The ill-health effects of indoor air pollution have reached an epidemic proportion across the entire world population. Health associations and federal agencies have now begun to notify the U.S. public of the ever increasing concerns. Since 1980, rising rates of asthma (and asthma deaths, especially among children), rhinitis, and sinusitis, have been noticed and are only a few of the illnesses that have been escalating since the energy conservation practices implemented in the late 1970’s.
Improved construction methods initiated to minimize “heat loss and/or heat gain” resulted in the building of more air-tight structures in our work places, schools, and homes. These new building methods served the purpose of “energy saving” very well and continue to so. However, the negative fallout has been that of an increasingly amount of poor (trapped) indoor air quality, due to the lack of ventilation which was prevalent when using the previous construction methods.
Government environmental agencies rate indoor air pollution as the country’s biggest pollution problem, far outweighing the concerns of outdoor air pollution. The EPA has stated that indoor air pollution is easily 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor air pollution and in some cases may even be 100 times higher. A five-year study conducted by the EPA discovered 20 different toxic compounds in the air inside homes and the concentration of these pollutants were 200 times higher than the air outdoors. Poor air circulation is partly to blame — and quite understandably, it worsens during the colder months. Unfortunately, the persons most susceptible to the ill-health effects of indoor air pollution are the same persons who are most prominently exposed. Infants, toddlers, children, the elderly, and chronically ill persons, spend over 90% of their life indoors and for all people, most of that time being spent sleeping on unhygienic mattresses. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) has suggested that 50% of all illnesses are caused by, or further aggravated by, poor indoor air quality. According to the National Academy of Sciences, indoor air pollutants cost Americans ranges $15 billion to $100 billion annually while causing both short-term and long-term ill-health effects.
Indoor Pollutants are Classified as Particulate Matter or Gaseous Matter Particulate matter (pollutants), are made of mass and may or may not be seen with the naked eye. Generally, particulate contaminants are microscopic and are weight-wise, light enough to become airborne and inhaled. These indoor pollutants include dust, dust mite allergens (DMA’s), insect body parts, molds, mildew, spores, pollen, pet dander, insect droppings, bacteria and viruses. These types of pollutants are considered to be allergens and when inhaled can irritate allergy sufferers and cause allergy attacks. Dust mite fecal pellets, eggs, and exoskeletons, all of which contain guanine, a potent and very harmful allergen, become airborne quite easily and are then inhaled.
Gaseous matter (pollutants), are typically man-made such as chemical fumes. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) also are found in this category. VOC’s can cause symptoms ranging from eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and nausea, to severe and chronic health conditions such as damage to the nervous system. Furniture, wall paper, carpet backing, plywood, and particle board, commonly found in cabinet-making, are known to “off-gas” formaldehyde for years.
Formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. VOC’s are often found in paint and varnishes and may cause cancer in humans, according to the EPA. Mattresses, even the most expensive, are by law, now saturated with anti-flammable chemicals. The “off-gassing” of these flame retardant chemicals cause many health related problems and irate consumers are left with expensive mattresses that they will never sleep on again. Similarly, cleaning products, disinfectants, room deodorizers, glues, adhesives, aerosols, beauty products, and even cooking fumes can irritate allergy sufferers and may trigger allergy or asthma attacks. Avoid products that include the following ingredients; benzene, chloride, formaldehyde, ethylene, terpene, and toluene.
The Intelligent Mode of Attacking the Indoor Air Pollution Problem The two most effective means of reducing indoor air pollution are:
- Source Control, by far and without argument, eliminating or controlling the sources of indoor air pollution is the healthiest, most effective, and in the long run, the most cost-effective also. This involves becoming knowledgeable of household products and minimizing use of products that lead to poor indoor air quality. Employ good hygiene practices and improve housekeeping to control particulates. Reduce biological contaminants, including control of moisture and humidity, by cleaning and disinfecting wet or moist surfaces.
- Ventilation, dilute and exhaust the indoor air through outdoor air ventilation. Methods include installing exhaust fans near the source of contaminants, opening the home to the outdoors when pollutant sources are being used, and increasing outdoor air flow in mechanical ventilation systems.
The Role of Air Purifiers – Only as a Last Resort Air cleaners, or purifiers, should only be used as the very last resort and ONLY after all attempts at source control and/or ventilation have been undertaken. Air purifiers are a lucrative business and many companies are willing to dupe consumers for their share of the profits in this $500 million per year industry. The marketing divisions of these companies drive the sales through “gimmickery” and aggressive advertising, not necessarily the so-called technological improvements. Once again the ignorant consumer is being sold on “how this box turns lead (pollutants) into gold (fresh air)” so be very, very wary.
The technological advances in air purification systems may seem fascinating but unfortunately the reality is that the vast majority (not all…but nearly all) of the air purifiers available to homeowners simply do not perform as claimed. If you are still insistent upon purchasing a home air purifier then do yourself a huge favor and take the time to research your multitude of options. Become familiar with the marketing buzzwords like unipolar ion emissions, photocatalytic oxidation, radiant catalytic ionization, high density stainless steel needle points, stainless steel plates, air ionizer, negative ions, dynamic air regenerator, activated carbon filters, activated oxygen, optional/programmable ozone, magnetic, infrared, and immune enhancers. This list is as long as the list of marketers “hawking” their product. The majority of air purifiers (cleaners) are advertised as silent “tabletop” units. Unfortunately, tabletop air purifying units move less air than the “outdoor air leakage rate” in a new, well insulated home. Also, become familiar with the industry standard, Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR).
Integrate New Housekeeping Practices to Improve Indoor Air Quality Education is the key to improving the air we breathe in our homes. Allow yourself to be re-educated on housekeeping practices. Read the fine print on your cleaning products, dilute them if possible, or use them sparingly. Use micro-fiber wipes to capture dust and contaminants on hard surfaces. Implement exhaust fans in areas of knowingly high moisture content, such as laundry rooms, and when showering or bathing, to reduce growth of molds and mildew. Introducing fresh air and cross-ventilating your home is the next most effective method of cleansing your home of built up allergens and pollutants. HEPA filters should be utilized and can assist tremendously, provided that they are regularly replaced. The largest percentage of the time we spend indoors is while we are sleeping in our beds. Bedrooms should be the focal point when actively attempting to reduce allergens. Maintaining hygienic mattresses is of the utmost importance otherwise, for 8 hours each day, you are breathing in the accumulated allergens in your bedding, atop and within your mattress and pillows. Regularly scheduled professional mattress cleaners can remove unhealthy allergens and reduce dust mite populations (the #1 cause of poor indoor air quality) not only from your mattresses, but also from the “soft-furnishings” throughout your home. If you have rigorously implemented the best effective means of reducing indoor air pollution through source control and ventilation and still have health problems, then perhaps pursue the option of an air purifier. But do remember, it’s “buyer beware” when choosing. Otherwise, don’t ignorantly accept air purifiers as the “be all, end all, to your indoor air pollution problems. The next time you are approached by an air purifier salesperson, don’t walk, run, run…run away! For more information on the effects of poor indoor air pollution, refer to the EzineArticle;
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