What comes to your mind when you think of air pollution? Is it exhaust from cars, trucks, buses, and planes? Factories expelling dark grey smoke? The truth is, pollution is everywhere; it does not matter if you are in a big city or a remote village somewhere in the universe. How do indoor vs outdoor air pollution compare?

The discharge of different gases, finely divided solids, or finely dispersed liquid aerosols into the atmosphere at rates greater than the atmosphere’s natural capacity to dissipate and absorb them is known as air pollution.

Pollution affects the air we breathe. But because we cannot cease breathing, we can take steps to improve the quality of our air, and worldwide action is increasing on all levels. However, to fully clean the air indoor and outdoor, we must first understand our silent killer and what we can do to battle it.

What is indoor and outdoor pollution?

Indoor air pollution is the dust, filth, or gases in the air inside structures such as your house or workplace that are potentially unhealthy to breathe. In the developing world, household air pollution is one of the primary causes of sickness and early mortality.

Outdoor air pollution, also known as ambient air pollution, is the contamination of the ambient air with chemical substances, gases, and particulate matter. Outdoor air pollution is one of the most significant public health issues affecting people in low-, middle-, and high-income countries alike.

Let us look at some of the major air pollutants that infiltrate indoors and outdoors.

  • Particulate matter (PM): tiny fragments of solid and liquid nature, including carbon, complex organic chemicals, sulfates, nitrates, mineral dust, and water suspended in the air.
  • Nitrogen dioxide: Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that contributes significantly to urban air pollution.
  • Ozone: Ozone is a colorless, odorless gas that forms a protective barrier in the stratosphere against ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. However, it is a pollutant in the troposphere with various impacts.
  • Sulfur dioxide: Sulphur dioxide is a colorless gas with a stifling, unpleasant odor. It forms when burning sulfur-containing fuels like coal and oil.
  • Carbon monoxide: This is a poisonous gas with no smell or taste but can kill you within a few hours.

What are the sources of indoor pollution vs outdoor pollution?

Sources of Indoor Air Pollutants

A Man Smoking while Lying Down

Many people do not understand indoor air pollution as well as pollution outside. Although some pollutants originate outside, the bulk of contaminants that degrade indoor air quality come from sources inside buildings, such as:

  • Particulate particles, smells, emissions, and pathogens are all drawn in by outdoor air.
  • Mold, pollen, castor bean dust, and soybean dust are examples of biological pollutants. For example, bathroom and laundry rooms can become breeding grounds for indoor pollutants due to excessive humidity and condensation from hot showers, baths, leaks, and poor caulking, leading to airborne mold spores and mildew that are harmful to human health.
  • Natural indoor pollution is caused by heat sources used in the kitchen to cook. Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other dangerous chemicals are released into the air by natural gas and stoves, which can be harmful to your health.
  • Cigarette smoke, dust mites, cockroach allergens, pet dander, furniture and carpets, paint, varnishes, and diesel particles
  • Some of the ways your laundry room is polluted include chemicals in cleaning goods and the simple act of hanging damp clothes on indoor garment racks.
  • Air conditioning.
  • Consumer products such as cosmetics, perfumes.
  • Construction and furniture components which may contain Asbestos, formaldehyde,

Sources of Outdoor Air Pollutants

These sources occur both as natural and anthropogenic however human activities have an increasingly significant impact due to rapid urbanization and industrialization taking place all over the globe. These sources include:

  • Fuel combustion occurring in vehicles in the transportation industry
  • In the power generation of metropolitan areas
  • Combustion of municipal and agricultural waste
  • Industrial activities
  • Cooking and heating energy in the home; Burning dung, wood, or coal in inefficient stoves or open hearths produces several hazardous gases that are harmful to one’s health, including methane, carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and volatile organic compounds (VOC), as well as nitrogen oxide.
ship on body of water at night

How does outdoor air pollution affect indoor air quality?

It isn’t easy to answer this question. In other words, there are several aspects to consider, and there is no simple way to determine how much your home is affected by outside circumstances. Research studies attempted to characterize the link between outside and indoor air.

