Ep. 172: Indoor Air Quality Tips

Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

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On today's episode, I'm talking with Dr. Anna Scott about Indoor Air Quality, tips for improving, and how you can keep it monitored with the Clair!

Fed and Fit podcast graphic, episode 172 indoor air quality tips with Cassy Joy

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Episode 172 Transcription

Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit podcast. I am your host, Cassy Joy Garcia. And today is a really interesting interview. This is something that I personally find very fascinating. We’re interviewing Dr. Anna Scott. Let me tell you a little bit about her, and then I’m going to pass the baton over so she can expand on that.

Dr. Anna Scott is a mathematician and an environmental scientist turned entrepreneur. Her company, Clair, builds air monitoring devices that help everyone breathe easier by letting you know what’s in the air, and what you can do about it. Dr. Anna received her PhD in Atmospheric Science from John’s Hopkins University. Welcome to the show Dr. Anna!

Dr. Anna Scott: Thank you, Cassy. Thanks so much for having me.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness, thank you so much for coming on. Like I said, this really is something that I find very fascinating. But before we get to the nitty-gritty details of indoor air quality, I would love it if you could share a little bit more about yourself. What got you into this industry? What really inspired you? And tell us a little bit more about Clair.

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. So I’m a scientist by training. In college I studied math, and then I took this course where I started learning about the environment. And I thought; wow, this is pretty cool. So I kept doing that. And I found myself in graduate school, and I was studying atmospheric science. Which means I studied what’s going on in the air around us affects everybody. And I ended up talking to a lot of families while doing that. And one thing that kept coming up is I was sort of explaining things about big, big problems like climate change, and heat waves, and natural disasters. People wanted to know if what they were breathing in the air around them was safe.

So that sort of inspired me to dig in a little bit more to finding out about some chemistry in the air. How it affects us, the health effects. And then finally I decided that there wasn’t enough around us to fix this problem. So I got together with a couple of my engineering buddies, and we started making these devices.

Cassy Joy: Very neat. Tell me more about these devices. What exactly do they do?

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. We design devices that measure what’s in the air. So, we target specific types of pollutants that are known to be common problems in the air around you. And we put together a bunch of sensors into a cute little box that can sit in your home, and tell you if those things are at levels that are problematic or not. And our app tells you what to do about it.

Cassy Joy: So interesting! So what would you say are some of the qualities. I’m sitting here, of course, in a room. I’m inside. {laughs}

Dr. Anna Scott: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: It’s one of those, when you first learn about the toxins that can be found in some of our favorite convenience foods, and maybe some of the things that’s in our water. You just start seeing the world as it is. Air quality has not been one that I really ever thought about, outside of maybe mold. Right; that’s one most folks can wrap their heads around.

What are some of the common ones that you think are lurking amongst us? The unseen little particles around. And what’s the implication of those on our health?

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. So, we do think a lot about pollution outdoors. We know cars and factories. But in the 1970s or so when we started really modernizing houses. Putting in stuff like central AC. We started making our homes and our offices more air tight. So before that meant if you had stuff that got into your house, it would probably blow back out. But now there’s a lot of stuff that gets stuck in homes, and it just can’t get out unless you do something.

So, for example, if you have an air conditioning system. When you run that, you probably have a filter and that can filter out your air. But some of those common things that can accumulate in your home are things like small particles. Those are particles that are so small that they can get into your lungs. Some can even get into your blood stream. And those can come from a variety of different places.

But some of it includes really common things you might do in your home, like cooking, for example. If you have a gas stove, you're burning fuel and there can be particles that get into the air. If your house isn’t ventilated, then those can get into your lungs. Another common source of pollutants in the air is chemicals from cleaning products. So, the scientific name is called volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs. And you might have seen low-VOC paint at something like Home Depot. And that just means that those chemicals can off-gas in a way that’s harmful. Particularly if you're younger. If you're sensitive, because you have a disease like asthma, or COPD, or another respiratory condition.

A lot of those compounds are found in the home. Studies have shown, actually, when they measure, home air can contain five times more of those types of pollutants inside compared with outside.

Cassy Joy: Wow, so interesting. And this just made me think of it really quickly; if anybody is listening and they want an extreme version of a story of VOCs in the house and the implication it can have on health, look up Marilee’s story from Branch Basics. Are you familiar with Branch Basics, Dr. Anna?

