How Eliminating Indoor Air Pollution Can Save Your Life in 2021
We can’t see it, we can’t smell it, we can’t taste it, but it’s everywhere—and it’s dangerous. Air pollution is the hidden threat that lurks within our indoor spaces, slowly seeping into our bodies, causing us a plethora of illnesses and ultimately having a negative effect on the contents of our bank accounts. So where do these airborne toxins come from? And how can we mitigate their nasty effects? In this article, we’ll outline the causes of indoor air pollution, what makes it so harmful, and what you can do about it.
What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?
There are three different types of air pollution: biological, chemical, and physical. Biological pollution refers to bacteria, viruses, and mould particles that become airborne. This is specifically relevant now, as the airborne transmission of coronavirus has caused us to enforce mask-wearing, install barricades, and practice social distancing. Chemical pollution comes from machinery and plastic materials inside buildings that get trapped within confined spaces. Physical pollution refers to large particles that can harm the body when inhaled, such as sawdust, pollen and dander. Unfortunately, many indoor environments contain high levels of all three kinds of pollutants that affect your quality of air.
Here are the main causes of indoor air pollution:
Asbestos: Although asbestos has been known to be dangerous since the 1970s, it still remains the number one cause of indoor air pollution. One may be surprised to find out that in Canada, it wasn’t until 2018 that asbestos was fully outlawed as a building material, so spaces constructed prior could still contain the cancer-causing fibres.
Formaldehyde: Yes, formaldehyde—the chemical that was used to embalm the dead before it was banned in the EU due to endangering the health of funeral service workers. Did you know that it is also commonly used to make household materials, such as particleboard, plywood, paint, flooring, glues and adhesives, wrinkle-resistant fabrics, carpeting, and certain insulation materials? Scary stuff!
Cleaning products, disinfectants and insecticides: Typically, the products we use to clean are designed to kill mould, bacteria and insects. But if it works to kill germs, what effect can it have on us? Cleaning chemicals, such as peroxide and bleach, can have adverse effects on our physical health. They can cause dizziness, nausea, chemical burns and sometimes even life-threatening illnesses. To avoid this type of pollution, consider switching to a more natural and safer alternative such as a probiotic cleaner.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): These small and very deadly particles are produced by aerosols, hobby supplies, building materials and office machinery such as computers and printers. Here at Origen Air, we’ve created the first-ever air purifier that uses genetically engineered plants that can EAT volatile organic compounds. Pretty cool, right?
Heating: Standard methods of heating, such as fireplaces, space heaters and fuel-burning can fill your space with hazardous carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide fumes with a lack of a proper ventilation system. This can also happen with smoke from wildfires which are becoming more common across the globe.
Perfumes, synthetic fragrances and scented candles: Surprisingly, the sprays and spritzes we use to keep ourselves and our spaces smelling fresh are mostly unregulated by the government, meaning that the safety of these substances is unknown.
How Does Indoor Air Pollution Affect Your Health?
Some effects of air pollution can be felt immediately, whereas others appear after long term exposure. In places with severely insufficient air, one will notice irritation and itchiness in the eyes, nose and throat. Shortly after exposure, one may experience dizziness, headaches and fatigue. If you enter a new space and begin to notice these symptoms, it is recommended to seek outdoor spaces with proper ventilation and do not return to the building until air pollutant levels are monitored and fixed.
After a period of exposure, one may begin to notice cold or flu-like symptoms. If there is a pre-existing medical condition such as asthma or allergies, this may worsen. It is important to note that the short-term effects will be felt by individuals at different levels due to personal sensitivities.
The long-term effects of air pollution are some of the more frightening. These include an assortment of different health problems, from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Air quality-related physical health issues include lung disease, heart disease and cancer. This is why health authorities advise that even if pollution issues go unnoticed in the beginning, it is important to assess your indoor air and ensure that it is purified as much as possible.
The Cost of Poor Indoor Air Quality
In addition to the alarming health issues, poor air quality also has a big consequence on overhead. If you are a business owner or manager for a group of employees, air quality should be of top concern when looking to increase the productivity and profitability of your team.
