The term “air quality” refers to the state of the air around us. Good air quality pertains to the degree to which the air is clean, clear, and free from pollutants such as smoke, dust, and other gaseous impurities in the air. An adult breathes 15,000 liters of air every day. When people breathe polluted air, pollutants get into their lungs from where it is eventually transported to the internal organs such as the brain. This can cause severe health problems such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and can reduce the life span of a person.
HOW IS AIR QUALITY MEASURED?
Air quality is measured with the Air Quality Index or AQI. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern.
HOW IS A COMMUNITY’S AQI CALCULATED AND REPORTED?
Each day monitors record concentrations of the major pollutants at more than a thousand locations across the country. These raw measurements are converted into a separate AQI value for each pollutant (ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide) using standard formulas developed by EPA. The highest of these AQI values is reported as the AQI value for that day.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and, by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the area. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.
There are many sources of indoor air pollution. These can include:
Fuel-burning combustion appliances
Building materials and furnishings, such as:
Deteriorated asbestos-containing insulation
Newly installed flooring, upholstery or carpet
Cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
Products used for household cleaning and maintenance
Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
Outdoor sources such as:
Outdoor air pollution.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 13 common indoor air pollutant sources. They fall into one of four categories: VOCs, biological pollutants, combustion by-products, and legacy pollutants. These pollutants can affect the health and comfort of the occupants. Some health effects may show up shortly after a single exposure, or years later after prolonged exposure.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. Examples include paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions. EPA's Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas.
Legacy pollutants are contaminants that have been left in the environment by sources that are no longer discharging them, such as an old industry. Legacy pollutants are often very persistent in the environment and they can be hard to break down and often are not soluble in water.
THE MOST COMMON INDOOR AIR POLLUTANTS INCLUDE:
2. Biological Pollutants
3. Carbon Monoxide
4. Cookstoves and Heaters
7. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
9. Radon (Rn)
10. Indoor Particulate Matter
11. Second-hand Smoke/Environmental Tobacco Smoke
12. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
13. Wood Smoke
ASBESTOS - Asbestos is a mineral fiber. It has been utilized in a variety of construction materials, including insulation, roofing shingles, and as a fire retardant. Asbestos exposure can increase one’s risk of developing lung disease, mesothelioma (a malignant tumor of the tissues that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs).
BIOLOGICAL POLLUTANTS - Biological pollutants can include bacteria, viruses, pet dander/saliva, dust, mites, and pollen. In buildings, these pollutants are commonly found near excessive moisture, like in humidifiers or an unvented bathroom, as excessive moisture can be a breeding ground for mold, mildew, and bacteria. It can cause watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing, Nasal congestion, itching, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, headache, and fatigue.
CARBON MONOXIDE - Carbon monoxide can be extremely harmful to humans when inhaled in large amounts, as it affects the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This means it reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the vital organs. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death. CO is a threat mostly to tightly enclosed indoor environments with poor ventilation, as high levels of CO are unlikely to occur outdoors. Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces, back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces, gas stoves, generators, and other gasoline-powered equipment, automobile exhaust from attached garages, and tobacco smoke are the possible sources of CO emission.
COOKSTOVES AND HEATERS - Burning solid fuels such as wood or charcoal to cook or heat a building can contribute to poor indoor air quality. While not necessarily common in the US, these cooking/heating methods are still used by billions of households worldwide. The smoke and fumes produced by these cooking and heating methods combined with poor ventilation can lead to substantial health and lung issues.
FORMALDEHYDE- Formaldehyde is present in many building materials and household products. It is commonly used in resins on wood products, insulation materials, glues, paints, cosmetic preservatives, and pesticides. Long-term and high exposure to formaldehyde could cause cancer. Short-term exposure is known to cause skin, eye, nose, and throat irritation.
LEAD- Lead emissions find their way into the air from a variety of sources. The most common source is metal processing and the burning of leaded fuel. Other sources include paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, and cosmetics. Once inhaled, lead can accumulate throughout the body, causing many adverse effects. In adults, high levels of lead can cause health issues with the nervous, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. For children, it can lead to learning or behavioral issues.
NITROGEN DIOXIDE- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a colorless, odorless gas that is commonly emitted from home heating elements such as gas, wood, oil, kerosene, and coal burning appliances, including stoves, space heaters, water heaters, furnaces, boilers, and fireplaces. NO2 can be extremely harmful to those with pre-existing respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, as it can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Exposure over time can lead to an increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
PESTICIDES-Exposure to pesticides can have a variety of short-term and long-term effects, including skin, eye, nose, and throat irritation, increased risk of cancer, and damage to the central nervous system.
