I.A.Q., or Indoor Air Quality, is an often underestimated issue. Not many homeowners know how to properly take care of their environment, but the problem does not only revolve around homes. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), people actually spend 90% of their time indoors, where the pollutants can actually be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors. Needless to say, this applies to any building we spend time in, be it your apartment, your office/workplace, or even schools, hospitals and means of transport.
One may think of air pollution as a problem commonly associated with the outdoors, but truth is, air inside buildings is often more polluted. But what exactly are the threats related to a bad Indoor air quality? Symptoms can stem from mild ones, such as impaired concentration and decision-making, sleep disorder, headaches and eyes, nose and throat irritation, to the more severe, that include chronic migraines, asthma, lung cancer and alterations to the immune and nervous system. In Europe, 90.000 deaths are linked every year to indoor air pollution.
In a closed environment, numerous chemicals and other harmful compounds are continuously released into the air we breathe. And while some of these pollutants originate outdoors, most of them actually come from indoor sources.
Outdoor pollutants can enter buildings through ventilation, open windows and structural cracks, as well as when people enter the building inadvertently bringing in dust and contaminants from the outside.
Indoor pollutants can come from combustion sources as well as chemical ones, originating from the products we use. Building materials and new furniture can also contribute to the problem, releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your air.
An insufficient ventilation or an unconcerned occupant behaviour can also lead to a considerable increase in the pollutants concentration. But let’s see what are the main sources of harm to your indoor air quality:
Fireplaces, stoves, boilers, and furnaces are among the most common sources of potentially harmful and toxic air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles.
Recent studies show that continuous exposure even to low concentrations of Carbon Monoxide (also known as the silent killer) can, for instance, increase the risks of developing asthma and may cause long lasting heart damage. During pregnancies, chronic exposure can lead to low birth weight and damage to the fetal brain. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1.5 million deaths each year are estimated to be associated with indoor byproducts of combustion, mostly among women and children in underdeveloped countries.
Microbial pollution is one of the main sources of indoor air pollution. It mainly includes molds, the most common forms of fungi, able to grow on almost any material. They reproduce through spores – that can be found both indoors and outdoors – and begin growing when they land on a moist surface. Indoors, mold growth is primarily caused by an excess of moisture, excessive heating and/or lack of ventilation. A prolonged exposure to mold-contaminated materials may cause allergic reactions and other adverse health effects. Other contaminants of natural origin include radon (a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that seeps into buildings from the surrounding soil and can cause lung cancer in the long run) and pet dander.
Cleaning supplies, disinfectants and aerosols as well as cosmetic and hobby products release potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Not to be underestimated is also the use of pesticides, air fresheners and cleaners containing fragrances, ammonia or chlorine. Constant and sometimes unnecessary cleaning may have various effects on your health, ranging from irritation to eyes, throat and nose, to strong headaches. In more severe cases, long-term effects might arise, including damage to liver or kidneys and pathologies of the nervous system.
Non-natural paints, varnish, adhesives, wall boards, ceiling tiles and pressed-wood as well as resins and insulation materials release dangerous VOCs, such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, pienene, benzene and toluene. Health effects from exposure to high concentrations of VOCs include headaches and irritation to the eyes and throat, which often develop soon after exposure. However, recent studies looking at longer-term exposure have shown a correlation between formaldehyde and leukemia as well as an increased risk of brain cancer development.
While being a health issue for everyone, those more at risk are often young children and elders. The former don’t have fully developed lungs yet and breathe up to three times more per kilogram of body weight than adults, while the latter tend to spend even more time inside than normal, resulting in increased exposure to airborne pollutants.
What you can’t see can still harm you, and prevention is key to controlling indoor air pollution. Of course, the first thing to do is monitoring, an essential task to maintain a healthier home. Having a clear view on your environment is key to understanding if and what is threatening your health and where the invisible issues may be hiding, but actions need to be taken both for prevention and recovery.
About The Author:
Airgloss combines leading-edge technology with the commitment to offer new solutions for healthier environments, placing useful innovation within everyone’s reach. We designed a unique gas sensing technology for indoor environmental monitoring, a versatile solution with the ability to detect a wide range of airborne contaminants and automatically control HVAC and air purification systems, to improve indoor air quality, energy efficiency and provide healthier living spaces.
EPA's Report on the Environment
WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality
EPA - Rules and Regulations That Impact Children's Health
A Study of Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement
Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Pediatrics and Child health