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Why Indoor Air Quality Is More Important Than Ever Before

Updated: Mar 23, 2023


Factors that impact indoor air quality

Understanding the Importance of Indoor Air Quality for Your Health and Home Environment


Indoor air quality is a vital aspect of our health and well-being, yet it is often overlooked. The quality of air in our homes can have a significant impact on our respiratory and overall health, especially since we spend most of our time indoors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. This is mainly because indoor air is confined and trapped, leading to the accumulation of various pollutants. These pollutants can range from dust and pet dander to chemicals from cleaning products, cooking fumes, and even gases from building materials. Exposure to these pollutants can cause various health problems, such as allergies, asthma, respiratory infections, and even cancer.


The importance of indoor air quality has become even more crucial in recent times, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. According to the EPA and the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus can spread through respiratory droplets that can linger in the air for extended periods. This has led to increased awareness of the importance of good ventilation and air filtration in indoor spaces to reduce the risk of infection. However, the need for healthy and clean indoor air goes far beyond just reducing the spread of Covid-19. The WHO also estimates that over three million people die prematurely every year due to indoor air pollution.


Improving indoor air quality is essential for maintaining good health and creating a comfortable and welcoming home environment.


Understanding Indoor Air Quality and Its Components


Indoor air quality is a complex issue that involves various factors contributing to polluted air. One of the most critical factors is particulate matter, which is composed of tiny particles that can be suspended in the air. These particles can come from various sources, such as dust, smoke, and pollen. Particulate matter is classified based on its size, with smaller particles posing the more significant risk to our health.


Particulate matter can range from coarse to fine particles, with fine particles being the most concerning. Fine particles can penetrate deep into our lungs and cause respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. According to the EPA, particles that are 2.5 micrometers in size or smaller (PM2.5) pose the most significant risk to our health. These particles can come from sources such as smoke from burning wood or coal, emissions from vehicles, and industrial processes. Indoor sources of PM2.5 can include pet dander, bacteria, mold, chemicals from cleaning products, building materials, candles, fuel burning equipment such as furnaces, upholstered goods, cooking, sweeping, and discharge from kilns and copy machines.


Measuring indoor air quality is obviously the essential step in determining the concentration of particulate matter in the air. Air quality monitors are used to measure various factors such as temperature, humidity, and particulate matter, which is measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3). The EPA has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particles (PM2.5) to be 12 µg/m3 annual average and 35 µg/m3 daily average.


In addition to PM2.5, there are other pollutants that often cause problems. While there are many pollutants that can cause problems, the three that typically top the list are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide and radon can also affect indoor air quality.


VOCs are emitted from various household products such as paint, cleaning products, and air fresheners. While VOCs are used in many products, they can be harmful to our health and the environment. Breathing in high levels of VOCs can cause irritation to our eyes, nose, and throat, as well as headaches and dizziness. In some cases, exposure to high levels of VOCs can even cause more serious health problems.


VOCs can also be harmful to the environment. When they are released into the air, they can react with other chemicals and contribute to the formation of smog. Smog is a type of air pollution that can be harmful to plants and animals and can even make it hard for us to breathe.


To help reduce our exposure to VOCs and protect the environment, it's important to choose products that are labeled as "low VOC" or "VOC-free". These products have lower levels of VOCs or don't contain them at all. We can also try to use natural alternatives, like vinegar and baking soda, instead of chemical cleaning supplies.


Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that you can't see or smell, but it can be very harmful to people and animals. It's made when things burn, like gasoline in a car engine or wood in a fire.


When you breathe in carbon monoxide, it takes the place of the oxygen in your blood, which your body needs to survive. This means your body can't get the oxygen it needs, and that can make you very sick. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. In severe cases, it can cause you to pass out or even die.


To stay safe from carbon monoxide, it's important to have working carbon monoxide detectors in your home. These detectors can sense when there is carbon monoxide in the air and will sound an alarm to warn you. You should also never leave a car running in a closed garage, and make sure your home's heating system, water heater, and other appliances are working properly and vented outside.


Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous because it can affect people and animals without them even knowing it's there. So always be aware of the risks and take steps to protect yourself and those around you.


Radon is a radioactive gas that can seep into homes from the ground and is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It is formed when uranium, a natural mineral found in rocks and soil, breaks down over time. As it seeps into buildings and homes, it can sometimes accumulate up to dangerous levels and can increase the risk of lung cancer if we are exposed to high levels over time. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, so it is important to test your home to ensure that it is not present.


The good news is that not all homes have high levels of radon. The only way to know for sure if your home has high levels of radon is to test for it. There are many ways to test for radon, including using a do-it-yourself kit or hiring a professional to test your home.


