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The Health Risks of Indoor Air Pollution

When we hear 'air pollution' we tend to think of factories pumping out smoke or exhaust fumes from vehicles. Overall, many people consider air pollution to be a problem which occurs outside but this just isn't the case. Shockingly, the air we breathe inside, whether that be in offices, places of study or the home, can be anywhere from 2, 5 or even 100 times more polluted than the air outside. This is due to a variety of different reasons, from heating systems, poor ventilation or even furniture. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can combat this issue.

"the air we breathe inside, whether that be in offices, places of study or the home, can be anywhere from 2, 5 or even 100 times more polluted than the air outside"

Appliances

There are many household appliances which can release harmful chemicals into the air. Most of these are fuel burning appliances such as cookers, heaters and solid fuel fires. As many of us know, malfunctioning appliances can release carbon monoxide into the air which can become deadly in a short amount of time. Even less well known, gas cookers can release nitrogen dioxide into the air in the absence of an extractor fan. When inhaled in high concentrations, nitrogen dioxide can inflame the lining of the lungs and this can lead to respiratory problems.

Solution:

  • When it comes to faulty appliances, the only way to prevent disaster is to remain vigilant.
  • Ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector in high-risk rooms such as the kitchen and bedroom.
  • If you suspect that any of your appliances are leaking carbon monoxide, move to a well-ventilated area and call the relevant authorities.
  • The solution to combatting many indoor pollutants is proper ventilation.
  • As already mentioned, gas cookers should be used with an extractor fan.
  • Solid fuel fires require a fully ventilated chimney in order to avoid a build-up of toxic gas.
  • Also, if you are using an electrical heater in a small space, make sure you provide adequate ventilation.

Chemicals

The presence of toxic chemicals and particulates within the air can be extremely damaging to those breathing it in. Surprisingly, there are a variety of different chemical sources which can cause problems within a domestic or work environment. Many household products such as cleaning sprays, deodorants, air fresheners and insect killers can release harmful chemicals into the air. Products used in the construction and decoration of a building can also release harmful compounds into the atmosphere, these include everything from paints and adhesives to solvents and even furniture. It should also be noted that some older buildings may still contain dangerous chemicals from outdated products, for example, lead-based paint or insulation containing asbestos- both of which can cause many different health problems.

Solution:

  • If you are moving to a new home, especially an older building, make sure you ask about issues such as the paint that was used and whether asbestos is present.
  • When decorating your home, look for products which produce low chemical emissions. You could even look into using organic or all-natural products.
  • Furthermore, as with all indoor air pollution, good ventilation is vital to keeping the concentration of harmful chemicals low.

"Ventilation is important, especially if you cook a lot or dry washing inside the home"

Mould and Dust Mites

High humidity is a problem in many buildings and this can lead to the growth of mould spores. Mould can be a powerful irritant to the respiratory system and can lead to asthma and even suppress the immune system, causing further problems. Another natural irritant is dust mites or more precisely what they leave behind. Dust mite droppings, skin and carcases all contain chemicals which can be irritating to us. These chemicals can cause a variety of symptoms including asthma, rhinitis and eczema.

Solution:

The best way to avoid mould is to keep humidity levels low.

  • Ventilation is important, especially if you cook a lot or dry washing inside the home.
  • You could also use a dehumidifier as a way to tackle this problem.
  • Mould patches should be treated with specialised products and a protective mask should be worn during treatment.