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The term Indoor Air Quality, or IAQ, refers to the air quality in and around our homes and workplaces. Indoor air pollution can negatively affect Indoor Air Quality and can lead to immediate and long-term effects on a person's health and wellbeing.
As our homes and workplaces become increasingly well sealed, it may seem like we are shutting pollution out. But research shows that we are actually shutting pollutants in. Whether we are sleeping, cooking, cleaning or working, we now spend 90% of our time indoors, breathing potentially dirty air. Our research suggests that the level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) are rising in people's homes.
Understanding the sources of indoor air pollution and how they relate to the overall Indoor Air Quality can help improve living and working environments and potentially benefit your overall health.
Some sources of indoor air pollution at home may seem obvious, like pet dander, tobacco smoke, mold and outdoor allergens that become trapped indoors. Others, though, may be less apparent and can include:
Dust mites are commonly found in pillows, mattresses, box springs, stuffed animals, carpeting, upholstered furniture, and foam rubber bedding.Fireplaces, stoves and ovens and even lighting can be among the leading sources of inhalable particles in a home. Inhalable particles are particulate matter that are far more likely to penetrate deep into the lungs due to their size and potentially the bloodstream leading to unwanted health effects. According to reporting by Vox, recent research has indicated that gas stoves may be introducing indoor air pollution into homes at volumes 100 times greater than levels outdoors.
Indoor allergens, including dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold, pest droppings and other irritants, can become trapped within the fibers of carpeting and released when the carpeting is disturbed while cleaning or simply moving around the house. Carpet installation can introduce pollutants into the air associated with the chemicals used in the production of the material and installation. Like with carpeting, the production and installation of some common home furniture and fixtures can release VOCs into the air throughout your home.
While they may be intended to help eliminate visible dirt, grime and mold, many common cleaning products can release invisible VOCs. From spray and liquid cleaners for the kitchen, bathroom, floors and furniture to bleach and detergents, these chemicals can be loaded with problematic ingredients.
While burning candles and using personal care products like sprays, lotions and perfume can be pleasing and help create a more comfortable home environment, they can also introduce harmful VOCs and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
Heating and cooling systems, including portable and temporary window air conditioning units and space heaters, are susceptible to introducing contaminants into the home. Permanent heating and cooling systems can become contaminated and continually circulate contaminants.
Unchecked moisture is a primary cause of mold growth, which can be introduced to the home through outdoor sources including wet leaves, moist soil and rotting wood. It can also be found in furniture, garbage bins, mattresses, AC units, humidifiers, wallboards, basements, closets, bathrooms, refrigerators and houseplants.
Asbestos and formaldehyde can be released when some types of insulation are exposed and disturbed during remodeling or renovations. Aging infrastructure and eroded components can also reduce the barrier between your living environment and these hazardous materials.
Our workplaces can be just as susceptible to indoor air pollution as our homes. Many factors, including HVAC systems, furniture, carpeting and trapped outdoor pollution, can lead to less-than-desirable Indoor Air Quality in any building.
Offices, however, feature their own subset of causes that can be unique to that specific environment. Common office tools like copiers and printers have been known to increase the likelihood of short-term health effects including skin and respiratory irritation.
The effects of indoor air pollution can typically be separated into two categories:
Short-term effects include mild to severe eye and respiratory system irritation, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. These effects can be reminiscent of allergy symptoms or the flu. Asthma sufferers and those with pre-existing lung conditions are much more susceptible to the short-term effects of indoor air pollution.
Long-term effects can range from respiratory and heart diseases to lung cancer. These more serious health problems can occur after extended exposure to ambient indoor air pollution, but can also appear after repeated, though less frequent exposure to contaminated spaces.
When it comes to Indoor Air Quality and its long- and short-term effects on our health, the stakes are high. Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to reduce indoor air pollution and improve the Indoor Air Quality in your home.
While we have already noted that many household cleaning products can be as potentially harmful as they are helpful, it is still important to clean your home regularly and thoroughly. Learn about the common VOCs found in cleaning products and read labels carefully to determine if the cleaning products you are using meet your standards.
Kitchens can be especially problematic spaces for mold and VOCs related to combustion because of heating elements. Be sure that your cooking area is properly vented. Throughout the rest of your home, open windows whenever possible to improve airflow and regularly examine and replace filters in your heating and cooling systems.
Air purifier technology is becoming increasingly advanced and can drastically help reduce indoor air pollution. Some air purifiers can remove gases and odors while capturing up to 99.97% of allergens and pollutants as small as 0.3 microns. Dyson’s latest air treatment technology actively destroys formaldehyde and provides real time data on your Indoor Air Quality.
By using a vacuum cleaner with a closed-system HEPA filter, you can better ensure that dust, debris and many common pollutants are safely being removed from your home environment and not simply being redistributed.
Understanding the different sources of indoor air pollution is the first step towards developing a cleaner, healthier home. Implementing the changes necessary to improve IAQ may seem daunting, but often simple strategies like those listed above can have a dramatic effect.
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