Did you know that indoor air can be anywhere from 200% to 500%, and according to the EPA, even up to 1000% more toxic than outdoor air? Air pollution is said to cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and itchy or watery eyes, and even impact more aggressive conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer developed later due to chronic, long-term exposure. In addition, air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million deaths a year and cost the global economy nearly $3 trillion, making it clear that improving indoor air should be on everyone’s list of priorities to maintain adequate health.
The Source of Air Pollution
Studies identified a few of the most significant sources of indoor air pollutants, including volatile organic carbons, or VOCs, which are a byproduct of off-gassing from new furniture, mattresses, carpeting, cabinets, and vinyl flooring. Other common sources of VOCs include mold, paint fumes, pesticides, formaldehyde, smoke from cigarettes, charring or burning food, indoor fireplaces, cleaning products, candles, and deodorizers. How strongly these toxins impact indoor air quality (IAQ) depends on how old the source is, how often it’s in use, and whether it’s emitting toxins all the time (e.g., air fresheners, mold, central heating, or air) or periodically (like painting, smoking, burning candles, or cleaning products).
Impact on Our Health
According to an article published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, researchers are becoming increasingly aware that the quality of the indoor environment affects our health and well-being. IAQ, in particular, has an impact on multiple health outcomes, including respiratory and cardiovascular illness, allergy symptoms, cancers, and premature mortality.
A recent study on office workers in several countries found that higher levels of PM2.5 (invisible microscopic airborne particles coming from dust, spores, pollen, smoke, and burning fossil fuels) significantly impacted employees’ cognition and performance. PM2.5 has also been associated with memory disturbances, fatigue, and reduced mental sharpness by triggering inflammation in the brain. Even more concerning is that the neurological damage caused by PM2.5 has been observed in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
How To Improve Indoor Air Quality
Everyone can follow a few simple steps to improve their air quality without added cost. For example, opening your windows for at least 20 to 60 minutes increases air circulation by letting fresh air in and stagnant air out. This is especially important in spaces with new carpets of furniture. In addition, opening a kitchen window while cooking can prevent breathing in smoke from charred foods. Because outdoor air quality impacts indoor air quality, it makes sense to first check outdoor levels through smartphone weather apps or websites such as PurpleAir, which indicate exact readings of PM2.5.
Another way of improving indoor air is through house plants. Certain plants can absorb and filter out VOCs, PM2.5, ammonia, viruses, and bacteria. Recommended plants include the Areca palm, money plant, and mother-in-law’s tongue, which filter out benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other VOCs. Minimizing or avoiding products with fragrance or perfume such as air fresheners, scented candles, incense, and perfumes is also helpful as they release harmful VOCs and other toxic chemicals into the air that can impact your health and breathing.
Scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that poor indoor air quality has on overall health. Because chronic, long-term exposure to air pollutants is a critical factor in the development of certain medical conditions and even severe diseases, it is essential to ensure good IAQ at all times.