What’s in the Air?

Think you’re only inhaling just oxygen when you breathe? Ever thought you could catch a fatal flu in the shopping mall? Ever questioned what exactly is in the air?

Clean air is composed of nitrogen, oxygen and argon, as well as other trace gases. Yet, in modern life, air is invariably polluted. Polluted air consists of a variety of harmful airborne particles, gases and chemical compounds, mainly produced by combustion, vehicle emissions and industrial processes.

Even if the air is free from manmade pollution, viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms naturally exist in the air. Infectious diseases can easily be transmitted through your breathing air.

Something about Air Pollution and Smog

Smog is a common type of air pollutant. Smog isn’t only a visual disgrace. It contains life-threatening gases, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone, carbon monoxide and CFCs among others.

Right under your nose

City smog formed under air pollution contains toxic gases like NO2 mainly from vehicle emission

Harmful gases aren’t something exist only in chemical factories. They are omnipresent (and often invisible) in your daily life. They irritate your eyes, your nose and your throat, not to mention developing chronic respiratory diseases and worsening existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

From 19th century’s London, 1940s’ Los Angeles to today’s Beijing, smog has been threatening human health all over the world. Traditionally, industrial smog usually formed when smoke from coal burning home stoves and factories combined with air moisture.

In modern days, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides are the main causes of smog. As compounds, VOCs can turn into vapors easily. They may contain gases such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, chlorine and sulfur. While some are produced naturally by plants and animals, others come from manmade sources, e.g. solvents, paints, glues and petroleum. In other words, they are found in the midst of your daily life. Nitrous oxides, on the other hand, are generated by the incomplete combustion of gas in vehicles. Both VOCs and nitrous oxides react with sunlight to form secondary pollutants called PANs and tropospheric (or ozone). These two elements irritate eyes and damage lung tissues. They are also the components of photochemical smog.

Photochemical smog is another kind of prevalent pollution formed by secondary pollutants that are generated by the reaction between primary air pollutants and sunlight. Temperature inversion traps pollution near the ground, leading to higher levels of atmospheric pollution. Cities such as Los Angeles, Beijing and Delhi, Mexico City are prone to photochemical smog. Due to their geographic and climatic conditions, there is nowhere for smog to dissipate. Coupled with overwhelming manmade pollutants, these natural conditions have made air pollution virtually unalterable. Smog is especially harmful to children and the elderly. It may also cause low birth weight and birth defects among unborn babies. Various illnesses, or even reduced life expectancy and death, are resulted from these toxic pollutants.

Pollutants and Toxic Gases Where are they from
PM 2.5
  • Dust, Ashes
  • Burning coal for domestic cooking, power generataion and heating
  • Vehicle emission
  • Forest fire and domestic wood burning
PM 10
  • Mining industry
  • Sand storm
  • Burning wood and forest fire
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Vehicle emission
  • Metal refining process
  • Burning fossil fuels for power generation
Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
  • Burning fossil fuels which contain sulphur
  • Burning Coal for power generation
  • Metal refining process
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Internal combustion engines
Ozone (O3)
  • Sunlight action on nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) like paint, lacquer and pesticides

A closer look at these pollutants

Particulate Matter

1 Most harmful is PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter)

The particulate matter refers to the solid or liquid particles in its form of dust fumes, mist or smoke and originated either by dispersion of particles from breakdown of solid bulk material or condensation originated, built up from molecular dimension after heating or cooling. Most harmful is PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter) which are inhaled more deeply than larger particles such as PM10 (10 microns).

Oxidizing gases

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) 2 : Generally recognised as sum of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), it is a reddish brown corrosive gas. The automobile exhaust is one of the largest sources of NO2 emission in the ambient air, as these are formed during combustion as a result of oxidation of atmospheric nitrogen and organic nitrogen.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) 3 : Sulphur dioxide is generated from the natural resources such as the bacterial decomposition of sulphurs in the soil from the oxidation of hydrogen sulphide produced by the decay of organic matter, from volcanoes, etc. The anthropogenic sources of sulphur dioxide emission arise mainly from combustion of fuels because of trace amount of inorganic and organic sulphur contained in the fossil fuels and ores.

Ozone (O3) 4 : Ground level ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). This happens when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources chemically react in the presence of sunlight. Ozone at ground level is a harmful air pollutant, because of its effects on people and the environment, and it is the main ingredient in “smog."

Facts about air pollution5

WHO reports that air pollution contributes to 1 in 8 of total global deaths (7 million lives) in the year 2012 has a strong link to both acute and chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer

Countries that suffer the most from air pollution: India and China, followed by ASEAN countries: Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore , according to WHO report 2012

Different countries use different Air Quality Indexing systems:

AQI (Air Quality Index) - China, India
API (Air Pollution Index) - Malaysia
API (Air Pollution Index) - Malaysia
PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) - Singapore
Beijing : http://aqicn.org/city/beijing
Jakarta : http://aqicn.org/city/jakarta/
Delhi : http://aqicn.org/city/delhi/


Upset by an unknown headache? Feeling unusually anxious? It might have something to do with the air...


Source: EEA Signals 2013 — Every breath we take. Improving air quality in Europe, European Environment Agency 6

Sickness is in the Air

Over the last 20 years, flu outbreaks and respiratory illnesses have become more virulent with an increase in the number of deaths attributed by the transmission of dangerous flu strains such as H5N1 bird flu, H1N1 swine flu and other respiratory illnesses such as MERS.

