When we think of pollution, we often think about external or environmental causes. However, the harmful effects of indoor pollution continue to grow without us even knowing it. With that, here are just some of the ways indoor pollution can impact our health and tips on purifying the air in your home.
What do the numbers say?
According to the World Health Organization, about 2.6 billion people still cook using open fires, kerosene, coal, and biomass (wood, animal dung, and crop waste). These damaging methods have led to almost 4 million deaths, often causing chronic diseases such as stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. Another saddening statistic is that half of the deaths due to pneumonia in children under five years old are often due to soot inhaled in household air pollution. Clearly, indoor pollution is a dangerous threat to our health, apart from environmental irritants.
What is indoor air pollution?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) as “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.” Indoor air pollution can have both immediate and long-term effects, which is why it is so important to identify and address common irritants indoors. Doing so can knock down your risk of disease and other health concerns.
How indoor air pollutions impacts health
Indoor air pollution causes significant health problems. Some people may manifest symptoms immediately upon exposure to a pollutant. These include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to get through your day while experiencing these symptoms? In addition, for people with asthma or allergies, such pollutants may aggravate their condition further.
Other health problems may occur years after exposure to indoor pollutants. For example, lung disease, heart disease, and even cancer are lifelong and debilitating. Hence, you will benefit in the long run if you identify and address sources of indoor pollution as soon as possible.
Common Causes of Indoor Air Pollution
Numerous substances can cause disease, especially indoors. Here are just some of the usual culprits that may be causing pollution in your home, as well as how they cause disease:
Elements, minerals, and the like
- Asbestos – This is a fibrous mineral that is widely used in insulation, fireproofing, and floor tiles at home. Inhaled asbestos fibers can lodge into your lungs and cause lung cancer.
- Bacteria and viruses – These organisms travel through the air and cause diseases like cough, colds, influenza, tuberculosis, and even COVID-19. They are most likely to cause infection in crowded areas with poor ventilation.
- Carbon Monoxide – This is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced when you burn fuels like gasoline, kerosene, wood, or charcoal. Common sources include gas appliances, fireplaces, coal furnaces, and automobile exhaust fumes. Carbon monoxide can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and even permanent physical and mental problems.
- Lead – This is a toxic metal often found in gasoline, paint, pipes, and fertilizers. When it accumulates in your body, it can harm your cognitive functions, cause behavioral problems, paralysis, abdominal pain, vomiting, and even death.
Things around the house
- Building and paint products – The fumes or dust emitted during painting or construction can cause cancer. These harmful substances may often be found in building materials like plywood or furniture, as well as paints, adhesives, and solvents.
- Cleaning supplies and household chemicals – These products can lead to eye and throat irritation, headaches, and even cancer. Toxic substances can be found in aerosol sprays, air fresheners, chlorine bleach, detergent, furniture or floor polish, and rug or upholstery cleaners.
- Dust mites and dust – These pests can trigger allergic reactions and asthma. They often live in bedding, mattresses, carpets, and curtains. They survive by feeding off your dead skin cells found in dust.
- Flood and water damage – Flood water can have sewage, oils, garbage, dead animals, and chemicals that can linger in your home and cause disease. Without electricity, people tend to use gasoline, charcoal stoves, or burn charcoal that can also cause harm.
- Mold and dampness – Mold is often present everywhere indoors. It can cause allergic reactions and asthma, resulting in coughing, wheezing, sneezing, and nasal congestion.
- Pet dander – This refers to the bits of skin shed by cats, dogs, rodents, birds, and other pets. It may trigger allergies or asthma. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, chest tightness, itching, and rashes.
- Residential wood burning – When you burn wood, it releases harmful substances. These can cause coughing, wheezing, asthma, heart attacks, lung cancer, and even premature death. These pollutants include particle pollution, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compounds. Since burning wood releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, it also negatively contributes to climate change.
- Secondhand smoke – We often think that we are in the clear just because we do not smoke. However, the inhaled smoke from other household members cause about 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year. Secondhand smoke contains toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, arsenic ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide, all of which are harmful to our bodies.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, you now have a good idea of the most common causes of indoor air pollution and how they cause disease. This information can not only help you readily identify possible pollutants harming you but will positively affect your health in the long term.
Is your air at home unhealthy?
The best way to assess the cleanliness of the air at home is to use all your senses. Here are some questions you should ask to check whether there is indoor air pollution:
- Do people smoke indoors?
- Can you see or smell mold?
- Is humidity above 50%?
- Are there any leaks?
- Are chemicals, paints, or solvents properly stored?
- Have you recently remodeled or added new furniture or carpets?
- Has garbage been disposed of adequately?
- Have you used pesticides recently?
The answers to these questions can help you decide if you need to take measures to purify the air at home. Asking these early on can help prevent disease and other complications later down the line.
Tips for Cleaner Air at Home
Knowing all this, improving the air quality in your home should be a top priority. Here are some ways you can ensure cleaner and healthier air indoors:
- Ensure your home is a smoke-free zone. Ask smokers to go outside.
- Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to keep humidity levels below 50%.
- Repair any leaks or drips since these are ideal conditions for mold to grow.
- Avoid burning wood as it causes both indoor and outdoor pollution.
- Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows to let out any harmful pollutants.
- Read the labels of the cleaning and household products that you use. Store them in a shed outside or the garage.
Hopefully, these measures can purify the air at home and reduce the risk of harmful diseases. This is particularly relevant in this time of pandemic, where we spend most of our time at home. And so, the least we can do is ensure that the air we breathe at home is clean and safe.