PHOENIX, Sept. 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Home is where the heart is. Or in the case of poor air quality, where the pollution is. Seemingly benign, the air we passively breathe at home, school and work can be surprisingly dangerous. Considering we spend almost 10,000 hours indoors a year, letting these hazards go unchecked can be potentially lethal.
A large portion of respiratory illness stems from indoor air pollution. You name it, and unclean indoor air can cause it. As discussed in the 2010 study by National Institute for Respiratory Health of Mexico, "a substantial amount of respiratory illness stems from unclean indoor air." Microscopic particles in the air can cause minor pains (literally) like headaches, nausea and dizziness to full blown respiratory illness like asthma. When it comes to prolonged exposure to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), cancer can result.
Poor circulation in classrooms can lead to lower test scores. Besides causing reportable illness, poor indoor air quality has been proven to lead to lower test scores and decreased focus in students. Recent studies conducted abroad in Israel and here in the United States report students who tested in environments with a fresh breeze and good circulation performed better than those who had a stagnant air environment.
Common household items are airborne chemical polluters. Recently, the emphasis on having a clean house may have inadvertently made our homes more toxic. Volatile Organic Chemical (VOCs) are gaseous particles emitted from liquids or solids that are highly toxic. Aerosol disinfecting sprays, Windex (or any generic glass cleaner), even furniture polish are loaded with VOCs. Paint is also a notorious VOC emitter. Compared to outdoors, indoor concentrations of VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher. Without proper ventilation or air filtration, these airborne toxins are respitorily inescapable.
Furniture can be chemically volatile, too. Once again, what is meant to "help" is actually harming us. Many furniture items have a flame retardant coating. While we might never be in a house fire, we are always exposed to the VOCs that enter the air from the flame retardants. Double the expected exposure if this is an office setting since printers, copiers and their component inks and solvents are high VOC emitters. 3D printers are especially dangerous, as the printing process spews millions of ultra-fine particles into the air. What's worse, workplaces rarely have open windows to help dilute the toxic office air and most standard air systems do not clean the air, only regulate its temperature.
Standard air conditioners do not scrub the air clean of viruses and bacteria.As previously mentioned, the primary priority of a standard heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit is to move the air and maybe heat or cool it. While most buildings are equipped with air filters on vents, most standard filters are not high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and are not dense enough to remove microscopic organisms, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. While dust, hair and bugs are all important to remove from the air, unless the existing HVAC unit has been upgraded to have an air filter with a MERV rating of 13 and above, viruses and bacteria are just further circulated in an enclosed environment. MERVs, or minimum efficiency reporting values, measure the size of the particle that can pass through an air filter. Previously, only hospitals would have HEPA filtration systems in place with high MERV ratings (12+). However, due to the new information regarding the dangers of airborne virus transmission, more homes and workplaces are adding portable HEPA filtration units to their existing ventilation systems.
One sick person can contaminate an entire room. Ironically enough, that cool breeze from the fan or AC unit is one of the reasons why a sick person, no matter where they are standing, can contaminate an entire room. Outdoors, wind and infinite space are constantly diluting airborne contagions locally, if not blowing them away all together. Indoors, hot aerosol particles exhaled from a sick person (or healthy person, to be fair) rise and spread - naturally moving faster than cooler room air. Eventually, the infected air cools and settles elsewhere, up to 60 feet from the source. If the room has any form of air circulation, this mixing is expedited and more widespread. Considering a cloistered contagious human will be repeatedly exhaling new, hot, virus laden aerosols, no matter where they are, if it's indoors it is guaranteed everyone is enjoying the same second hand breath.
Despite the deluge of doom and gloom, there are many easy solutions to help prevent indoor air pollution and its entourage of complications. From simply opening up the windows to running the exhaust systems in the kitchen and bath, to extending run time for AC units and adding portable HEPA filtration units; there are options in every price range. Resourceful types have been DIYing their own HEPA filtration systems, though it's probably best to trust the professionals so you know exactly what the added filtration system protects from. Unfortunately, there are ample products claiming to clean your air, but as with so much else, many are causing more harm than good.
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References: National Institute of Respiratory Health, Mexico