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The Environmental Protection Agency's most recent report about air quality is enough to make each of us want to stop breathing. The EPA announced this past April that 170 million Americans live in areas that are too smoggy for our health.

But this is not really new news. People with chronic breathing problems have always known that the air in much of America is not that good. And if you have been reading about the current Administration's complete failure to do anything at all about protecting our environment, it should not come as a surprise that our air just is not all that breathable in much of this country.

You cannot buy air cleaners to clean the outside. But you can buy air cleaners or air purifiers to clean the inside of your home. And it is abundantly clear that you really should take this issue seriously and should buy as good of an air cleaner as you can.

There are a lot of air cleaners on the market and it is hard to know which air cleaner make the most sense for you. Different air cleaners work on different technologies and the kind of air cleaner that might make sense for an individual with one kind of problem might not be the same kind of air cleaner that you should buy if you have another problem.

For example, if you have a lot of cigarette smoke in your house you might prefer one kind of technology. If pet dander is your problem then another might work for you. And if dust and pollen is what causes a problem for you, yet another kind of air cleaner might make sense.

Where do you go to find out which air cleaners work best for you? Consumer Reports is an old but reliable source of information. In the February 2002 report it studied 16 different units and gave their ratings. They are not partial and they are a reliable source. That report can be purchased from Consumers Report by going online at consumerreports.org.

Air cleaners that rely on high efficiency particulate air removal technology, which is also referred to as HEPA, will remove air pollutants which are .3 microns or larger. This includes tobacco smoke, dust and pollen. And from my vantage this seems to be the kind of filter device that is most widely recommended. If 99.97 percent does not do it, then there are ULPA filters that achieve almost 100 percent removal, using what is essentially refined HEPA technology.

Many homes have electrostatic precipitators built into the air conditioning or heating systems. In those cases, there are large filters that have to be removed on a regular basis and cleaned. The system that I have requires placing these filters in the dishwasher for periodic cleaning.

The two other technologies include ozone air cleaners which introduce ozone into the air to reduce airborne pollutants and ionization filters which actually emit an electric charge into the air stream which affixes the particulates onto filters or other media.

When you look to purchase an indoor air filter, you need to look for one that is appropriately sized as well as one with a proven technology. In terms of room size, if you do not size the system properly, it is not going to work efficiently. Some experts propose buying a system that is oversized for the room so that it can be operated at lower, generally more quiet speeds.

According to the EPA, indoor air quality levels may be two-to-five times less healthy than outdoor air quality levels. This fact, coupled with the fact that Americans spend most of their time indoors (almost 90 percent), suggests that you should consider buying a suitable air cleaner for you home, and perhaps for your office. If you work outdoors, good luck to you.

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