Air is one of the essential elements of life.
It’s vital because it is the medium through which we take in oxygen, a necessary gas for human survival. Similarly, it’s essential to ensure that we have good air quality around us because air enters into the body almost unfiltered.
What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?
Indoor air quality refers to the air within and around structures, buildings, and close compartments relative to all occupants’ comfort and health. Understanding the concept of indoor air quality and taking decisive steps to control common indoor air pollutants will improve air quality.
Low air quality, both outdoors and indoors, can harm humans. These effects include skin irritation, headaches, nausea, and regular body weakness. It can lead to more lethal effects like kidney failure, lung diseases, asthma, and even various types of cancer in extreme cases.
Exposure to low indoor air quality might not always have an instant effect. Some of these effects accumulate over time and cause severe or fatal damage. Therefore, you shouldn’t overlook poor indoor air quality just because you do not feel its immediate impact. In fact, some of these air pollutants might not produce any significant effect until years after.
Some Uncommon Facts about Indoor Air Quality
It is estimated that most people spend 90% of their time indoors[i]. Consequently, our lives largely depend on the air quality we take into our bodies during this period. Below are some facts that would help you understand the significance of indoor air quality and the severity of the damage it can cause without proper care;
- An estimated number of about 7 million people die every year globally as a result of exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[ii].
- About 28% of American homes are evaluated to be unhealthy. This number translates to the fact that low air quality provides an enabling environment for dangerous elements such as mildew and mold to thrive[iii].
- A six-room house can collect an average of 40 pounds of dust within a year, depending on indoor air quality. This heavy dust can be laced with approximately 45 toxic chemicals that can cause severe harm to humans.
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor pollutants are about 2-5 times higher than outdoor pollutants. This statistic positions individual at increased risk of health damage[iv].
- Low indoor air quality, mainly dust, is one of the leading causes of asthma. Asthma stands as one of the chronic illnesses with the highest rate that affects children. This illness accounts for 1.8 million emergency room visits and 14.8 million doctor visits every year[v].
- Women who work from home have a 54% higher death rate resulting from cancer compared to women who work outside their homes[vi].
- Water damage is a common indoor problem. It is one of the most prevalent and destructive issues most homeowners face, and it can also affect indoor air quality significantly.
- Secondhand smoke, including tobacco smoke, accounts for one of the most lethal indoor air pollutants worldwide. Its deadliness is due to its 200 different types of poisonous composition that are injurious to human health. These poisons include carbon dioxide and formaldehyde.
- Hundreds of injurious chemicals are released every day, and these chemicals play a crucial role in the dramatic deterioration of standard indoor air quality.
Related: Best Air Quality Monitors
Primary Causes and Sources of Indoor Air Problems
The sources and causes of indoor air problems are where the pollutant particles and gases are released indoors. Some of these sources are located outdoors, and they diffuse indoors if their production is not controlled adequately.
Similarly, inadequate ventilation will facilitate and increase indoor air pollutants because there won’t be enough air to dilute and lower the concentration of indoor air pollutants. A high level of humidity and temperature will also elevate the concentration of certain indoor pollutants.
The primary causes and sources of indoor pollutants include;
- Tobacco smoke and other tobacco products
- Newly installed upholstery, flooring, or carpet
- Fuel-burning combustion engines and appliances
- Furniture products from certain press woods
- Humidification devices and other cooling and heating systems
- Pesticides and radon
- Outdoor air pollution
- Deteriorated asbestos-containing insulations and other building materials, including furnishes
- Various indoor and outdoor generated smokes
Common Indoor Air Pollutants
Indoor air pollution is not a menace that is caused by a single gas or pollutant. Several pollutants are present in varying proportions depending on location. Below is a list of some of the most common air pollutants.
Particulate Matter (PM)
Particulate matter is one of the most lethal indoor air pollutants. Typical examples are; ash, soot, aerosol, fumes, smoke, and dust. They are dangerous because of their small size, which can easily find their way to the human lungs to cause several damages.
