estimated that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases globally in 2016 — or around 14 percent of all new diabetes cases globally that year. Ziyad Al-Aly, the study’s senior author, said …


“Our research shows a significant link

between air pollution and diabetes globally.”


Pollution is thought to reduce the body’s insulin production, “preventing the body from converting blood glucose into energy that the body needs to maintain health,” according to the research.

Al-Aly said the research, published in the Lancet Planetary Health, found an increased risk even with levels of air pollution currently considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

He added …


“This is important because many industry

lobbying groups argue that current levels

are too stringent and should be relaxed.

Evidence shows that current levels are still

not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened.”


– ‘A strong link’ –

Researchers working with scientists at the Veterans Affairs’ Clinical Epidemiology Center, examined data from 1.7 million US veterans who did not have histories of diabetes and were followed for a median of 8.5 years.

Patient information from the veterans was compared to air quality information to examine the relationship between pollution and diabetes risk.


The scientists found the risk of developing

diabetes “exhibited a strong link to air pollution”.


They then devised a model to gauge diabetes risks over different pollution levels and used data from the annual worldwide Global Burden of Disease study, to estimate the prevalence of diabetes caused by bad air.

Diabetes affects more than 420 million people globally and is one of the world’s fastest growing diseases.

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What are the factors that most influence air quality inside your home?


First is paint.

Traditional pain contains VOCs, or “volatile organic compounds.” Most assume paints only off-gas until they’re dry, which can be within minutes.  I’ve seen other reports that indicate that VOCs actually off-gas for ten years!

Major brands, such as Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore, carry zero VOC paint alternatives. They do cost more – nearly double.  They come in all the usual colors and the increased cost is virtually nothing when you factor in the cost of physician visits, lab tests, and diabetes medication.  If you know people who have diabetes, you know it’s a bit of a thorn in our quality-of-life experience.  And it often shortens our lives.


Second is cabinetry.

The most common chemical used in construction of buildings and furnishings is formaldehyde. To reduce the costs of cabinets – for kitchens or baths – manufacturers use plywood and melamine, with a thin ply of the wood you prefer on the exterior.  Plywood and melamine off-gas … and for more than paint’s ten year span.

While solid, chemical-free wood does cost more, it doesn’t off-gas. However, if you use a stain or a sealant coating, such as polyurethane, on top of the wood you can get a “low VOC” option, but not zero.  The only way to get to zero is with bee’s wax … which has a scent and needs periodic refreshing.  (Fine antiques often use a bee’s wax coating.  It’s a beautiful coating … if you’re willing to maintain it.)

While I’m wary of non-measurable terms such as “low,” I have to hope I’m at least reducing the off-gassing to some degree.


Third is carpeting.

Dyes in fabrics are set with formaldehyde. You can quickly sense it when you walk into a fabric shop … or into a room that’s just had new carpeting installed. While the intensity of the off-gassing diminishes over time, it does continue.  While you might opt for non-off-gassing flooring alternatives, if you want the softness of carpeting, you can get dye-free wool, with a natural hemp backing.  (It’s the natural color of the sheep’s wool.  And you can now get it in several shades.)

In new developer-built homes, a builder can often buy “builders’ grade” carpeting for maybe $10 a yard. Dye-free wool may cost five times that.  For a small space, the price difference may not matter that much.  But for a large space, you may wish to explore alternative floorings.


In summary …

If we enter a space in which the air has a foul smell or burns our eyes or causes our skin to itch, we leave that space at once. But off-gassing from these household sources doesn’t alarm our normal senses.  It acts slowly, over time.  And that makes indoors off-gassing even more serious.

If you drop a frog into boiling water, it’ll instantly hop out. But if you drop a frog into comfortable, tepid water … then very gradually heat it to boiling, the frog will remain and be boiled to death.

Rather than simply hoping that EPA or other government agencies will protect our health, the first line of action to ensure better air quality – to reduce the likelihood of getting diabetes and to help us enjoy a higher quality-of-life experience – is … us.

And we need to be smarter than frogs!

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