We all encounter many health risks as we go about our daily routines. Driving in cars, flying in planes, participating in recreational interests, and being subjected to environmental pollutants all present varying degrees of risk.
Certain risks are inescapable; some we decide to agree to encounter because to do otherwise would limit our capacity to lead our lives the way we would like. Others are risks we could choose to sidestep if we had the occasion to make informed choices. Indoor air pollution is one of those risks that you can do something about.
In the last several years, a mounting body of evidence has demonstrated that the air within our homes and other buildings can be more highly polluted than the outdoor air, even in the largest and most built-up cities.
Whether it’s in school, the office, or simply at home, most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. While we often talk about the amount of pollution in our atmosphere, we seldom think about the quality of the air we breathe when we are inside. Consequently, for many, the health hazards may be greater due to exposure to indoor air pollution rather than outdoors.
Furthermore, people who may be subjected to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are frequently those most at risk of the effects of indoor pollution. This would include the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill, particularly those experiencing respiratory or cardiovascular disease.
The experts at Schultheis Brothers want you to better understand indoor pollution in the Pittsburgh area and how to improve indoor air quality.
Okay, so what exactly do we mean by indoor air pollution?
Simply put, indoor air pollution describes any air contamination within a home or other structure. Pollutants are normally arranged into the following groups: molds, solvents, pesticides, smoke, pet dander, and gases. Most homes will experience indoor air pollution to some level. The quality of your indoor air (IAQ) is a gauge of how the air inside a home or other building impacts its occupants’ well-being and comfort.
Indoor air pollution has become more demanding lately because of the construction of more energy-efficient homes. Why so? These structures are likely to be rather airtight, indicating the air inside can rapidly become stagnant, and the number of pollutants rises quickly.
Elsewhere, burning fuels such as coal, wood, or gas for heating and cooking produce a variety of toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, as well as particulates and other dangerous compounds.
Minus good ventilation, these chemicals can be inhaled and trigger serious damage to your health in a host of ways.
How does indoor air pollution affect human health?
A cutback in fresh air exchange in today’s homes and buildings has contributed to an upsurge in a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome.” This is normally due to a combination of reduced ventilation and/or inadequately maintained air conditioning.
The symptoms of sick building syndrome will normally improve when you leave the premises and get worse the more time you stay there. The most familiar indicators are headaches, blocked sinuses or a runny nose, skin rashes, itchy eyes, drowsiness, and difficulty breathing.
You need to consider that these symptoms are quite common and can be brought on by various issues, including traditional allergies. If you’re undergoing these symptoms intermittently or constantly, no matter where you are, it’s doubtful that sick building syndrome is the cause.
What, then, are the major sources of indoor pollution?
Note: Several indoor pollutants range from asbestos to volatile organic compounds. In this blog, we’re going to concentrate on these below.
Excess moisture is one of the least-known pollutants
Moisture is one of the most significant and least known indoor pollutants, affecting both human health and the health of your home or other structure. Where this moisture gathers, so do mold and mildew, which can trigger asthma or allergies, destroy wood products, and hasten the build-up of rust on metal building components.
Mold can be especially harmful
Mold is an indoor air pollutant that can trigger various health problems, including respiratory infections, asthma, and allergies. Mold grows in damp and humid conditions and can be unearthed in various places in the home, such as on walls, floors, ceilings, and basements.
Moreover, for those with a weakened immune system or pre-existing conditions such as asthma, mold exposure can aggravate these illnesses and bring about serious respiratory infections.
We recommend using a dehumidifier to regulate the amount of moisture in the air.
Radon is generated naturally in the soil
You can neither see nor smell radon, a radioactive gas produced naturally in the soil and passed into the house from the ground. It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.
The level of radon exposure can only be determined through testing. You can purchase a screening kit to verify the levels of this gas in your home. You should hire a qualified professional if the radon levels in your home are too high.
Faulty appliances can produce toxic gases
Many homes and offices contain space heaters, ovens, furnaces, fireplaces, and water heaters that burn fuels such as gas, kerosene, oil, coal, or wood. As combustion can be quite hazardous, most appliances are thoroughly tested to ensure safety.
Note that if the appliance is faulty, it can generate toxic gases, including carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and other compounds such as hazardous aldehydes.
Tobacco smoke is one of the most dangerous indoor air pollutants
The smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes is one of the most commonplace and hazardous indoor air pollutants.
Tobacco smoke includes more than 7,000 chemicals, containing at least 70 carcinogenic chemicals. When inhaled, these chemicals can also trigger chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other cardiovascular ailments, resulting in heart attacks and other severe outcomes.
