The Importance of Indoor Air Quality - February 27th 2002
Environmental research is disclosing a surprising and disturbing factor for our health - the quality of indoor air in the home is much more important than ever suspected. The Congressional Quarterly has claimed that indoor air is often two to five times more polluted than outdoor air and can be up to 1,000 times as dirty. Given that many of us spend up to 90% of our time indoors, this is a serious health concern.
This is an issue that concerns us all. The first step is awareness of the risks. Fortunately, prevention is easy and economical.
CLEAN AIR AND YOUR HEALTH
When we hear the words 'air pollution,' we think of smog, auto emissions, factory smoke, etc. Recent research suggests that we may have been looking in the wrong place. Environmental scientists claim that the real risks to our health are much closer to home. It is indoor air quality that has the greater impact.
Not surpisingly, many of these risks have accompanied the technical advances in our lives. Improved building techniques and concern for energy efficiency have created airtight housing. These buildings retain and re-circulate indoor air along with any contaminants.
At the same time, many common materials in the home contain chemicals that are now implicated in conditions ranging from allergies and chronic respiratory irritation to cancer. A wide range of less severe but potentially debilitating health problems including headaches, chronic fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, and even snoring can often be attributed to poor indoor air quality.
These potentially harmful substances carried in indoor air fall into two groups: particles and gases.
THE PARTICLES IN OUR AIR
The minute, invisible particles in the air are the primary threat to health. They evade the body's filtering mechanisms and penetrate deep into lung tissue, carrying toxic substances, which are absorbed in the body.
The harmful particle, which include dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, and pollen, provoke allergic reactions in many people.
Some allergic reactions are severe - asthma is the best known and one of the most serious. Other allergic conditions are subtle chronic conditions. Runny nose, watery eyes, recurrig headache, lethargy, even snoring can all be symptoms of allergy. Many people endure these conditions, not knowing that they are allergy-related and that prevention is readily available.
GASES - INVISIBLE RISKS
Gases are as much a risk to our health as airborne particles.
Among the greatest concerns to health are the volatile organic compounds, or VOC's. These gases, up to 500 of them, are dispersed from cleaning solutions, carpets, building materials and many chemicals commonly used around the home.
Formaldehyde is the chief concern among the VOC's, as it is so widely used. Its effects show up normally in itching of the eyes, ears and throat, but it is implicated more seriously as a carcinogen.
POSITIVE ACTION NOT FEAR
Every house or place of business abounds with potential air quality risk. It is important to deal with these risks the intelligent way.
The first step is to prevent the circulation of contaminants at their source. Your home environment is unique. Indoor air quality will depend on humidity, the age of your home, the type of heating, the choice of furnishing and insulation materials, the presence of pets or smokers, and so forth.
Balanced management of your whole home environment is the constructive way to healthy living. Keep aware of the risk factors and avoid them where you can. Using fewer aerosol products, for example, is a positive contribution to the health of your home. Small sure steps are often more effective than a giant leap. Awareness and common sense are your best guides.
There are a wide range of home air purifiers on the market that can improve your air quality, ranging from simply filters that can be purchased at your local department store, to large sophisticated whole house units that attach to your HVAC system. For most applications, a high-performance portable air cleaner will be the most economical choice in removing everyday smells, allergens, and basic chemicals. As with most products, the general rule is that you get what you pay for.