Indoor Air Pollutants: in and out with Every Breath
Updated: Apr 15
We continue our series of blog posts on indoor air quality in the COVID-19 era, today turning our attention to indoor air pollutants. As we are forced to spend our days confined to our homes, understanding and mitigating both the instantaneous and long-term health effects of indoor air pollutants warrant special attention.
What are indoor air pollutants?
Indoor air pollutants are a number of chemicals, odors, and gases that are present in various concentrations in the air we breathe in our homes, offices, and any other enclosed structure. The deadliest types of indoor air pollutants result from the combustion of solid fuels (ex. charcoal, wood, etc.). Every year, indoor air pollutants lead to 4.3 million deaths: stoke (34%); ischaemic heart disease (26%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (22%), pneumonia (12%), and lung cancer (6%). This post will highlight some of the lesser known but still deadly and carcinogenic indoor air pollutants and provide advice on how to minimize their concentrations for today and the long term.
A colorless, volatile, toxic aromatic liquid compound that is slightly water soluble, benzene is a genotoxic carcinogen in humans with no recommended safe level of exposure, whether indoors or outdoors. All too often, indoor air is the main way for humans to be exposed to benzene. While indoor concentrations are, as a rule, below levels that have negative health effects, this is not always the case. Therefore, to minimize benzene exposure while indoors, whatever you do that releases benzene has to be decreased or stopped altogether, such as smoking, hobby or cleaning solvents, and using construction materials that emit benzene. Ventilation measures can help, too, although the cleanest outdoor air possible should be ensured.
Carbon Monoxide has numerous detrimental effects. Small exposures cause headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, weakness, chest pain, vomiting, and confusing. Being exposed to a lot of carbon monoxide can kill you: this oftentimes occurs when people are asleep or drunk. This is why some countries mandate carbon monoxide monitors in homes. In addition to illnesses, carbon monoxide can reduce athletic performance amongst young, healthy people and lead to depression for people with cardiovascular diseases. Prevent carbon monoxide exposure as much as possible by making sure you have the proper ventilation and that any gas lines and gas appliances are free of leaks.
Another case where most human exposure comes from inhaling indoor air, possibly leading to certain adverse health effects, such as eye irritation, watery eyes, nausea, coughing, skin irritation, and burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat. Minimize exposure to formaldehydes by limiting contact with tobacco smoke and other combustion emissions, use building materials and products that emit low-amounts or nor formaldehydes, and optimize your ventilation.
If you have mothballs that contain naphthalene, then your exposure jumps 100-fold. Otherwise, naphthalene exposure is minimal, coming in at roughly 0.001 mg/m3. The ease of taking naphthalene out of your home environment is a good thing, as excessive exposure to it can lead to the development of respiratory tract lesions and even tumors.
A nonflammable, colorless liquid with a slightly sweet odor and burning taste, trichloroethylene (TCE) is used in adhesives, spot removers, paint removes, and grease removal from metal parts. TCE is a carcinogen, shown to cause kidney and liver cancer. As with other indoor air pollutants, the best way to steer clear of TCE is to use products containing as little of it as possible and to ensure proper ventilation in your home.
The above are just some of the indoor air pollutants that humans are exposed to in varying quantities every single day. Whether or not they are in high enough concentrations to pose a health risk depends entirely on your indoor activities and what prevention measures are put in place. CareTac offers a number of solutions to help improve your indoor air quality for both the short and long term, including digital indoor air quality monitors, radon testing and ventilation, and expert indoor air quality consulting services.