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Breathing easy: Tackling indoor air pollution

Indoor pollution plays a significant role in affecting health and is thus an important health issue.

Everyday street scene. — Image © Tim Sandle
Everyday street scene. — Image © Tim Sandle

In the quest for a healthy and comfortable living environment, indoor air quality plays an important role. One source of concern in the everyday home are air pollutants. Growing scientific evidence has shown that because people generally spend the majority of their time indoors, indoor pollution plays a significant role in affecting health and is thus an important health issue.

From dust and pollen to mould spores and pet dander, indoor air can harbour a myriad of contaminants that adversely affect health and well-being. Not all homes are equal; a large degree of spatial and temporal dynamics comes into play.

The company Vortex Air has explored the most common air pollutants found in homes and has shared these with Digital Journal.

Indoor air quality can be measured in different ways and national standards vary. Qualitatively it refers to the cleanliness and purity of the air within indoor spaces, such as homes, offices, and schools. However this is assessed quantitatively, poor indoor air quality can have significant implications for health, exacerbating respiratory conditions, triggering allergies, and contributing to a range of adverse health effects.

Common pollutants found in indoor environments include:

Dust

Comprising a mixture of particles from various sources, including skin cells, fabric fibres, and outdoor pollutants, dust can accumulate on surfaces and become airborne, leading to respiratory irritation and allergies. Skin detritus is the most common source of dust in the home.

Pollen

Pollen particles from outdoor sources can infiltrate indoor spaces through open windows and doors, triggering allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.

Mould spores

Filamentous fungi grow in damp or poorly ventilated areas can release spores into the air, posing health risks such as allergic reactions, asthma exacerbation, and respiratory infections.

Pet Dander

Shed skin cells, fur, and saliva from pets can contribute to indoor air pollution, particularly for individuals with pet allergies or asthma.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are chemicals emitted by various household products and materials, such as paints, cleaning agents, and furnishings. Prolonged exposure to VOCs can cause respiratory irritation, headaches, and other health effects.

In terms of remediation, bioactive coatings are envisaged as a promising biotechnology to tackle the emerging problem of indoor air pollution.

Tobacco Smoke

Second-hand smoke from cigarettes contains numerous harmful chemicals and particulate matter, posing serious health risks to occupants, especially children and non-smokers. This can lead to lung conditions and pose an additional risk as a mutagenic compound.

To address these concerns, regular ventilation is important by ensuring there is adequate ventilation by opening windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate.

Conditions can also be improved with effective humidity control. Maintaining optimal indoor humidity levels (between 30% and 50% relative humidity) can help to minimise the potential for mould growth. Dehumidifiers can be used in damp areas, such as basements and bathrooms, to reduce moisture levels and inhibit mould proliferation.

Regular cleaning is also important, to remove dust, dirt, and other pollutants from surfaces and furnishings.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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