The project’s findings are particularly relevant as World Air Quality Week is celebrated this week from 2 – 6 May. Air quality can potentially have a significant impact on those with respiratory diseases explains Asthma and Respiratory Foundation Chief Executive Letitia Harding: “Air pollution in both the indoor and outdoor environment can cause and aggravate respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.”

World Champion Australian cyclist Annette Edmondson was one of six athletes who used Dyson’s prototype air quality backpack for three days while completing different activities both outside and inside the home. The backpack collected data to track her exposure to air pollution over this time.

The findings from Annette Edmondson’s trial in Adelaide showed significant peaks in air pollutants when riding through heavy peak hour traffic, when cooking using a gas stove with minimal ventilation and when visiting a furniture store. Annette was shocked by the findings of pollutant levels in the home.

“Using Dyson’s air quality backpack and my Dyson purifier has made the invisible visible and it was disturbing to see it detecting pollutants while I was cooking, painting and unpacking new furniture.”

Dyson engineers attributed the increase in pollutants during cooking to using a gas stove without adequate ventilation and then using chemical cleaning products afterwards. The spike experienced during her visit to a furniture store could have been due to common pollutants found within building products.

Sotiris Vardoulakis, Professor of Global Environmental Health at the Australian National University and an expert in air quality and indoor pollution explains that a wide range of chemical pollutants can be found within the home. “These include formaldehyde, which is emitted from building materials such as insulation and pressed-wood products, household products like paints, cleaning products and pesticides. Continuous exposure to formaldehyde over years is carcinogenic to humans and over shorter periods it may cause irritation to the eyes and throat.”

He also says that we’re often exposed to many different types of both indoor and outdoor air pollution and the health effects of different pollutants can depend on the individual: “Certain groups may be particularly sensitive to the effects of air pollutants, including young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people who suffer from respiratory health conditions such as asthma, hay fever or bronchitis, especially people who exercise strenuously as rapid breathing increases our intake of air.”

The trial has also caused Annette to rethink how she trains: “As an athlete who suffers from exercise-induced asthma, a healthy lifestyle is important to me, however air quality is not something that I’ve ever looked into. Seeing this data has made me realise how bad the air quality can be to train in. It has got me thinking about not only where I ride but when. I’ll definitely try to take a greener route in the future to avoid busy roads,” she says.

Alex Knox, Vice President of Environmental Care at Dyson, says that this type of insight was what the team hoped to achieve with the project: “Equipping athletes with data about their air quality will empower them to take control of their pollution exposure. We are focused on meaningful action in terms of education and awareness and working with athletes as advocates can help us achieve that.”

The other athletes involved in the project were Thomas Röhler (Germany), Shingo Suetsugu (Japan), Dafne Schippers (Netherlands), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) and Mujinga Kambundji (Switzerland).

The Dyson air quality backpack is a portable air-sensing device, equipped with on-board sensors, a battery pack and GPS. It was developed by Dyson’s engineers for the Breathe London study with King’s College London and the Greater London Authority by reworking technology used in Dyson air purifiers.

In a separate global study conducted during the pandemic in 2020, Dyson purifier data collected from initial lockdowns in 14 cities globally indicated higher PM2.5 levels during lockdown compared to post-lockdown, highlighting the impact that spending more time indoors may be having on exposure to pollution. Outdoor data collected over the same period with Dyson’s portable air quality backpack showed participants were exposed to lower NO2 levels during the lockdown period. This is likely due to the reduction of vehicles on the road during lockdown, as traffic is a common source of the pollutant.

Dyson is a Gold partner of The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation’s Friends of the Foundation programme and a key supporter of the Foundation’s work in improving respiratory outcomes for New Zealanders.

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