A Guide to Indoor Air Quality

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to air pollution is considered to be the major environmental risk to human health. Most of us are meanwhile aware that outdoor air pollution is bad for our health, but not that many realize that the real big killer is indoor air pollution. This type of pollution is significant more dangerous due to fact that the concentration of the air indoors is higher and the circulation lower than in outdoor environments. Because of this lack of fresh air indoors, the  concentration of pollutants can build up to toxic levels. The findings show that the indoor air can be between two and five times more polluted than the air outside. Even more alarming is the fact that people who are employed spend 2 percent of their time outside, 6 percent in transit and 92 percent of their time indoors. The WHO says that, globally, nearly 4 million deaths annually are caused by indoor air pollution.

Many sources of indoor air pollution can be found in any home, among them:

Tobacco Products

One of the major sources of indoor air pollution is the environmental tobacco smoke (ETS, also called second hand smoke). ETS enters the air directly from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, as well as from the smoke exhaled by smokers. ETS contains more than 7,000 different chemicals, more than 70 of which are known to cause cancer, and many of which are strong irritants.

Heating Equipment

Combustion products like oil, gas, kerosene, wood and coal are common to indoor environments due to the use of fuel-burning appliances, space heaters, fireplaces, gas and wood stoves. Over three billion people are exposed to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels. If not properly vented, harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, radon and particulates may be released into the air, increasing the risk of respiratory illnesses, including childhood pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular diseases, and lung cancers.

Cleaning Devices

Keeping your house clean is an essential way to prevent indoor air pollution. Many pollutants can aggravate allergies or increase the severity of asthma symptoms in individuals who are sensitive to allergens or irritants. Vacuum cleaners and air purifiers can remove many of these irritating particles. But while some air cleaning devices may be useful for some pollutants removal, another problem appears – dust circulation. Not all fine particulates end up in the filter of your vacuum cleaner or air purifier, as a result they are blown to the air and can get directly to your lungs. So a filtration system of your cleaning devices must be efficient at trapping and removing the tiniest air pollutants. Using vacuum cleaner that is equipped with HEPA filter or ULPA filter may help reduce airborne dust and allergens in indoor air. Even better solution is to use a central vacuum system. It is important to maintain your air purifiers and other air-cleaning devices properly and change air filters regularly.

Household Products

Numerous common household products are of concern when considering indoor air quality. Varnishes, paints, adhesives, aerosol sprays, furniture polish, wood preservatives, cleansers and disinfectants are common sources of indoor air pollution. Some of them can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause a host of breathing problems, headaches and nausea, and prolonged exposure can even lead to liver, kidney and central nervous system problems.

Building Materials and Upholstered Furniture

Building materials, home improvement products, and textiles used in the home can emit VOCs and chemicals such as formaldehyde and asbestos. Formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen that can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, wheezing and coughing, fatigue, skin rash, and severe allergic reactions. All homes built before 1980 are likely to have some asbestos, it can be in pipe and furnace insulation materials, floor and ceiling tiles, acoustical materials, thermal insulation and exterior siding. Intact, undisturbed asbestos-containing materials generally do not pose a health risk. But any remodeling, renovating or demolition of those structures releases toxic asbestos fibers into the air. Despite the significant drop in use of asbestos, and all the restrictions regarding it now, thousands of people are still diagnosed annually with an asbestos-related diseases.

Outdoor Sources

Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution may also contribute to poor indoor air quality. Radon, is a naturally occurring colorless and odorless radioactive noble gas. The most common source of indoor radon is uranium in the soil or rock on which homes are built. Many lawn and garden products, insect sprays and baits, disinfectants and rat poison are pesticides, and the number and concentration of pesticides detected in indoor air have been shown to be typically much more greater than those detected in outdoor air. Long-term exposure to radon and pesticides increases your chances of getting cancer. 

Increasing the amount of outdoor air coming indoors can help to reduce or remove many indoor airborne pollutants. But ventilation can be limited by weather conditions or poor air quality outside. In highly urbanized and industrial areas, inadequate ventilation is one of the major causes of high levels of pollutants in the air inside your house. Be sure to avoid ventilation when the air pollution levels outside are beyond the limits recommended by the WHO. There are websites that provide information about current air quality in your city. Also a wide range of air quality monitoring equipment for indoor and outdoor pollution is now available in a wide variety of designs and capabilities.

Plants, People, and Animals

Plants, people, and animals are the source of many indoor biologic pollutants such as molds, mildews, mites, bacteria, viruses, animal dander, saliva, urine, dust and pollen. Biological contaminants trigger allergic reactions, including allergic rhinitis, hypersensitivity pneumonia and some types of asthma.

A wide range of health effects from being exposed to indoor air pollution can be broken down into short-term effects and long-term effects. This means that effects of indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later. Short-term effects, which are temporary, include irritation to the nose, throat, eyes, or skin; headaches, dizziness, and nausea; illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Long-term effects from indoor pollutants include heart disease, lung cancer, different respiratory diseases; nerves, brain, kidneys, liver and other organs damage; it can even lead to birth defects or to person’s death. Health effects from indoor air pollutants may also vary due to frequency and length of exposure, amount and type of pollutants. Young children and older adults, whose immune systems tend to be weaker, are more vulnerable to environmental hazards like air pollution.

Fortunately, anybody can take easy steps to minimize indoor air pollution. Millions of people every day make simple changes in their lives to do this. Keep your house clean, monitor the air quality and make sure your home is properly ventilated, try to keep a healthy level of humidity, make your home a non-smoking zone, get your house tested for radon, reduce indoor chemical use and avoid using pesticides. These simple precautions can help to improve indoor air quality and protect your health.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *