For decades we’ve been hearing about the terrible health problems caused by exposure to air pollution.
But the emphasis has always been on outdoor air pollution, which is a bit shortsighted since most of us spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors. Indoor pollution is just as common as its outdoor counterpart, and under certain circumstances it can be just as hazardous, too.
Indoor pollution is everywhere. But it puts us at risk most frequently in our homes and in the workplace, the two locations where we spend the majority of our time.
Identifying the Causes of Indoor Air Pollution
There are two primary causes of indoor air pollution: poor ventilation and the presence of chemical contaminants or allergens.
Windows and doors are our main sources of ventilation. When they are kept closed most of the time it becomes difficult for air to circulate and excessive accumulation of indoor pollutants may be the result. Airtight insulation layers can also contribute to the problem, even as they help us reduce our heating and cooling bills.
Of course pollutants have to be present to accumulate, and most homes or apartments are chock full of potential sources of aerial contamination. Pet dander, cleaning chemicals, nearby industrial or agricultural operations, old peeling paint, airborne bacteria, mold on the walls, fumes from an adjacent garage, collections of old newspapers or magazines—the list of potential villains goes on and on.
What are the Health Effects?
Some of the potential health effects of compromised indoor air quality include:
- Asthma attacks
- Greater vulnerability to colds and the flu
- Sudden onset of new allergies
- Itchy eyes, throats or noses
- Rashes or other types of skin conditions
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Unexplained feelings of fatigue and exhaustion
When these symptoms are experienced by multiple occupants in larger buildings this is often referred to as “Sick Building Syndrome,” or SBS. In some instances SBS has been linked to increased risk for cancer or other serious diseases, although thankfully nothing so extreme occurs in most cases.
If ventilation is a problem, the addition of extra windows, wall vents and screen doors can help improve air flow. In some instances home remodeling projects that increase open interior space can change air circulation patterns for the better as well. Fans are always recommended, and ceiling fans and whole-house fans in particular can make an impact when improved air movement is desired.
Indoor air quality (IAQ) monitoring systems are growing increasingly popular among those responsible for controlling air pollution in commercial or public facilities. These ingenious detection systems can identify air contamination problems and even help locate “hot spots” that might be the source of Sick Building Syndrome.
When they’re functioning properly HVAC systems have a constructive role to play in the reduction of interior air pollution. Semiannual maintenance cleanings, regular replacement of air filters (monthly or bimonthly, with filters that have MERV ratings of 11 or better) and the incorporation of a bacteria/mold/fungus-smiting UV lamp can all help reduce indoor air contamination by a fairly significant amount.
Take a Stand Now
Bad indoor air quality is the enemy of good health. All pollution is destructive regardless of where you encounter it, and if your primary sources of exposure are your home or your workplace you and/or your employer should take action to counteract this bleak situation as soon as possible.
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