Dr. Anna Scott: No, I’m not. But I’m writing this down, I’m going to go look it up.

Cassy Joy: She’s got a great story. It’s an inspirational one, but it was a long, arduous journey. Because the conversation of VOCs wasn’t really around when her son was a baby. And really had some difficulties with it. She described that he would have a reaction just from a delivery on the front porch. He was just so sensitive.

Dr. Anna Scott: Wow.

Cassy Joy: So this is just so fascinating though. Because you don’t necessarily have to be in that very small fraction of very sensitive folks for it to have an impact on you. And I feel like most of the listeners here at Fed and Fit really understand that. We understand that it’s not just what meets the eye is going on in our bodies. What we’re having to detox from.

Dr. Anna Scott: Definitely. That’s really scary. I had a roommate with asthma, and I love essential oils. And essential oils can be really great, but like anything, if you have too much of it, it’s really bad. And one day, I was cleaning the kitchen. It was extra smelly, and I almost gave my roommate an asthma attack.

Cassy Joy: Huh.

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah, that was definitely a scary moment for me. But what I learned was to make sure if you're doing things that involve chemicals, or even if it’s natural products. Things that could be really highly concentrated, make sure to ventilate the room. Run a fan. Open a window. Open a door. Make sure you're getting fresh, clean air in.

Cassy Joy: That’s a really great tip. It makes me want to go open up all the doors and the windows right now! {laughs} Very fascinating.

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Cassy Joy: You know, I do. I step out on the back porch if I ever use hair spray. But that’s pretty much one of the only ones. I never thought about cooking, as well.

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah, I think stepping outside and making sure you get some good clean air in is good. It’s obviously tough in the summer. We’re in central Texas and it can be really hot. There can also be outdoor pollution to think about. But always making sure you can have a vent hood or something that you can turn on while cooking. Or like you said, even stepping outside if you're going to use products where you know there’s chemicals; that’s a great way to make sure those products don’t stay in your home air.

Cassy Joy: Interesting. Are there certain parts of the country; I’m blindsiding you with this question. But have you seen trends in certain geographic regions of the country that have higher pollutant ratings for indoor air quality?

Dr. Anna Scott: What a great question. I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head. If I would guess; it’s dependent a lot on season. For example, in the northeast, things look very different than they do in the southeast. If you live in an area where, again, you live in air conditioning all the time versus you're getting fresh air in the spring or fall, that can really change what it looks like.

Also, if you have things like gas stoves, or a boiler. Some of your listeners are in the northeast versus a place like California; it’s going to look very different. Again, California right now being an extreme example where you might not want to open your window if you have wildfire smoke.

Cassy Joy: Right. That makes a lot of sense. Ok, so walk me through the Clair process. How does it; if I wanted to test the indoor air quality of my home, what would be the steps I would take to do that?

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. So Clair is a home device. It sits in about the palm of your hand, but you would just set it down in a room where you might be most concerned. For example, one of the cofounders of my company just had a baby. And so he puts his Clair home device in the nursery to make sure if he’s cooking, that that’s not affecting the baby. If, for example, you have a kid with asthma, you might want to put it in their bedroom. If you're just generally concerned about what’s going on in your home, you might want to put it in whatever room you spend the most time in. For people who work outside the home, that might be their bedroom. For other folks, it might be a living room.

You set it there. There is an indicator light on it that goes off; the light changes color when the levels change to what’s considered unhealthy according to World Health Organization guidelines. And when it gets really unhealthy, the light starts to blink red to let you know you should immediately clear the room.

And then our companion app detects the numbers that it’s reading off of the device, and it gives you a couple of remediation steps. Simple fixes that you can use. Which might be as simple as just, you know, opening a window. It could be as much as; hey, it really looks like you're doing some serious painting in here. You might just want to clear out of the house while you let things get back down to normal.

Cassy Joy: Fascinating. Are there any other; I have an environmental remediation side of my family that runs a part of that business. So that part of my brain is geeking out a little bit. Are there any other remediation techniques besides opening a window; physical, mechanical things you can do. Open a window a door. Maybe leave the house for a little bit. Are there any other methods that you recommend?

