How Harmful to our Health is the Indoor Air We Breathe?
How much time to you spend indoors each day? The average person spends 90% of their time indoors, breathing in what they believe is clean air, but research shows that may be far from the truth.
New research undertaken by the Environmental Science and Technology journal states that indoor air can be more harmful to our health than the pollution outside, even in urban areas. Many more studies have been done by reliable organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization. They show that indoor air is between 7 and 70 times more polluted than outdoor air.
Here is another way of looking at it. We eat three pounds of food on average per day, and most of us make sure that it is wholesome and that toxins are washed off fruit and vegetables before we consume them. However, we breathe 33 pounds of air per day, so we need to make sure it is as pure as possible.
Causes of Indoor Air Pollution
The source of toxins and contaminants in our indoor air, particularly in new office buildings, comes mainly from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and toxins given off by carpets and furnishings.
Remember that "new carpet" smell that you love about a brand new car? Unfortunately, it is laden with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are emitted from the carpets as well as from paint, new components and adhesives. It is likely to contain benzene, xylene, heptane, octane and other toxic chemicals. Not only do we breathe in these contaminants, but they eventually show up in our bloodstream.
Causes of poor indoor air quality are that not enough fresh air is brought into the building to replace stale or toxic air, and synthetic materials continue to give off toxic gases. Paints, wallpaper, window dressings, furnishings, chipboard, photocopiers, UV lights and most of all, carpets produce a ghastly cocktail of formaldehyde, ozone, sulphur dioxide and other gases. Some carpets are still emitting gases 20 years after being laid.
Synthetic materials attract and hold larger static charge than natural materials such as cotton, and this de-ionizes the air by absorbing the beneficial negative ions as well as the positive ones.
In humid areas, mold and mildew only add to the problem and they rapidly develop in air-conditioning ducts and poorly ventilated rooms. They are a known cause of asthma, allergies, dizziness and a host of other symptoms.
Asbestos is another hazard. It is a known carcinogen and can stay in the lungs for over 20 years.
What You Can Do to Improve Indoor Air Quality
First of all, check your indoor air quality so that you can monitor improvements. Get a professional to read the particle count of the supply duct system to find out what particulate contaminants are permeating your building.
Make sure filters are frequently changed and air-conditioning ducts are regularly inspected and cleaned, particularly coils and heat exchangers.
Increase the flow of fresh air with an occasional blast from an opening window, or make sure you take a walk every lunchtime in the fresh air.
If possible, work in a building that meets strict LEED standards for Indoor Environmental Quality. This means that the building was built to strict codes with no VOC materials and plenty of fresh air circulation.
Finally, plants help remove harmful VOCs from the air and improve air quality as well as providing psychological benefits, so make some interior design changes!