Outdoor air pollution from traffic emissions and wildfires dramatically enhanced indoor air pollutant concentrations due to infiltration and natural ventilation, according to a study of 28 low-income dwellings.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment, outdoor climate and weather conditions, as well as human behaviour, can have an impact on indoor air quality. For example, climatic conditions might enhance the potential for indoor moisture and mold growth if not regulated by proper ventilation or air conditioning.

Why is indoor or outdoor pollution a concern?

Air pollution is considered one of the primary global causes of death. According to the WHO, it accounts for about seven million deaths worldwide every year. With this figure, ambient air pollution alone accounts for an estimated 4.2 million deaths per year, while indoor air pollution bags 3.8 million premature deaths a year. Alarming, right?

Sadly, according to WHO data, nine out of ten people live and breathe in areas where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits. Pollution levels are high in many locations, with low- and middle-income countries bearing the brunt of the effects.

A common effect, “Sick building syndrome,” for example, arises when building occupiers report comparable symptoms after entering a specific facility, with the symptoms reducing or resolving once they depart. Building indoor air quality ranges are increasingly being blamed for these illnesses.

Indoor or outdoor, poor air quality can make it difficult for your lungs to work properly, resulting in serious health implications. Ozone, for example, can irritate the airways of healthy people and people with lung diseases. High amounts can make breathing difficult, decrease lung capacity (the amount of air your lungs can carry), and exacerbate asthma symptoms.

Because their lungs are still developing, children are especially vulnerable to poor indoor air quality, hence why indoor pollution accounts for so many deaths mentioned earlier.

Scientific research has associated air pollution with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections, and respiratory allergies.

Stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and acute and chronic respiratory disorders are all severe cases of outdoor pollution.

Which type of pollution is more harmful, indoor or outdoor air pollution?

The question of which is worse, interior or outside pollution, arises frequently. The types and quantities of contaminants in the air pollution mixture to which an individual is exposed determine the health effects of exposure to ambient air pollution or domestic air pollution.

On the one hand, due to their similar composition, the health hazards and disease processes associated with ambient and domestic air pollution exposure are frequently identical.

On the other hand, indoor air pollution levels are generally 2 to 5 times greater than outdoor levels, and in extreme circumstances, can surpass 100 times higher than outdoor levels of the same pollutants, according to the EPA.

How to minimize indoor vs outdoor pollution

Now that you have understood where air pollution comes from, below are a few ways you can help reduce it and make breathing a little easier.

Minimizing indoor pollution

Avoid smoking indoors, and for maximum health benefit, quit smoking.

Did you know that by reducing consumption of meat and dairy products, individuals can help cut harmful methane emissions?

Control the sources emitting pollutant i.e

  • Do a radon test in your home because this naturally occurring radioactive gas can seep from the ground into buildings and accumulate to harmful levels in some geographic regions.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, especially if you have places where combustion occurs like fireplaces, stoves, or hearths.
  • Wash bedding in hot water once a week
  • Reduce the amount of air freshener you use.
  • Make sure the exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchen are working.
  • Keep scent candles covered.
  • Repair any water leaks.
  • Make sure your gas stove has proper ventilation.
  • Reduce the amount of clutter in your home.
  • If at all possible, remove the carpeting.
  • Vacuum frequently to remove dust from surfaces.
  • To minimize moisture, use a dehumidifier or an air conditioner.
  • To avoid attracting bugs, keep rubbish covered.
  • Use crafting equipment (such as sewing, welding or woodworking tools) only in well-ventilated environments.
  • Have your car’s emissions checked regularly.

Minimizing outdoor pollution

According to a fast scenario analysis conducted by WHO, it is possible to avert about 80% of global fatalities linked to PM2.5  if current air pollution levels decrease to those indicated in the new guideline.

Despite concerns about pollution from human sources, our civilization continues to rely significantly on fossil fuels for various purposes, including energy generation, transportation, industrial and home heating, and so on, most especially in developing countries.

The following interventions have been put in place to minimize ambient air pollution globally:

  • Inefficient heating stoves are being replaced with more efficient, cleaner-burning burners.
  • Vehicle regulations to reduce traffic 
  • fuel standards for cars, buses, and other motorized vehicles
  • industrial laws to limit pollution from factories 

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