Case Study 3 –Health Check for Family in Pudong Area Villa
“My husband and I have been living in Shanghai for 8 years. We love it here! Except for the pollution… But we didn’t decide to do anything about it until the moment we held our baby girl in our arms.”
S+X had no reason to suspect high levels of pollutants around them, nor did they have any health complaints to indicate harmful levels. X exercised in the garage and the only thing that really worried them was that the gas heater might be leaking carbon monoxide or other hazardous fumes. But like many expats who’ve grown accustomed to life in Shanghai and have little control over what happens outside, S+ X decided to make their nest the safest possible for their daughter.
S had already read an interview with Louie Cheng, the owner of PureLiving, an indoor environmental testing firm, on one of the expat forums and felt that it was a good service. S quickly contacted PureLiving to describe their concerns and set up a meeting. “Talking to Louie gave us a level of confidence that we could improve things at home… he sounded calm and effectual.” On the date of their scheduled assessment of the indoor air and water quality of their house, “Louie personally showed up with an expert team, and after listening to our concerns carefully they went thoroughly thorough the house and did a full panel of tests. The assessment was informative and professional to a degree that exceeded my expectation and I was happy to find out that I was already doing some things right.”
Tests of air and water quality focused on elements that could be most harmful for an infant: lead, airborne particulates, nitrate and heavy metals. The results revealed some surprising health risks. Levels of airborne lead were 3-4 times higher than the US EPA’s standards for healthy air. Increased levels of airborne lead have been linked with decreased growth, hyperactivity and impaired hearing, sterility and negative impact on brain development. Children under six are most at risk. It is almost impossible to reverse the effects of lead poisoning but definitely preventable, so finding the problem early is key. Given the high levels of airborne lead PureLiving recommended a blood level baseline test to be done for S’s baby. Also to prevent further exposure PureLiving recommended the use of high efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters, reduced ventilation with outside air, and increased vacuuming to capture lead dust.
PureLiving also found lead in the varnish of the outside deck. The deck was built in 2011 while S+X lived in the house, S says she regrets not having been more involved in selecting the materials used to ensure nothing contained lead.
Among their findings, PureLiving detected an above normal range of particulates in several rooms. Particulate matter was 20% over the standards in the kitchen alone! Particulate matter can cause respiratory disease and infection such as asthma, shortness of breath, and bronchitis. Even for healthy adults, Louie explained, high levels of particulates from coal soot, vehicle emissions, and fine dust from neighboring areas weigh heavily on our immune systems and increase the frequency of general illness.
Another important area of concern was the high relative humidity – which is the primary factor in leading to the growth of mold, bacteria, dust mites and cockroaches. Some rooms in S&X’s home exceeded the recommended level for a healthy home of 35-55% relative humidity. This could lead to the proliferation of dust mites, a particularly nasty problem that are the number- one indoor source of allergies. It was found that this was mostly due to the unnecessary use of humidifiers, a blocked dryer exhaust vent that the PureLiving team discovered, and not using exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms. Louie was also able to provide S with some inexpensive humidity meters to monitor the humidity levels easily.
During this process the PureLiving team also discovered another safety issue: dozens of rusty nail-studded boards left under her deck – which could have been potentially dangerous to her baby. “This was something I assumed the building management would have been careful to remove,” said S, and that she would not have found had it not been for Louie’s meticulous attention to the general safety of her home.
One benefit of getting their indoor air tested was that the results revealed that while levels of particulates were high, levels of chemical emissions or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were within the safe range. This meant that S&X did not have to purchase more expensive gas air filters, but could add the right type of filter for their specific problems. “It’s important to first identify what’s wrong with a home’s indoor air quality before investing in air filters,” says Louie. “In many cases, there’s no need to spend thousands of RMB on filters and maintenance when other options are available.” Louie recommended several models of particulate filters that were cost-effective and offers negotiated discounts with most top brand filter dealers as a benefit for PureLiving clients.
One bright revelation was learning that both their tap water and bottled drinking water were well within safe limits for common pollutants. This had been one of S&X’s largest concerns and now they had the assurance that they could safely use the filtered tap water for washing and cooking. Louie also advised that they did not need to install shower filters, often needed in Shanghai to reduce dangerous levels of caustic chlorine.
S remembers calling her husband a little distressed after receiving the results. They agreed that while the assessment revealed problems, they were now fully aware of the “report card” status of the health and safety of their home environment and could implement PureLiving’s recommendations to improve the situation tremendously. After all said and done, S says, “We feel very empowered and we’ve done so much to make this house safer that it feels a little bit more like home to all of us.” Needless to say that S +X don’t plan on moving anytime soon!