Indoor Air Pollution, Explained
One of the hidden dangers inside our homes and offices is contaminated air. This invisible danger is pervasive and elusive yet has a direct impact on our health. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 4.2 million people die prematurely as a result of indoor air pollution.
The fact is that indoor air pollution poses an even greater risk than outdoor air pollution since we spend, on average, 90% of our time indoors. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution in the top five of high environmental threats. With such serious health implications, it's essential to learn more about indoor air pollution, and even more so, what can be done to mitigate its effects.
What Is Indoor Air Pollution?
Most people are aware of the dangers of pollutants in the external environment but indoor pollution is also a serious global concern. Indoor pollution occurs when gasses or particles are released inside and trapped there due to a lack of ventilation. This creates a compromised indoor environment and poses serious potential health risks. Factors that can increase indoor air pollution include high temperatures and elevated humidity levels.
Once the air has become contaminated, it is inhaled into the lungs causing issues such as lung disease, heart problems, and even Cancer. The elderly and the very young are most susceptible to the health dangers posed by indoor air pollution. Although dangerous, it is also insidious as symptoms may not be readily apparent for many years. This is why it is essential to be proactive about indoor air quality and to use the products and resources available to take steps in mitigating and eliminating indoor contaminants.
What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?
Indoor air pollution is a result of contaminants released from smoking, cooking, excess moisture, spray paints, and other anthropogenic sources inside the home. These pollutants include volatile organic compounds, mold, particulate matter, radon, carbon monoxide, and ozone. These harmful emissions wouldn’t pose a problem if they were able to escape outdoors regularly. However, in an under-ventilated home, the pollutants lack circulation and build up in the indoor environment resulting in indoor air pollution.
The rate at which air from outside replaces the air from indoors is referred to as the air exchange rate. With a lack of ventilation, there is a low air exchange rate and this is the primary reason that indoor air pollution occurs.
Types of Contaminants
Exploring how indoor air pollution occurs is the precursor to pinpointing the culprits causing contaminants to enter the home in the first place. Below are some of the most common pollutants that are compromising the integrity of indoor air quality.
One of the most common indoor air pollutants is particulate matter (PM) which comes from cooking stoves. This is very rampant in countries that are still developing as many of the women and children use coal, wood, and even dung to cook indoors. High-level exposure to particulate matter can result in many different health issues including heart disease, asthma, and respiratory infections. According to the World Health Organization, over 4.3 million deaths each year, mostly in women and children, can be attributed to indoor air pollution from cooking stoves.
However, studies show that air quality contamination from cooking isn’t only limited to developing countries. They indicate that 20% of global ambient air pollution and over 50% of local pollution can be attributed to home energy use and cookstoves.
Cigar and cigarette smoke is a major source of indoor air pollution and is one of the most common culprits. Tobacco smoke has 70 carcinogenic chemicals and inhaling these can lead to serious lung disease and heart damage. Children and adults breathing in secondhand smoke are also at risk for many different health concerns. About 7,300 yearly deaths from lung cancer in the U.S. are from nonsmoking adults. Tobacco smoke is easily one of the most deadly and dangerous indoor pollutants in homes worldwide.
Another indoor air pollutant is carbon monoxide. Common sources of carbon monoxide include gas and kerosene space heaters, furnaces, chimneys, gas water heaters, fireplaces, gas stoves, and woodstoves. If the home has an attached garage, escaping vehicle exhaust fumes can enter the home and raise carbon monoxide levels inside.
Carbon monoxide can result in fatigue and lightheadedness and for those suffering from heart disease, it can cause chest pain. At high levels, carbon monoxide results in impaired vision, confusion, and nausea and at higher levels, it is fatal.
When there is excess moisture in the interior environment, this can create an atmosphere that is conducive to mold growth. Mold grows in moist, humid, and dark settings and is usually apparent on ceilings, floors, and walls. Mold results in a myriad of health concerns including respiratory infections, allergies, and asthma.
Indoor Air Pollution and Your Health
Indoor air pollution negatively affects your health as it causes a variety of health concerns that can sometimes not show up for many years. Improving indoor air quality (IAQ) is the most effective way to avoid health issues caused by pollutants in your home or office.
Immediate Effects of Indoor Pollution
There are immediate effects that can occur when someone is exposed to a contaminant in the air. This can happen following a single exposure or after several instances of being exposed to the pollutant. Some of the immediate symptoms include dizziness, headaches, asthmatic responses, and irritation in the nose, throat, and eyes. The most immediate remedy is to leave the space that caused the reaction, however, when this space is within a home or place or business, the solution will need to be more in-depth.
There are long-term effects of indoor air pollutants that should also be considered as these are often not readily apparent. These health concerns can show up years after extended exposure to the contaminants. Some of the long-term effects include respiratory illnesses, heart disease, Cancer, and lung cancer.
Although there is no doubt that there are both short and long-term effects of indoor air pollution, it is difficult to determine the concentration and length of exposure that results in these health issues. In addition, people react differently to various exposures which affect whether or not they develop certain health conditions.
How Can Indoor Air Pollution Be Mitigated?
Although indoor air pollution is more common than we may have thought, there are steps homeowners and property owners can take to mitigate indoor air pollution. These include small changes as well as large-scale measures to improve the quality of the air indoors. Some of the ways to mitigate indoor air pollution include:
Increase the level of ventilation - Installing fans that vent to the outdoors in bathrooms and kitchens.
Use plant based cleaners - Environmentally friendly cleaners made from natural ingredients like essential oils, citrus fruit, and vinegar can reduce indoor air pollution.
Dry and clean indoor spaces - A clean and dry environment indoors is less likely to produce mold. Make sure to repair leaks as soon as they occur to reduce the moisture content in the air.
Use air purifiers - With an air purifier, pollutants such as dander, dust, pollen, and mold spores are more easily eliminated. An advanced, high-quality air purifier such as Sensibo Pure, offered by Sensibo helps to remove harmful pollutants using strong Carbon and HEPA filters that can detect and remove particles as small as 0.1um.
Monitor indoor air quality - By monitoring the quality of the air indoors, it’s easier to detect harmful levels of pollutants before they affect your health. Sensibo offers a smart indoor air quality monitor that links to any smartphone and delivers pollution readings, alerts, and a live air quality score 24/7.
Upgrade to a Smart HVAC - HVAC units are one of the main contributors to environmental pollutants which is why upgrading to a smart HVAC unit makes the most sense. One of the leading smart HVAC solutions available is Sensibo Air Pro. This unit can monitor indoor air quality while effectively managing your home’s climate.
Indoor air pollution is a genuine concern that has resulted in compromised health and even the loss of millions of lives. However, there are several smart technological solutions on the market that remove indoor air pollutants and monitor indoor air quality. They feature sensors that work with precision to detect the presence of harmful contaminants so they can be removed before causing any long-term harm.
The future of indoor air quality lies in the hands of smart, environmental technology that can create an intelligent home with a healthy and optimized indoor environment.
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About the Author
Jordan Steinberg | Head of Content
Jordan Steinberg is Head of Content at Sensibo.
About the Author
Joey Mezistrano -Product Manager
Joey Mezistrano is Product Manager at Sensibo.