Sources of Indoor Air Pollution and its Effects on Human Health

Most people spend 90% of their time indoors, whether at school, the office, on the subway, or simply at home. And, while we frequently discuss the amount of pollution in our atmosphere, we rarely consider the quality of the air we breathe indoors.

Indoor air pollution, on the other hand, has been shown to have significant effects on both long and short term health and is thought to be responsible for 4.3 million deaths each year.

Let us know more about Indoor Pollution and how does it affect our health.

What Is Indoor Air Pollution?

Indoor air pollution is caused primarily by gas emissions from home appliances, building materials, paints, carpets, furniture, fabrics, and various chemicals and solvents. These pollutants may vary widely and include carbon monoxide, lead, mercury, benzene, ammonia, formaldehyde, radon, and asbestos. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air quality is significantly worse than outdoor air quality. Indoor air pollution comes from many different sources, including tobacco smoke, cooking fumes, exhaust fumes from automobiles, coal-burning furnaces, and heating systems. If not properly controlled, indoor air pollution can have serious health effects on adults and children alike. The quality of your indoor air (IAQ) is a measure of how the air inside of a building affects its occupants’ health and comfort.

How Does Indoor Air Pollution Affect Humans?

There are several ways in which indoor air pollution affects human health. First, exposure to certain pollutants can cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and eye irritation.

Second, indoor air pollution can affect people’s lungs. Breathing in these pollutants can damage lung cells and even cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Third, inhalation of some pollutants can irritate the eyes and mucous membranes. Children and pregnant women tend to experience greater adverse health impacts from indoor air pollution because they breathe faster than adults and their immune system is still developing. Exposure to high levels of indoor air pollution may increase a child’s risk of asthma attacks.

What causes indoor air pollution?

Several factors contribute to indoor air pollution, including poor ventilation and inadequate combustion controls at home appliances, improper use of cleaning products, smoking in the home, poor maintenance practices, and failure to install proper filters on heating and cooling equipment.

There are many sources that can be responsible for the Indoor air pollution. Some of them are discussed below.

Mold

Mold is a type of fungus that grows from spores that attach to damp areas in structures. It digests the materials it comes into contact with and can grow on a variety of surfaces. It thrives in moist environments and is most common in the winter and in humid climates.
Mold can take on a wide range of characteristics due to the numerous types of fungus that cause it. Mold can be white, black, green, or yellow, and its texture can be slick, fuzzy, or rough. Worryingly, mould can release a variety of hazardous toxins into the air and cause a variety of symptoms—and is especially dangerous for babies, children, older adults, and those who already have skin problems, respiratory problems, or allergies.

Tobacco Smoke

A major source of indoor air pollution, environmental tobacco smoke, also known as secondhand smoke, kills over 40,000 people in the United States each year. Cigarette smoke inhalation is especially hazardous to children, increasing the risk of SIDS, severe asthma, ear problems, and acute respiratory infections. 

Furthermore, cigarette smoke contains at least 70 carcinogens, or chemicals known to cause cancer, as well as approximately 7,000 other chemicals that your body could do without.

 When these chemicals are inhaled, they can cause illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other cardiovascular diseases, which can lead to heart attacks and other serious complications.

Carpet/Rugs

Carpets/Rugs act as traps for indoor pollutants, easily absorbing mould spores, smoke particulates, allergens, and other potentially harmful substances. According to research, even some toxic gases can settle into carpets. While some may argue that this trap protects occupants, pollutants trapped in carpets can be easily disturbed by simply walking on them.

Household Products

Many everyday products found in almost every home can contribute to indoor air pollution. These are some examples:

Cleaning and disinfecting agents
Paints, adhesives, and solvents
Personal care items
Fresheners for the air
Candles
These products may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause eye, nose, or throat irritation, headaches, nausea, organ damage, and, in extreme cases, cancer.

Electric Appliances

Many homes and offices have space heaters, ovens, furnaces, fireplaces, and water heaters that use energy from fuels such as gas, kerosene, oil, coal, or wood. Because combustion is extremely dangerous, most appliances are rigorously tested to ensure their safety. If the appliance malfunctions, it can emit toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and other compounds such as hazardous aldehydes.

Radon

Radon is an odourless and inert gas that can seep up through the ground and into the air in your building. When radon decays, it emits radiation that can attach to dust particles and enter the lungs, causing damage. Although it may appear strange, surveys have revealed that radon concentrations indoors are higher than the that found outdoors.

Pet Dander

Pet dander may not come to mind when thinking of indoor pollutants, but for many allergy sufferers, it is an acute irritant that can make some indoor environments unbearable. Pet dander is made up of microscopic flakes of skin shed by household pets, which means that hairless breeds can cause coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and chest tightness.

What can I do to protect myself from indoor air pollution?

Because indoor air pollution is often caused by a combination of factors, preventing indoor air pollution at your home requires changing habits and behaviors around the house.

Ventilating your home regularly is one of the best things you can do to improve indoor air quality. Try plugging in your vacuum cleaner in a window instead of the garage door.

Clean rooms frequently help reduce indoor air pollution. Frequent vacuuming helps remove dust mites and mold spores that accumulate indoors, and regular washing of floors, windows, curtains, and bedding reduces allergens that can trigger allergic reactions.

In addition, installing extractors on major home appliances, such as ovens, ranges, dishwashers, and dryers, will prevent indoor air pollution caused by burning grease. Many newer models of extractor fans are designed to clean the air without releasing any harmful toxins into the atmosphere.

If you are a smoker, stop smoking inside the home and outside. If you cannot quit completely, try limiting how much you smoke in the house and make sure your cigarettes are disposed of properly.

NASA has demonstrated that houseplants are “nature’s life support system” and are an important component in improving indoor air quality. They absorb not only carbon dioxide from the air, but also particulates that bind to CO2. Soil microorganisms have also been discovered to remove volatile organic compounds from the air.

Finally, keep your home free of excess moisture. Moisture collects easily in homes where no air flow occurs and can exacerbate problems related to indoor air pollution.

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