Indoor Pollution – Sounds New?

We do everything to achieve a healthy & sustainable living. Though breathing is the utmost crucial spontaneous process, most of us are unaware that almost 250 million litres of air pass through our lungs in a lifetime or how much of toxic elements or pollutants enter our lungs in a single breath. According to National Geographic Society, “Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These harmful materials are called pollutants”. Pollutants can be primary or secondary. Primary pollutants are substances directly released into the atmosphere from the source and secondary pollutants are formed in the atmosphere from chemical changes in primary pollutants.

Wait, there is more. Does air pollution, water pollution & soil pollution ring a bell? Water pollutants include domestic wastes, chemical insecticides and herbicides from agro farms, food processing waste, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from various industries, heavy metals, chemical waste, and others. Some very common soil pollutants are heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc; pesticides, herbicides, pathogens, hydrocarbons etc.

All these may now sound familiar to you because these comprise the outdoor or exterior pollution. However, today we will discuss indoor pollution. Indoor Pollution – sounds new? That’s quiet understandable because we find our home to be a safer place and thus think that if we are at home we are safe from pollution. Unfortunately, that’s not true. It’s may be hard to believe that indoor pollution can be 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution. How’s it possible? Actually, the contained areas in our homes enable potential pollutants to build up more than outdoor open spaces. The risk of indoor air pollution is more in developing countries like India, China, and Pakistan. In these countries, most houses are found in congested areas having poor ventilation, leading to rising pollution levels. Shockingly, women & young children are primary victims– as they spend maximum time at home. A research indicates that in cities like Bangalore, around 50% of children suffer from asthma & the foremost reason is high traffic congestion. The air pollution is not only a problem restricted to Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region) or Bangalore or Indian metros. It has become a national problem which kills 1.2 million indians every year & it cost the economy an estimated 3% of GDP.

The reason for indoor air pollution is differs entirely from rural to urban areas. The rural areas face maximum threats & are most vulnerable for using traditional fuels like firewood, charcoal, and cow-dung. The cooking & heating generate large amount of smoke & pollutants inside home. However, the most common pollutants in urban areas are VOC (volatile organic compounds), tobacco smoke, various pesticides, biological pollutants, formaldehyde, asbestos etc. According to a UN report, indoor air pollution can contribute between 22% and 52% to the overall pollution levels. The report also indicates that around 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 years breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk.

In fact the entire house is a source of indoor air pollution in various manners:

Walls: Paint fumes in freshly painted walls and moulds in damp walls – paints & other building products release formaldehyde, benzene & other volatile organic compounds.

Carpets & Rugs: They trap dust mites, pet danders, cockroach allergens, particulates, moulds & dust. Slight disturbance or movement like walking releases these pollutants in the air.

Kitchen: It is often a big source of cockroaches, bacteria and fungi in unclean areas. The gases released during cooking can also be harmful.

Furniture: Common furniture in households traps bacteria/virus/fungi, dust mites, pet danders, moulds and dust. Not only these, the paints and polishes of the furniture carry chemicals that are injurious to health.

Household chemicals: Aerosol spray products, air fresheners, detergents, dishwashing soaps etc. – they contain various known carcinogenic elements like methylene chloride, benzene, perchloroethylene etc.

What are the ill effects of these pollutants?

Indoor pollutants are either inhaled or ingested or absorbed. They may affect us through body contact or affect our internal organs. They may be stored in tissue for a time and released later;

many of them are eventually excreted. Some very common are:

Asbestos: It is present in almost every building material; however, it becomes a threat from deteriorated/damaged insulation. In such situations, the micro-fibers of asbestos are released from these materials and remain suspended in the air for long. They can cause major breathing troubles & cancer.

Bacteria & Viruses: These are found in areas with poor & damp air circulation. Toxins are released after bacteria die & later those toxins cause coughing & wheezing.

Dust Mites: These unwanted guests are microscopic pests which can trigger allergic reactions and asthma. They are found in bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets or curtains. Allergy caused by dust mites can be mild to severe. The common symptoms are runny nose, watery eyes, cough and congestion. Higher humidity causes an ideal situation for the growth of dust mites.

Formaldehyde: It is a colorless & flammable gas with a distinct smell. Apart from being a known carcinogen, it can cause headache, runny nose, nausea, and difficulty in breathing, wheezing, asthma attacks and other respiratory troubles. It’s found in many cosmetics, dish soaps, medicines etc. High temperature & high humidity can release more formaldehyde.

Lead: It is a toxic metal still widely used in the manufacturing of common household products. Lead is present in paints and water pipes. After deterioration of these things, lead is exposed to the environment. It can harm almost all organs of a human body. The most severe effects of lead poisoning are seizures, paralysis, anemia, abdominal pain, vomiting & even death.

Pesticides: These include insecticides, termiticide, rodenticide etc in the form of sprays, liquids, sticks or foggers. They can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, tingling sensation & nausea.

The effects of indoor pollutants range from short term to long term. Coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, fatigue, dizziness, headaches are the short-term effects. Common long-term effects are respiratory diseases like rhinitis (nasal congestion), epistaxis (bleeding of nose), dyspnea (difficulty of breathing or painful breathing), pharyngitis (sore throat) etc. Some severe health effects are conjunctivitis (inflammation or swelling of the eyes), skin rashes, fever or chills or even various cancers.

Some easy methods can be very effective to tackle indoor pollution. The house should be kept clean as much as possible. Warm water & soap can be used for cleaning purpose than using traditional dishwashers available in the market. Home ventilations should be increased ensuring cross ventilation. Carpets, all furnishings & fabrics trapping dust should be cleaned on a regular basis. The use of air fresheners & pesticides should be reduced. Exhaust fans and chimneys should be installed in kitchens to ensure proper ventilation. Last but not the least – some indoor plants can be fantastic to tackle air pollution. Weeping fig filters pollutants like benzene, trichloroethylene. spider plant cleans benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide & xylene. snake plant can keep formaldehyde away. Aloe vera keeps us safe from formaldehyde & benzene. rubber plant can be great to remove formaldehyde.

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