IS INDOOR POLLUTION ONE OF THE GREATEST HEALTH RISK OF OUR TIMES?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that our indoor environment is up to five times more harmful than the outdoor air. According to the WHO, 12.6 million people died in the year 2012 as a result of indoor air pollution. Over 50% of premature deaths include children under the age of five years. The leading cause of their death is pneumonia that occurs due to the inhalation of fine particulate matter at home.
We all know that smoke, dust, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur oxide and lead are the major outdoor air pollutants which not only affects the environment in a detrimental manner but also our health. We follow numerous precautions when we step outside from applying sunscreen to wearing face-masks. Food for thought- how many times were you standing in your balcony to breathe in fresh air or simply open your windows for ventilation and end up chucking the idea almost immediately?
We tend to assume that staying at home is a better solution from the dusty-smoky outdoors , but is it really as safe as we think?
So maybe you don’t smoke, use a wood-burning stove or even live near an industrial plant. But that’s not where it ends. Indoor air pollution can be fatal too. To name a few-Stroke, Asthma, Pneumonia, COPD(Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Ischemic Heart Disease and Lung Cancer are the most common causes of premature deaths in the world.
Let’s look into the common sources of indoor air pollution.
- Formaldehyde, asbestos and PCB
As much as we don’t want to associate these terms with our living rooms, odds are we do come across one of these three in our home everyday. Spooky enough, eh? Formaldehyde is used by industries for the manufacture of building materials and seen in our homes in cabinets, shelves, flooring, shelves as well as in adhesives and paints. The production of PCB and asbestos is banned, however it is still found in sealants, paints, wires, tiles, insulation materials and wooden floor finishings. Exposure to the vapor of these toxic chemicals causes dizziness, nausea, rashes, headaches, irritation to the mucous membranes of the eyes, coughing, severe allergic reactions and sometimes may impair the nervous system.
- Air fresheners and Plastic products
Air fresheners release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as nitrogen dioxide and paradichlorobenzene(also found in mothballs). Studies reveal that these chemicals can reduce the lung capacity and cause respiratory diseases. Excessive exposure may lead to asthma and cancer.
Certain cosmetics, plastics and air fresheners contain a toxic chemical known as phlatates are used to dissolve fragrance, have serious and detrimental health effects which include fluctuations in the hormone levels, lower sperm count, birth defects and reproductive issues. A certain type of phthalate(DEHP) found in air fresheners is also linked as a human carcinogen.
- Tobacco Smoke
Tobacco smoke contains more than 5000 chemicals including 43 carcinogenic agents and 400 toxins! As risky tobacco smoke is, the inhalation of passive smoke or Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) leads to stroke, heart disease and lung cancer in non-smokers. The maximum cases of lung cancer are caused by tobacco smoke-active or secondhand. Around six million people die every year due to smoking, including non-smokers who were exposed to passive smoke. In children, tobacco causes bronchitis, pneumonia, severe asthma attacks, ear infections and an increase in a risk of SIDS(Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
- Inadequate ventilation
Inadequate ventilation is one of the primary reason which leads to air pollution in homes. Keeping windows and doors closed the entire day (especially in winters) prevents fresh air from circulating within the house and also traps odors, smells and stale air. Moisture tends to build within the house which in turn contributes to the formation of indoor mold growth. Mold not only degrades the air quality but also has a detrimental effect on our health. It is associated with severe allergic reactions (sneezing, runny nose, skin rash and red eyes) and infections especially in immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung disease and asthma.
- New carpet
Yes, new carpets. It may come to you as a surprise but brand new carpets can harbor dust, bacteria, allergens and harmful chemicals that many lead to health issues. It is in fact pretty common for people to experience certain health effects like rashes, fatigue, red eyes, persistent cough, difficulty in breathing, allergic reaction and irritation of the nose. The adhesives and dyes are known to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Also, older carpets accumulate toxins (smoke, dust, mites, pesticides and chemicals) over time and tend to slowly release these toxins causing respiratory issues on exposure for a long time.
How can I fight indoor air pollution and improve the air quality at home?
- Ensure proper ventilation. Keep doors and windows open for at least an hour in the morning. Condensation and moisture are the main factors which contribute to the formation of mold, mildew and structural damage to wood. Thus, ventilation will keep the moisture levels under control.
- Avoid smoking indoors. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 toxins. It raises the risk of stroke, lung cancer and heart disease. Not to mention the exposure of secondhand smoke causes SIDS(Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), asthma, allergic reactions, ear infections and pneumonia in young children. The best thing to do is to stop smoking. However if your smoking habit has relapsed, make sure you smoke outside.
- Clean the air filter of the air conditioner, heater, air purifier, humidifier and vacuum in your home regularly.
- Wipe, scrub and mop. Daily dusting and mopping will keep many diseases at bay. Make sure you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter-prevents the flow of dust and other particles out in the exhaust.
- Keep the humidity level at bay. To reduce or eliminate the growth of mold and dust mites, the in-home humidity level should be between 30 to 50%. If it goes over 50% or under 30%, you are inviting the pesky mold into your home. How can you keep track of the humidity level? With the help of a dehumidifier. It will reduce the indoor moisture and allergens.
- Say no to synthetic fragrances. Apparently we are surrounded by air fresheners, perfumes and laundry products which emit several chemicals in the air we breathe. The repeated exposure to these chemicals can trigger asthma and allergic reactions. Opt for natural fragrances instead.
- Bring houseplants indoors. There are certain air-filtering plants that you ought to grow in your home to reduce fatigue, build concentration, remove toxins and purify the stale air. Aloe vera, bamboo palm, spider plant, dracaenas, rubber plants and english ivy are a few to name. According to NASA, two to three plants should be kept at every 100 square feet.