These airborne diseases can all be transmitted through the air. Can you always avoid coughing or sneezing passers-by? Can you be certain the crowded space is virus-free? Can you guarantee your immune system is always strong? No? Well, you’re vulnerable to fatal airborne diseases.

How flu spreads

Win the Losing Battle
The bad news is air pollution cannot be reverted or completely eradicated – at least not in the foreseeable future. Yet, if you stop breathing, you stop living. Nor can you ensure the air is virus-free.

The good news is that RK’s active protection technology can effectively guard you against harmful air pollutants and airborne infection. With RK Anti-Pollution Masks, the air is breathable again. With Anti-Viral Masks, airborne infection is preventable.

You can’t lose this battle. If you can’t beat it, brave it.

Common Respiratory Infections


According to the World Lung Foundation (2010), respiratory infections rank among Top Ten Causes of Deaths, accounting for at least 9.6% of the total deaths every year. Respiratory infections are also responsible for 20-40% of all hospitalizations among children, and are their leading killer.


Influenza, commonly known as "the flu",is a contagious respiratory illness that attacks and inflames the human respiratory tracts of nose, throat, and lungs.Influenza viruses are capable of constantly mutating, with new strains appearing regularly in new epidemics, making it difficult for the immune system to fight the virus.

Every year, influenza viruses infect 5 to 30% of the world's population, resulting in three to five million severe infections and killing 250,000 to 500,000 people.

An infected person produces droplets containing virus when they cough, sneeze or talk. Droplets can travel up to 6 feet away and can land in the mouths or noses or be directly inhaled into the lungs of people nearby.

A person might also be infected by touching a surface or object contaminated with virus, and then touching their mucous membranes like eye, mouth or nose.

Influenza often sweeps easily across schools, nursing homes, offices and cities. Adults may be infectious from one day before symptoms develop to seven days after becoming sick. However, children may pass the virus for longer than ten days, while individuals with compromised immune systems might be capable of infecting others for weeks. Some people can be infected with the flu virus while not developing symptoms. During this time, they may still spread the virus to others without even knowing it. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that people actively protect themselves and their loved ones in public spaces.

Who is at high risk of influenza infection?9, 10

Influenza viruses affect even very healthy people. However, increased morbidity and mortality during seasonal epidemics and pandemics occur in the elderly, young children, pregnant women and others whose immune system is weakened or compromised. Newborn infants of mothers with severe influenza during late trimesters of pregnancy are at increased risk of adverse outcomes, such as pre-term birth and low birth-weight.


The common cold is an infection of the nose and throat caused by more than 200 different viruses, with the most significant one being Rhinovirus (up to 40%). Coronavirus is another virus, usually causing mild to moderate illness. However, some mutations like the SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2013 can result in severe infections. The virus can spread through airborne droplets into nose, eyes or mouth when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. It can also spread by contact with contaminated objects. Although generally mild, a cold can cause intense discomfort, and severe complications such as acute ear infection or pneumonia may also develop.

Adults are usually infected with common cold two to four times per year depending on climate, while young children may suffer from an average of six to eight colds annually

How to protect yourself against common cold and influenza12

Influenza viruses are always changing. Antibodies developed from past infections or vaccination cannot protect people from new influenza subtypes that are very different immunologically. Constant self-protection is therefore needed.

Myths and truths you need to know about protecting yourself

Myth: The flu vaccine is 100% effective

Fact: The flu vaccine is only up to 50–60% effective in any given year

Every year, scientists develop vaccines based on an educated guess of which strains will be most active for that season. However, estimates are not always accurate, and some strains are missed as a result. In addition, flu strains that are covered might mutate, meaning vaccine effectiveness will even be less than 50–60%. 13

Myth: All facemasks are the same

Fact: First-and-only FDA-approved Anti-Viral Facemask kills viruses and other germs

  • Traditional facemasks ‘catch’ viruses and other germs on their surfaces, but these microbes remain alive and infectious, they are not killed
  • These traditional facemasks act like ‘virus hotels’, collecting viruses and germs on their surfaces without killing them – these ‘virus hotels’ themselves become sources of infection


Pneumonia occurs when the germs that cause the illness attack the lungs and the lungs' air sacs become inflamed and fill up with fluid. This causes the symptoms of pneumonia, such as cough, fever, chills, and trouble breathing.

Pneumonia can be infected by virus, bacteria (Streptococcus pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzaetype b) or fungi. The viruses and bacteria commonly found in nose or throat can infect the lungs if they spread to the lungs. They may also be transmitted via inhaled air-borne droplets from a cough or sneeze or close contact. In addition, one can get pneumonia during or after a cold or influenza. Pneumonia may spread by exposure to microbes in the birth canal or during delivery.

Pneumonia is the leading global killer of children under five, especially in developing countries.

Pneumonia is the leading global killer of children under five,responsible for almost 15% or 935,000 deaths a year. Every year, an estimated 156 million new cases of pneumonia occur. 74% of them happen in just 15 developing countries, mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with 43 million cases in India alone.


TB is a disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Symptoms include prolonged cough lasting more than 3 weeks, chest pain, fever, fatigue and cough of blood.

Infectious airborne droplets are generated when persons with developed TB symptoms cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. These tiny particles can remain suspended in the air up to several hours. Transmission occurs when another person inhales those droplets. The bacterium is not transmitted by surface contact, however, since it does not stick to clothing or skin.

TB is labeled as one of the world’s deadliest diseases. Untreated active disease typically affects the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of the body such as liver, kidney, joint, spine and brain.