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide is a natural compound in the air. It is the air we breathe out in exchange for oxygen. However, the concentration of CO2 can accumulate to a dangerous level if there is no room for ventilation or proper exchange of gases. It can be hazardous if humans forcefully take it in due to a limited amount of oxygen in the indoor space.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
Carbon monoxide is similar to carbon dioxide. The significant difference is that CO is produced from the incomplete combustion of fuel. Fuel-using engines like generators and vehicles majorly release this compound. CO is more dangerous than CO2, even at lower concentrations. Humans can still deal with a CO2 concentration of 5,000 ppm in indoor space, while a mere concentration of 20-25 ppm of CO is lethal to human health[vii].
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
NO2 is another gas that is lethal to human health. It can quickly accumulate in an indoor space to a concentration that is lethal to human health. However, it is less common compared to CO and CO2.
Formaldehyde is a deadly indoor air pollutant, and it is one of the most common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in indoor space. It is usually emitted from diverse sources varying from incense burning, cooking, and furniture.
Methylene chloride also referred to as dichloromethane, is common in various products like paint strippers and adhesives. It has an odor that makes it distinguishable from other gases. While it might not give a short-term effect, long-term exposure to methyl chloride can cause severe central nervous system complications.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
PAHs are semi-volatile organic hydrocarbons dangerous to both human health and the environment. There are various types of PAHs, and naphthalene is considered the most volatile of them all.
Radon gas emission comes from the breakdown of Uranium deep within the earth. This process is natural but becomes dangerous when the resultant gases sneak into indoor spaces through cracks. The gas is usually odorless and colorless; hence, it might be unnoticeable until it becomes lethal.
Factors That Influence Indoor Air Quality
The factor that affects indoor air quality influences the concentration of indoor air pollutants. These factors can either contribute to these pollutants’ rapid buildup or protect the indoor space from these toxic elements.
Some of the significant factors that influence indoor air quality include;
- Moisture level
- Hygienic practices
- Building standards
- Level of congestion
- Operating pattern of home appliances
- Source of pollutants
It is essential to note that regulating these factors can help you control the extent of pollutant buildup in your indoor space. You might consider an air purifier to assist.
Related: Best Air Purifier for Pets
Frequently Asked Questions About Indoor Air Quality
With all the provided information about indoor air quality, here are answers to some common questions you might have concerning the air quality in your home;
What are the symptoms of bad air quality in the home?
The human health symptoms usually linked to low air quality in the home include fatigue, dizziness, headache, skin irritation, shortness of breath, coughing, sneezing, allergies, hypersensitivity, and sinus congestion. It can also be dryness and irritation of the throat, eyes, and nose.
How can I test the air quality in my home?
Testing air quality will help you to keep constant track of your health safety. Four key ways to test air quality at home include;
- Testing for mold in the air
- Purchase and installation of an indoor air quality monitor
- Conduct a radon test
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm
Can you get sick from bad air quality?
Yes, getting sick at times is the resultant effect of bad indoor air quality. Some air pollutants will produce a short-term effect, while others will only create an impact after long-term exposure. Similarly, some of the effects are mild, such as headaches and dizziness, while long-term exposure can produce a more lethal effect like lung diseases and cancer.
A Final Word From Wellness Nova
Indoor air quality is a significant issue to look into since we spend most of our time indoors. Most individuals are vulnerable to poor air quality due to their ignorance on this topic. But now that you know, it is essential to take necessary steps towards maintaining good indoor air quality by eliminating indoor air pollutants’ sources. Also, carrying out regular indoor air quality tests to align with all recommended standards is equally important.
[i] https://foobot.io/guides/iaq-standards-and-guidelines.php [ii] https://www.achrnews.com/ext/resources/2018/11-2018/11-12-2018/6-Deadly-Facts-about-Indoor-Air-Quality.pdf [iii] https://www.achrnews.com/ext/resources/2018/11-2018/11-12-2018/6-Deadly-Facts-about-Indoor-Air-Quality.pdf [iv] https://www.achrnews.com/ext/resources/2018/11-2018/11-12-2018/6-Deadly-Facts-about-Indoor-Air-Quality.pdf [v] https://www.achrnews.com/ext/resources/2018/11-2018/11-12-2018/6-Deadly-Facts-about-Indoor-Air-Quality.pdf [vi] https://www.achrnews.com/ext/resources/2018/11-2018/11-12-2018/6-Deadly-Facts-about-Indoor-Air-Quality.pdf [vii] https://foobot.io/guides/iaq-standards-and-guidelines.php