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Understanding Indoor Air Pollution and How One can Manage It

By Edited Jun 5, 2016 1 0
smog
Credit: Petr kratochvil

From: publicdomainpictures.net

Air pollution is one of today’s growing environmental problems. Most of you might think that this problem is only centralized outdoors or in urbanized areas. But, the truth is, indoor air pollution is also prevalent in today’s society. There are numerous factors that may cause this. Nonetheless, there are also numerous ways for you to manage or deal with this environmental problem. How? You will know more as you read along. 

Common indoor air pollutants

By definition, air pollution is when the oxygen we breathe becomes harmful not only to humans but to every living thing. This is mainly due to dirt, toxic chemicals and other contaminants that are continually released through industrialization, by human beings or by nature itself. When it comes to indoor air pollution, did you know that it is far worse than the situation outdoors? According to several studies, unlike open spaces where gaseous compounds can disperse freely, the air inside our homes or buildings are typically enclosed. This can lead to a massive build-up of pollutants or contaminants. This is also true even if you live in far-flung areas where smog or other pollutants are not commonly seen. How so? To give you a better view, here is a list of  the most common pollutants inside your homes and workplaces.

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC) - VOC are gaseous compounds produced by either a solid or liquid substance like paint, household cleaning solutions, some cosmetic products and office supplies. As of today, these volatile compounds are the most common indoor air pollutants present at home or in your workplaces. In fact, studies have shown that the concentration of these compounds is statistically higher indoors than outdoors. This is mainly because of poor ventilation as explained above. 
  • Biological contaminants - Pollution is always associated with toxic chemicals. But, did you know that there are also living things that are also considered pollutants. Biological contaminant is another common cause of indoor air pollution. Basically, microorganisms like molds, viruses or bacteria and pests like cockroaches or mites belong in this category. But, pollens and animal dander also belong in this group. As you know, almost all of these examples can cause either an infectious disease or allergies that are typically transmitted through air. 
  • Toxic chemicals - Aside from volatile organic compounds (VOC), there are many more chemicals present in your homes or workplaces that contaminates the oxygen you breathe. Formaldehyde, asbestos, lead (Pb) and carbon monoxide (CO) are some of the toxic chemicals that may or may not be present in your homes and other infrastructures. These compounds can cause several ailments and death if ingested or inhaled in high concentrations.
  • Products that cause combustion - Combustion is a chemical process wherein energy either in the form of light or heat is typically produced. How is this a problem? Basically, through combustion, carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide and other harmful particles may also be formed. These chemical compounds and particles can harm your body especially your respiratory system. With that being said; gas or wood stoves, fireplaces and gas space heaters are the most common indoor equipment that causes combustion.
  • Tobacco smoke - Lastly, this list of indoor air pollutants will not be completed without tobacco smoke. It is a widely known fact that cigarette or tobacco is detrimental to one's health. For non-smokers, always keep in mind that inhaling secondhand smoke can also harm your health.

Effects of indoor air pollution

If you’ve heard about sick building syndrome, indoor air pollutants is one of the main reasons for this phenomenon. To explain this syndrome further, there are certain symptoms such as headache, cough, fatigue, skin irritations and many more that a person may experience upon entering a certain building. The enigmatic part is, after leaving that specific area, these symptoms will automatically disappear.

Respiratory ailments are the most common problems you may experience with poor air quality indoors especially for individuals with allergies or asthma. This may range from allergic reactions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory tract infections and worse you may also develop lung or other types of cancer.

Aside from those mentioned above, there are other diseases related to indoor air pollution. Hepatoxicity or simply liver damage is one of the dreadful effects of prolonged exposure to volatile organic compound (VOC). Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can also be fatal especially in high concentrations since it decreases oxygen circulation in the body. 

no smoking
Credit: Maliz Ong

From: publicdomainpictures.net

Ways to improve air quality indoors

Improving air quality is not hard. It will not even cost you a lot of money. However, to achieve this, you have to do most of these tasks on a regular basis. So, what are some ways to improve air quality at home or in your workplaces? 

  • Maintaining cleanliness is the most important step to make sure excellent quality of air in your homes and offices. First, you have to guarantee your floor and furnishings including mattresses are free from any dirt, allergens, bacteria and mites by vacuuming and mopping these things regularly. Your bed sheets should also be changed at least once a week. Lastly, dispose all biodegradable products that have signs of decay. Not only does these products produce a foul smell they will also attract microorganisms and flies. 
  • Next is to keep indoor humidity within the range of 30 to 50%. As you know, mold including dust mites love a very humid environment. This can be troublesome for people with allergies. You can guarantee that your home or workplaces' humidity is within the healthy level by making sure that you have proper ventilation, using dehumidifiers and fixing leaky pipes immediately.

  • Third, is to avoid using VOC containing products especially those mentioned above. Air fresheners, for example, contain certain amounts of volatile compounds. For that reason, you can opt for health-friendly products like baking soda, lemon and other natural scented products to freshen your homes. Another option you can do is to place indoor plants. It can help purify air. You can read more about the benefits of placing plants in your homes in this article

  • Finally, promoting a smoke-free zone or environment is an excellent way to avoid exposure to tobacco smoke. If you are a smoker or your house guest smokes, it is preferable to do it outdoors. It is even better if you consider quitting this unhealthy habit.
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Bibliography

  1. "Air Pollution." World Health Organization. 14/06/2013 <Web >
  2. Jennifer Horton "How Indoor Air Pollution Works." HowStuffWorks. 14/06/2013 <Web >
  3. "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality." United States Environmental Protection Agency. 14/06/2013 <Web >
  4. Jeanie Lerche Davis "Breathe Easy: 5 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality." Web MD. 14/06/2013 <Web >

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