Indoor Air Pollution: What you should know and why you should care about it
Ever imagined how much of your day is spent indoors? Think about it: you wake up, go to work, spend about 9 hours there, go for a bite to eat, and come home. This isn’t to leave you frightened, but to make you aware that most of us spend 80% of our time indoors. Take a minute, though, to consider the quality of the air you’re breathing at home, at school, at the office, or wherever you visit. On average, humans take about 23,040 breaths of air per day. But what are we actually breathing in?
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Indoor air pollution is a critical issue now more than ever: As per a research conducted by WHO in 2018, about 3 billion people still cook with solid fuels, mainly; crop wastes, wood, coal, dung, and charcoal, on open fireplaces and cooking stoves, which are the primary sources for indoor air to get polluted with particles such as PM, NO2, SO2, and many more. To add to this, cigarette smoke combined with wide-open windows that enable smog to enter, and the consequential pollution causes over 1.5 million deaths each year.
This is a scenario from developing countries that don’t have adequate access to reliable appliances and electricity. However, indoor air pollution is a growing concern in developed countries as well. But what is the reason? It’s simple, several studies have indicated that indoor air quality is heavily reliant on the outdoors. In major developing as well as developed nations, outdoor pollution is worsening beyond control, thus affecting indoor air quality as well.
Facing outdoor air pollution can be avoided, but it’s the opposite for indoor air pollution – especially because we spend most of our day and night there. But we can take easy, actionable steps to improve the air at home, school, office, and elsewhere. Here’s how to go about it:
- Use air filters or air purifiers
Air filters or purifiers are useful for reducing the levels of indoor air pollutants and allergens introduced in the enclosed spaces mainly due to breeze, wind, pets, equipments, and humans. To eliminate triggers and its influence on your health, install an air filter or purifier in every room to advance air cleaning efficiency.
- Keep your surroundings clean
Carrying out cleaning and dusting tasks regularly with a vacuum cleaner and damp cloth is a great way to keep your surroundings clean and allergen-free. If you are susceptible to dust mite allergy, that mostly live in house dust, then washing of pillow covers, bedsheets, and blankets are also necessary to keep control of indoor allergens.
- Keep your indoor space well-ventilated
Whether it is your bedroom, living room, kitchen, garage, basement or attic, let fresh air into the space, freely and frequently.
- Introduce safer products instead of air polluting items
For instance, replace synthetic fragrances and cleaning agents with natural alternatives like essential oils. If you make use of pesticides or herbicides on your plants, source natural pest control products that are less hazardous and easily-biodegradable, as quick as neem oil.
- Control indoor humidity
Extreme moisture in the air results in the growth of biological pollutants, such as mildew, mold, and fungus, in areas like bathrooms and basements. This causes swelling in furniture and may trigger allergies.
Besides these measures, ensure your spaces are smoke-free, airy, and equipped with safe heating and cooling systems.
Air pollutants can result in a number of short-term as well as long-term health problems. From a short-term perspective, over-exposure to high levels of indoor air pollution can cause headaches, throat and nose irritation, eye irritation, dizziness, and fatigue. In a few cases, the symptoms even bear a resemblance to asthma, which can make it difficult to identify the real problem.
Indoor air pollution can have critical long-term health problems. If one is exposed to pollutants for years together, it can result in severe respiratory sickness, heart problems, and even cancer. Adding to the difficulty, there is deep uncertainty about what chemicals trigger these problems, and at how much percent of concentration.
As majority of us spend most of our time indoors, its time to understand the hidden household items or airborne dangers that are responsible for polluting the air we breathe.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are primarily emitted from household products like furniture polish, moth repellents, hair sprays, glues, air fresheners, and body perfumes.
Health impact: Exposure to VOCs can result in irritation of the eye, throat, nose, nausea, headache and lung damage in severe cases.
This consists of both smoke from cooking and tobacco smoke. The impact of tobacco smoke can be reduced by eliminating cigarette smoking. It is difficult to manage fumes from cooking, but by installing fans and ensuring adequate ventilation, the indoor area can be kept safe.
Health impact: Exposure to smoke can cause coughing, inflamed airways, and severe damage to the liver and lungs.
- Biological pollutants
The sources of biological pollutants are plants, fungi, mites, parasites, hair from pets, and some bacteria.
Health impact: Majority of the biological pollutants are allergens that can lead to headache, hay fever, asthma, and common allergic diseases.
Indoor air pollution is not a new phenomenon. But taking the small, aforementioned steps to breathe clean air in your household, more importantly, to lead a healthier life, will make a world of a change. Consider improving indoor air quality as a top priority!