Dr. Anna Scott: Definitely. The simplest one is once you’ve identified a problem product, don’t use it. A lot of products that have synthetics, or these VOC compounds. You don’t necessarily need them. There are natural cleaning alternatives that can save you money. So I think for me that’s the easiest tip.

You can also buy an air purifier. For folks who might live in the southeast like us, or southwest, you probably already have some sort of air conditioning system. So if you're really concerned, you can buy what’s called a HEPA air filter. That’s a certain grade of a filter that can get out a lot of the different kinds of toxins. Not all of them. That are in your home air.

Cassy Joy: Wonderful. So an air purifier and a HEPA filter. Are there certain purifiers; things we should look for on an air purifier when we’re trying to buy one?

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. That HEPA rating means it’s going to get a lot of the particles. So the caveat there is that those filters can clean up all of these fine particles I was talking about earlier that can get into your lungs and blood stream and are associated with big, long-term, scary problems. Like heart disease, cancer. But it can’t get the volatile chemicals. There are not really any filters out there that studies have shown can get out those chemicals. The good news is, for the chemicals, you just don’t buy them.

Cassy Joy: Hmm-hmm. Don’t buy them. Or let them, what is it called, off-gas?

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. If you need to paint your house, for example. You know it’s not going to feel very healthy if you're sitting and breathing in those paint fumes. So paint is an extreme example, but the reason we built Clair was to help people identify these other sources that they might not be able to pick up with their nose.

Cassy Joy: It makes a lot of sense. And for anybody who is wondering; maybe you're pregnant, or about to start a family, and you're thinking; gosh! What are all of these VOC things? There are a lot of baby products, just so you know, that are labeled VOC free. So you can find mattresses, cribs, things where your baby will spend a lot of time. Those are the ones, I think, worth looking at. But this is so fascinating, Dr. Anna.

Dr. Anna Scott: Definitely. And I would say, especially the VOCs can come from things, like you said, mattresses, especially when they’re new. So always worth looking out for that, if you're buying a new product. Especially if kids are involved.

Some people even recommend, if you do end up buying something and you do detect it’s off-gassing, to ventilate the room really well for the first couple of days while those chemicals go away.

Cassy Joy: Mm-hmm. That makes a lot of sense. And eventually, they do go away. We have; I joke, it’s the best money I ever spend. And when it comes in line in the budget, I feel like, house cleaner trumps sometimes getting my hair cut. {laughs}

Dr. Anna Scott: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: Because I feel like it’s just so valuable. Anyway, our house cleaner uses; I ask her to use our Branch Basics cleaner. Which, the owner of that company I talked about a little bit ago, helped to create. These are safer cleaning products. Really highly effective. It’s a really neat routine. And there was one day that she forgot to use our other products. And instead, she cleaned my baby’s room; the nursery. And I think she used something really powerful, because she thought; nursery. {laughs} We’ve really got to get it really clean.

And oh my goodness; my nose is sensitive to it because we don’t really have any fragrances in the house at all. So it was quite interesting. We definitely closed the door. Put an air purifier in there. And then had the windows open. And we’re in Texas; Anna and I are both in central Texas. So it was warm. But eventually things subside. And Grayson, she’s still little, she doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in there. So there’s definitely a way to heal your home in that regard.

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Cassy Joy: I’m curious to know your thoughts on candles. There’s a lot of conversation around; of I’ve encountered a lot of conversation around are candles healthy? Because it seems like one of those wholesome, happy things to have in your home. Where do you stand on them?

Dr. Anna Scott: Oh, man. I can send you over a video where we test out candles using Clair. Actually, we might not have posted it yet. But Candles, like anything, are safe in moderation. But different types of candles will have particles that they release in the air when they burn. So I think if you're looking for a natural candle, I definitely own a lot. {laughs} So the soy wax candles, those generally tend to burn fairly cleanly. And then depending on how much of the scent is in the air, that can be released as VOCs. So candles definitely are something to watch out for.

If it’s something that relaxes you and makes you happy, then I wouldn’t say to totally get rid of them. But make sure it’s done in moderation. I would say definitely don’t do it in a nursery, or maybe around kids. What I do is I burn them in my bathroom when I take a shower. And then I step out of the shower, I open the window, and I let the bathroom vent itself out. I make sure I’m not affecting other people.

