Find out what you could be breathing as you are reading this – what types of indoor air pollutants may be in your home, how pollutants affect your health, and how you can address sources of pollutants.
Living in a modern society, you’ll more often than not find yourself spending your time indoors. This isn’t a surprise as we’ve mentioned in a previous post, the average Thai spends over 87% of their time indoors.
This can either be at home, work, or public buildings such as schools, malls, or restaurants. Unfortunately, this means you and your family are constantly exposed to potential indoor pollution. According to the EPA, indoor air can be up to 9 times and in some cases up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air.
Primary Indoor Air Pollutants and Their Sources
These are a wide range of liquid or solid particles suspended in a gaseous medium with wide ranging sizes, from 0.001 micron living microorganisms such as viruses, to larger particles such as pet dander from dogs and cats, or cockroach body parts and droppings. Other common bio aerosols are bacteria, mold spores, and various microbial organisms. Bio aerosols are known to be a primary cause for allergy symptoms and asthma exacerbation.
There are many sources of these pollutants – pollen from plants, airborne pathogens (viruses, bacteria) transmitted by people and animals, dust and dander from animals, as well as mold spores from damp surfaces. The level of these organic pollutants highly depends upon location and living situation.
An important bio aerosol to point out is mold. Did you know that the occasional water leak in your house can radically degrade the indoor air quality? A study from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab estimates that about 67% of housing units in Thailand have harmful exposure to dampness and/or mold. Control humidity and moisture, and pay attention to any building damage (e.g., a leaky roof) to limit the growth of mold in the first place. An indoor air filtration device like the Bios Life Air can greatly reduce the damage from these pollutants.
Volatile Organic Compounds
These are gases emitted from certain solids or liquids, many of them are from common household chemicals and products such as pesticides (Heptane), paints (Benzene), adhesives (Tetrachloroethene), and air freshener (Naphthalene). Typical household furnishing such as upholstered furniture and carpets often emit formaldehyde. Personal care products such as nail polish, nail polish remover, colognes and perfume frequently emit ethyl acetate.
Because most homes will have multiple sources of indoor air pollution and the effects are cumulative, these pollutants (some of which are carcinogenic) can at times cause or worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and allergies.
As Bio aerosols, VOCs are a major contributor to indoor air pollution.
Inorganic pollutants (particulate & gaseous)
These constitute a wide range of gaseous and particulate pollutants that are non-biodegradable, a majority of them entering the atmosphere as a result of civilization. Those added in the greatest quantities are Carbon Monoxide (CO), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Monoxide (NO) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). The primary source of these gases is combustion of fossil fuels in power plants, industrial equipment, and vehicles. Air pollution from automobiles are a major source of Carbon Monoxide in Urban areas. In rural areas the primary concern is burning of farmland. This is a major concern and very dangerous for those with respiratory problems.
Also, a wide range of building and packaging products have been shown to release inorganic particulates and contaminants into the air. Some of these particles such as Lead and Asbestos are proven carcinogens, some such as Radon are even radioactive.
High indoor concentrations of such particles can result from outdoor pollution sources, choice of building materials, products that we bring in our homes, and even our activities inside. For instance, smoking indoors results in “second-hand smoke”, scientifically known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) which is a complex mixture of over 4,000 chemicals, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer and many of which are strong lung irritants. Again a multi stage air filtration device like the BIOS LIFE AIR can greatly reduce these potential damaging pollutants.
Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor air pollution is a growing health issue as recognized by the World Health Organization, the EPA, OSHA, and the American Lung Association. The World Health Organization estimates that it causes 4.3 million deaths around the world.
An assessment by the EPA found that
46 million Thais are at risk from health effects of unhealthy air.
While there has been an emphasis on particulate air pollution caused due to emissions, varied indoor air pollutants have been tied to many adverse impacts on one’s health. While some of the negative health effects are immediate, air pollution has been linked to potentially fatal long-term outcomes such as cancer.
The recent rise in air pollution in Thailand has brought great attention to this problem. IN Both February and April Chaing Mai had the worst air quality in the world. How bad is the Air? An article suggests it was at very dangerous levels. Also many areas of Bangkok have had similar Air Pollution problems. How Bad is the air in Bangkok?
Solutions to Indoor Air Pollution
Thankfully, there are some actionable steps you can take to address indoor air pollution. There are mainly three actions you can take to reduce or outright eliminate indoor air pollution in the home.
Solution 1 Source Control
This may seem obvious, but the most effective way in improving indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of pollution or reducing their emissions.
Some quick examples include:
- Avoid purchasing products that produce high levels of formaldehyde or other VOCs. When purchasing products like furniture, carpets, mattresses, look out for the “Low VOC” label.
- Same applies to building materials which are commonly rated for their VOC emissions.
- Keep humidity levels between 30-50% in a home to reduce dust-mites, which grow in warm and damp environments.
- Regularly clean the home to help reduce animal danders and pollen.
- If you are allergic to dust mites, regularly wash your bed sheets, pillow covers, curtains and rugs – preferably in hot water (130F)
- Use natural cleaning product
- If you use appliances in your house that use kerosene/gas (such as space heater, stove, water heater, etc.), ensure that there are no leaks and your appliances are properly maintained
- Control smoking indoors by suggesting smokers to step outside to reduce ETS
In short, you should understand where biological contaminants can come from, how certain products you use can contain and emit chemicals, and that they should be used with caution.
Solution 2 Improving Ventilation
Making a habit in cycling and introducing outdoor air into your home is one of the most actionable and cost-effective ways to lower concentration of indoor air pollutants. Good air circulation helps against all form of indoor air contaminants, be it an organic particulate, VOCs or an inorganic contaminant.
Ventilation is also very important when you do activities that increase pollutants in you r home (cleaning, painting, cooking, etc.).
Get your HVAC system inspected periodically and ensure that your house meets the requirements for mechanical filtration.
Solution 3 and the greatest effect; Utilizing an Air Cleaner
Air purifiers Provide the greatest help reduce indoor air pollution levels. But there are many different types of air purifiers on the market and understanding the differences can be confusing. See our overview of portable air purifiers. If interested you can have a deeper look at HEPA filters and finally learn about why you should avoid ionizers. True 3 stage filter that is sized for your home can provide great benefits to you air quality and health. A filter like the BIOS LIFE AIR can reduce airborne pollutants and provide a healthy and safe solution.
The BIOS Life Air can take out particulates as small as 0.01 microns. It has a 4 stage filter system that allows it clean up to 400 square meters.