Air Pollution: A Real Danger Inside and Outside
July 26, 2019
Air pollution in urban areas is nothing new. You can see it, smell it, and often even feel it.
- Industrial and coal-fired power plant emissions
- Internal combustion engine exhaust
- Exhaust from wood burning stoves, fireplaces
All of these contribute to increased particulate matter, pollutants, and allergens in the air.
We are often told to stay indoors when the air is bad outside. You may be surprised that the air in your living room may be dirtier than the air beside an urban street with average traffic going by. Along with what’s outside, you also have the following to deal with inside:
- Gases from people breathing in confined spaces; burning of organic compounds for cooking and heating
- Particlewood and plywood products, wall insulation, some new furniture that use formaldehyde, glue, and other adhesive products
- Paints and varnishes; cleaning and disinfecting products and cosmetics that use Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Opening your window may be the best thing to do even if you closed it to keep the bad air out.
Imagine a newly painted house, decorated with new furniture, or a workplace filled with a heavy smell of cleaning products. The quality of air in our homes, work places or other public spaces varies considerably, depending on the material used to build it, to clean it, and the purpose of the room, as well as how it’s used and ventilated.
Reduced indoor air quality can be especially dangerous to young children, seniors, and individuals with compromised immune systems or respiratory problems. In fact, air that has a high particulate count can trigger asthma attacks, as well as lead to irritated eyes, nose and throat, coughing, heart disease, and other health-related issues. *
Small particles a fraction of the diameter of a human hair can lodge deep into the lungs, causing longer term illness.
In other words, particulate matter doesn’t have to be big to cause big health dangers.
Here are some common sense ways to help keep indoor air clean:
- Keep heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment well maintained, and the air filters cleaned or replaced.
- Control humidity with proper ventilation, a dehumidifier, or open a window.
- Keep laundry areas clean, dry, and well ventilated.
- Vacuum often and dust with a damp cloth.
- Spend more quality time outdoors.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Safely ventilate a fireplace to eliminate pollutants - or don’t build a fire.
- Safely store, ventilate, or replace toxic chemicals.
- Use non-toxic cleaners that have vinegar, baking soda, or citrus juice.
- Use non-VOC paint, varnishes, and cleaning supplies.
- Make sure your garage is well ventilated with air that doesn’t mix with the house.
- Use exhaust fans while cooking.
It’s a good idea to continually monitor the air around you. When you know about problems, you can do something about them. Air quality monitors come in all shapes and sizes. Many are portable, so even in a public space you can know what’s in the air around you. If you can’t do anything directly, you can at least go somewhere else.
Small actions can have big results.
* United States Environmental Protection Agency, "The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality," available https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality [Accessed Jul 25, 2019].
United States Environmental Protection Agency, "Linking Air Pollution and Heart Disease," available https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/linking-air-pollution-and-heart-disease [Accessed Jul 25, 2019].