There are two ways that insufficient air can harm your bottom line: absenteeism and presenteeism. It is estimated that every time a staff member calls in sick, it causes the business an average of $240. Absenteeism is greatly increased in spaces with poor air quality, leading to large amounts of losses.
Presenteeism is potentially an even bigger invisible problem. This is when staff come to work even though they are not feeling well. It is estimated that presenteeism results in a 3-7% loss in productivity, despite the fact that employees are paid the same amount as usual. Also, if staff believe that their employers are actively putting them at risk due to the insufficient conditions in their building, they will lose confidence in their work and become disenfranchised, leading to even more losses.
It is estimated that in the United States, the potential gains from improving indoor air could be $4 billion in reduced respiratory issues, $4 billion in reduced asthma and allergies, and $160 billion in improved worker productivity unrelated to health.
Here are some examples of public places that are most at risk of losses due to insufficient air quality:
Beauty Salons: Spas and salons can be especially notorious for poor air quality due to the pollution emitted from many different cosmetics, such as hair dye, aerosols, nail polishes, and hot wax.
Malls: Due to many different businesses being inside the same enclosed space, HVAC systems need to work on overdrive to remove all the air pollution—and many aren’t up to the challenge. Packaging styrofoam and plastic from clothing and goods, deep fryer fumes from the food court, and synthetic fragrances from makeup stores make the mall a hotbed of airborne toxins.
Restaurants: Without proper management, restaurant air can become dangerous fast. This is because of the industrial cooking fumes as well as the moisture build-up from steam, which can result in mould and bacterial growth—not something that anyone wants to be thinking about when they’re out for a fancy dinner.
Office Buildings: Office buildings are commonly known to be some of the worst offenders when it comes to air toxin buildup. The issue even has its own name: Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). Research shows that up to 30% of new or remodelled office buildings have insufficient air quality.
Public Transport Stations: Emissions from transport vehicles and diesel fuels can easily get trapped in the enclosed and underground waiting platforms. As well, all of the exhaled air from the many passengers can carry hazardous bacterial and viral particles.
What You Can Do About It
The first thing you can do to improve your air quality is to remove the elements that are creating toxins in your building. Prohibiting the indoor use of e-cigarettes is a good place to start, as contrary to popular belief, the smoke they create contains VOCs. Taking out any carpeting and replacing it with hardwood is another solution. Limiting the use of scented candles, air fresheners and fragrances helps to cut down on environmental toxins. Consider switching from toxic cleaning chemicals and bleaches to a natural solution. Reducing the level of chemicals means there will be less to get rid of in order to achieve sufficient air.
- The Canadian Press. (2021, January 04). Hundreds of Canadian health experts call for action on airborne spread of COVID-19. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/7553766/coronavirus-aerosol-airborne-transmission/
- Cherney, K. (2018, September 18). Sick building syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/sick-building-syndrome
- Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2016, September 06). The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved from https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Home/The-Inside-Story-A-Guide-to-Indoor-Air-Quality
- Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, January 14). How Smoke from Fires Can Affect Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/how-smoke-fires-can-affect-your-health#:~:text=The%20biggest%20health%20threat%20from,even%20linked%20to%20premature%20death
- Nelson, K. (2017, January 24). Thought asbestos was fully banned in Canada? Not until 2018. | CBC Radio. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-december-15-2016-1.3896671/thought-asbestos-was-fully-banned-in-canada-not-until-2018-1.3896765
- Paragon Controls Incorporated. (n.d.). Cost of poor indoor air quality [PDF]. Forestville: Paragon Controls Incorporated. Retrieved from http://www.paragoncontrols.com/pdf/Whitepapers/Cost%20of%20Poor%20IAQ.pdf
- Sustainable Cleaning Solution: Origen Clean: British Columbia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.origenclean.com/
- Wheeler, B. (2018, November 23). EU embalming fluid ban ‘to change funerals’. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-46294432#:~:text=Grieving%20loved%20ones%20may%20no,restrict%20the%20use%20of%20formaldehyde.