Understanding the multiple components of indoor air quality and the various factors that affect it is crucial in maintaining a healthy home environment. By monitoring particulate matter, VOCs, carbon monoxide and radon levels, you can take practical and relatively inexpensive steps to reduce the risk of exposure to these pollutants and improve indoor air quality for yourself and your family.


Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality on Health and Wellbeing


The impact of poor indoor air quality and the adverse effects it causes on our health and wellbeing cannot be overstated. While many times the effects can be isolated and identified, there can be secondary and even tertiary effects that can be traced back to this issue. Here are the top ten health impacts that may manifest individually or in combination:


1) Respiratory problems: May trigger or worsen respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.


2) Allergies: Can cause or worsen allergies, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes.


3) Diabetes: According to BioMed Central (BMC), prolonged exposure to particulate matter increases the incidences of diabetes mellitus.


4) Cognitive Decline: According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), long-term adverse effects on cognitive function among older adults can be caused by poor indoor air pollution.


5) Fatigue: Resulting in drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating.


6) Dizziness and Headaches: Exposure to certain indoor air pollutants can cause dizziness, headaches, lightheadedness, and nausea.


7) Skin and eye irritation: Can cause skin dryness, as well as exacerbate conditions such as eczema as well as redness, itching, and watering of the eyes.


8) Cardiovascular disease: Has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke.


9) Cancer: Radon and formaldehyde, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.


10) Reproductive problems: The American Lung Association reports that issues ranging from infertility, premature births and birth defects can also be caused by poor indoor air quality.


Examples of other secondary impacts could include depression due to feeling ill, loss of employment due to absenteeism, weight gain due to fatigue, etc…



Practical Tips for Improving Indoor Air Quality


Common factors that affect indoor air quality can many times be easily mitigated with relatively affordable solutions:


Maintain good ventilation: Poor ventilation can lead to the buildup of pollutants and moisture in the air, which can trigger respiratory issues and other health problems. Ensure that your home has adequate ventilation by opening windows and doors when possible, using exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms, and investing in an air purifier if necessary.


Reduce indoor pollutants: Pollutants such as mold, pet dander, pollen, and chemicals from cleaning products, pesticides, and furniture can all contribute to poor indoor air quality. Many of these common household products and materials release VOCs, which can contribute to poor indoor air quality. Use natural cleaning products and avoid using products that contain VOCs, such as paint and carpeting. Additionally, regularly cleaning and maintaining your HVAC system can help reduce the concentration of pollutants in the air. Consider investing in an indoor air quality monitor or engaging with an indoor air quality testing company.


Control humidity levels: High humidity levels can create a breeding ground for mold, mildew, and dust mites. Maintaining good ventilation certainly mitigates high humidity in many cases, however, many times the best approach is to install a dehumidifier.


Test for radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that can seep into your home through cracks and openings in the foundation, causing lung cancer. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that can be found in some homes. There are radon detection products on the market that will monitor and detect radon levels that are relatively affordable.


If you do find high levels of radon in your home, there are ways to reduce the levels. One common way is to install a special ventilation system that helps to pull the radon gas out of your home and vent it outside.


Change air filters regularly: Changing the air filters in your heating and cooling system can help remove pollutants from the air. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for how often to change your filters. Consider upgrading your air filters to state-of-the-art sub-micron air filters that to improve air quality without sacrificing airflow.


Keep your home clean: Regular cleaning can help remove dust and other pollutants. Vacuum carpets and upholstery frequently, and dust surfaces with a damp cloth. Don’t forget to dust your ceiling fan blades.


Summary


Improving indoor air quality is crucial for maintaining a healthy home environment, and there are practical steps you can take to achieve “better air”. Investing in sub-micron air filters, air purifiers and dehumidifiers, as well as promptly addressing mold, are simple, meaningful and affordable ways to start seeing long-term health benefits.


Other simple steps to improve indoor air quality, such as maintaining good ventilation, reducing indoor pollutants, and controlling humidity levels can have a significant impact on the air you and your family breathe. After all, the air we breathe is essential to our health, and investing in improving indoor air quality is investing in our wellbeing.


Lastly, while this article was written with homeowners in mind, the same issues apply to the business world and many times they are amplified due to the significant financial impact to the organization. Everest Microbial Defense's Peak Health Advantage program provides advanced long-term surface disinfection, air filtration and antimicrobial monitoring services for businesses to ensure a clean and healthy work environment. Click here to request a call to discuss how your organization could benefit from improving the antimicrobial protection in your work environment.

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