RADON-Radon gas, along with decay products that can attach to dust and airborne particles, enters the lungs and decays, producing alpha and beta radiation that damages DNA and causes lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US. If levels are high, they can usually be corrected by improving ventilation or increasing the rate of air change throughout the building.
PARTICULATE MATTER- Also known as particle pollution or PM, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.
The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.
PM10: Inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller
PM2.5: fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller
SECONDHAND SMOKE/ENVIRONMENTAL TOBACCO SMOKE - Exposure to second-hand smoke is often referred to as passive smoking. It is classified by the EPA as a Group A carcinogen and contains more than 7,000 substances. Second-hand smoke can cause heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, asthma attacks, and other lung conditions.
WOOD SMOKE - Many still use wood stoves for warmth and cooking. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles, also called fine particulate matter or PM2.5. Fine particles can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks. Fine particles can also trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions.
WHAT IS SICK BUILDING SYNDROME?
The term "sick building syndrome" (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sick building syndrome accounts for up to 61 billion dollars a year in health costs, productivity, and absenteeism. Factors include inadequate ventilation, chemical contamination by indoor & outdoor sources, biological contamination, EMR, and poor lighting.
ORGAN SPECIFIC EFFECTS OF SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
Eyes-itching, fatigue, redness, or difficulty wearing contact lenses
Nose-congestion, nosebleeds, itchy or stuffy nose
Throat-irritation or symptoms of inflammation of the throat, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, or swallowing difficulty
Rash or specific clinical diseases such as erythema, rosacea, urticaria, pruritus, xeroderma.
WHAT IS BUILDING RELATED ILLNESS?
The term "building-related illness" (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants. They have a prolonged effect, even after the occupants leave the building.
EFFECTS OF BUILDING RELATED ILLNESS
Chest Pain, Shortness of Breath
Humidifier Fever, Extrinsic Allergic Alveolitis
Pontiac Fever, Legionnaire’s Disease-Contamination Of Cooling Towers By Legionella Organisms.
PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF POOR IAQ
Affects work productivity
Bad odors and cigarette smoke can increase aggression
Chronic air pollution leads to feelings of hopelessness
Stress along with air pollution can increase the risk of asthma in children
SOME FACTS ON POOR INDOOR AIR QUALITY
A recent study by Greenpeace Southeast Asia on air quality in Chennai pegs the number of deaths due to air pollution at 11,000 in 2020 alone.
In India, as many as 131 cities are exceeding the permissible limit for PM 10 and 18 cities are exceeding the permissible limit for NO2
A 2019 study examining the global burden of glaucoma found higher average levels of fine particulates were associated with more cases of glaucoma, which affects the optic nerve.
NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) estimated in 2012 that around 31% of new-onset adult asthma is attributed to work-related exposures
The national annual cost of asthma due to dampness and mold exposure inside buildings is $3.5 billion according to EPA Studies by Berkley Labs
A study in Europe shows that one out six people are living and/or working in unhealthy buildings.
New Zealand is now facing its next big health epidemic, which will cost them 11 billion dollars. It is due to people living and breathing in stuffy air in moldy or leaky buildings.
IMPORTANCE OF INDOOR AIR QUALITY MONITORS
It is important to monitor IAQ because people spend approximately 90% of their time breathing “indoor air”.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE THE INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Ensure the buildings are well ventilated and open the windows often to allow the proper exchange of air.
Clean the air conditioner and air purifier filter periodically.
Keeping indoor plants at home has been proven to reduce the VOCs emitted to a certain extent. In addition, plants have a calming effect. Taking a 3-minute break to water and looking at a desk plant, showed a significant decrease in anxiety and stress. For patients in hospitals, exposure to real plants or even posters of plants resulted in lower levels of stress. Residents with only 10% green space within about half a mile had a 25% greater risk of depression and a 30% greater risk of anxiety disorders versus those with the highest degree of green space near the home.
Invest in a good Air purifier and Air Monitor.
While using the gas stove, consider using the exhaust hood.
Open windows while using household cleaning products, and as a healthier option, consider making your own household cleaners using ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils.
Minimize burning things indoors.
A high-efficiency air purifier can reduce the number of spores in the air and prevent them from circulating around your home. But most importantly, if there is mold, be sure to have it professionally cleaned and removed, and any water leaks fixed to prevent future damage.
Air Quality is an incurable disease. It can only be prevented!
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