Cassy Joy: Oh, that’s a good tip. Very nice. That’s a great tip. Ok, soy wax candles generally safer than other alternatives. And then I would assume natural versus unnatural fragrances also make a difference.

Dr. Anna Scott: A little bit. But again, like the example I was giving about how I almost gave my roommate an asthma attack with all of my lavender essential oils. Too much of anything can be bad for you. You know? Even if you drink too much water, it can be harmful. That’s an extreme example; you need a lot of things. But just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for you. Essential oils are powerful, and that power means that they can affect people’s health.

Again, we recommend everything in moderation. Try and avoid using a lot of these things. It depends why you're burning a candle. If you're burning a candle because you think your home air doesn’t smell good; that’s actually probably a sign of other problems. A candle is not going to fix that, it’s going to cover it up. If you're just using it to relax a little bit, I think that’s always fine. But you should be aware that it is producing things that aren’t necessarily good for you.

Cassy Joy: It makes a lot of sense. You’re just burning more; I’m just getting this visual of these fumes billowing in this trapped little dome which we call home.

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah, exactly. And a lot of the stuff that’s small enough to get into your body, you can’t really see. So whether or not it’s necessarily producing smoke isn’t an indicator of how it’s affecting your health.

Cassy Joy: Very fascinating. Well; I’m going to go ahead and order myself 12 Clair’s. {laughs}

Dr. Anna Scott: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: Just put one in every room. But really, in sincerity, is this something that you think most family’s can grab one, and move it around if they want to have it in several places? What’s the vision? What’s the future of Clair?

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. I’m obviously biased. I love having a couple in my house. One in the bedroom, and one in the living room. I think having something like 2 is super useful. I don’t have a family, so I know my company’s cofounder who just had his daughter on Monday. He’s taking all of them from his office, and he’s got them all over his house.

But air in your home moves around a lot. So it can be really interesting to see how you can have things going on in one room that may or may not affect things going on in another room. So if you're a dad who’s got a workshop in the garage, you might want to put one in your living room to make sure that air and dust isn’t getting in. If you're just cooking a lot, and frying a lot of stuff, and concerned. Having one in the kitchen might be useful because you’d want to protect your health. But it might be more useful to you to know how it affects your kids.

Cassy Joy: That’s so fascinating. Thinking about walking through my home, and the air quality that I encounter as I walk through the home. I have the garage, and if my husband has just mowed, it probably smells like gasoline.

Dr. Anna Scott: Yep.

Cassy Joy: And then you walk in, and if I’ve cooked that morning, then there’s probably fumes of something that I cooked meeting you right when you walk into the hallway. And then the bathroom, where you’ve got soap from the shower, whoever was just in there. So it’s all very interesting.

So, I would love. I’m just dreaming for you; but what a neat thing to have installed in a future smart home. Just have it already built in.

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. And we’re definitely talking with some folks about that. For now, we wanted to make it just easy to plug and go. Because so many people don’t have smart homes yet. We wanted to make sure it was accessible from day 1.

Cassy Joy: I love it. So where can folks learn more about the Clair, and maybe get their hands on one?

Dr. Anna Scott: Yeah. You can go to www. MeetClair.com.

Cassy Joy: So excited. How much does a Clair run?

Dr. Anna Scott: The Clair sells for $189. Currently, right now, we’re taking preorders. I think the next 6 people who order will get a price of $89.

Cassy Joy: Ooh! Well I have an advantage because you and I are recording before this show goes live.

Dr. Anna Scott: {laughing}

Cassy Joy: When it goes live, there will be maybe 5 left. {laughs} Oh my goodness. Well, Dr. Anna. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on, and sharing a little bit about indoor air quality and the importance thereof. We’re excited.

Dr. Anna Scott: Well thanks so much for having me.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, this is really interesting. Good luck with Clair. I hope that it’s wonderfully, explosively successful. And that y’all are the future of home building from the ground up.

Dr. Anna Scott: Well, thanks.

Cassy Joy: Retrofitting; all of those good things. Thank you everybody for joining us. As always, you can find a full transcript of today’s show over at www.FedandFit.com. As always, we’ll be back again next week.


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