Secondhand smoke is an additional cause of indoor air pollution. As a matter of fact, secondhand smoke exposure is believed to produce around 7,300 lung cancer deaths in nonsmoking adults in the U.S. each year. in addition, a number of reports indicate that tobacco smoke produces ten times more air pollution than diesel car exhaust, making it one of the most significant sources of indoor air pollution.
Some VOCs can result in liver or kidney damage
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) comprise a variety of evaporated substances, including formaldehyde, which can be released by building materials and household furnishings, gasoline from the garage, pesticides, and even cooking activities. Many of these are simply annoyances, but some may have short-term or long-term health effects. The concentration of these VOCs is higher indoors than outdoors. Once exposed to VOCs, you can experience nausea, eye and nose irritation, headaches, and even liver and kidney damage.
To lessen your exposure to VOCs, increase ventilation in your home, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Cleaning products release toxic fumes
The chemicals in cleaning products can also pollute indoor air. The fact is these chemical products discharge toxic fumes, which can be dangerous when inhaled. Some of these chemicals have even been associated with various health problems, including respiratory infections, asthma, and even cancer.
Moreover, many cleaning products include volatile organic compounds, gases that can clearly evaporate at room temperature. When VOCs are discharged into the air, they can trigger both short- and long-term health issues, such as headaches and nausea, and, more notably, can damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
Pet dander can cause various respiratory ailments
Pet dander is yet one more everyday indoor air pollutant. Dander can be located in animals’ fur, skin, and saliva. When pet dander is released into the air, it can be inhaled and bring on a number of respiratory issues, such as asthma attacks and hay fever, among other allergies.
CO can lead to serious complications, including death.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can lead to severe health concerns. It’s produced by burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, propane, gasoline, and oil. CO can build up indoors when these fuels are used for cooking or heating and can accumulate to hazardous levels in confined spaces.
When excessive amounts of CO build up in the bloodstream, they block oxygen from reaching the heart, brain, and other vital organs. Persistent exposure can trigger headaches, dizziness, nausea, and even death.
CO poisoning can be averted by ensuring that fuel-burning appliances are adequately vented to the outside and by installing CO alarms in your home or other buildings.
How can you tackle indoor air pollution?
Okay, we’ve determined that most of us are experiencing indoor air pollution from one source or another. So, how do we improve the quality of the air we’re breathing in? Let’s look at a couple of solutions.
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can be used as air purifiers or can be fastened to vacuum devices to remove dust, spores, mites, and other particles from the air. According to The Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology, an appliance can only be considered a HEPA filter if it traps 99.97 percent of particles 0.3 microns or larger. For context, emissions from a car starting up begin at 1 micron.
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning filters (HVAC) purify the air entering and exiting the assorted units throughout your property. These filters help ensure that your systems work as efficiently as possible and cut the volume of aggravating particles circulating in the air.
One of the chief ways to lower the amount of indoor air pollution is by making sure there is proper ventilation. Proper ventilation helps remove the polluted indoor air from your home and replace it with fresh, clean air from the outside.
Conversely, when indoor spaces are not sufficiently ventilated, pollutants can build up to hazardous levels. This is especially an issue in today’s homes that are sealed tight to help preserve energy.
Inadequate ventilation can also lead to a build-up of carbon dioxide, resulting in headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
As mentioned, many traditional cleaning products include potentially dangerous chemicals that can result in indoor air pollution. To avoid this, it’s recommended that you purchase green cleaners formulated with natural ingredients such as white vinegar, baking soda, borax, citrus fruit, and essential oils.
These natural components are safe for use indoors and are proven effective at cleaning surfaces and removing dirt, dust, and grime.
Keeping indoor plants is another meaningful way to cut indoor pollution. Indoor plants help to sanitize the air by soaking up contaminants and releasing oxygen. Additionally, indoor plants help to enhance indoor air quality by boosting humidity and cutting dust levels.
Moreover, the value of indoor plants in purifying indoor air has been supported by NASA. In 1989, the space agency managed a clean air study and discovered that specific indoor plants effectively eliminated a host of pollutants from the air. These include English ivy, bamboo palm plants, and peace lily plants.
Indoor air pollution is nothing to sneeze at (pun intended). Seriously, it can lead to various health issues, some of which can be especially harmful to children, older adults, and those with ailments such as asthma.
If you need help determining how to best block air pollution in your Pittsburgh area home or other space, contact the HVAC professionals at Schultheis Brothers.