Indoor air quality is something we often take for granted. While many of us rant and rave over outdoor air quality, as the recent haze over Singapore showed, we neglect to examine the air quality in the places we spend most of our time - in the office and at home.
According to studies performed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. This is especially true for buildings constructed since the 1970s. These houses are very well insulated and sealed to save energy. However, this same reason means they tend to trap air pollutants as well.
What aggravates the problem in Singapore?
Hot and wet climate facilitates the growth of mites and mould. Buildings with poor ventilation donâ€™t allow harmful gasses to disperse.
What are the health effects associated with indoor air quality?
Common complaints are headaches, sneezing, coughing, nausea, fatigue, skin rashes, blurred vision, shortness of breath, drowsiness, vomiting, and difficulty in concentrating. Other severe health effects include convulsions, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, liver and kidney problems and even cancer.
Where are the sources of indoor air pollutants?
Indoor air pollutants can be present in different forms. Here are some of the major sources of indoor air pollutants in our homes :
- Formaldehyde (HCHO)
Common sources are plywood panelling, adhesives, carpet backing, upholstery, drapery fabric as well as cigarette smoke.
Health effects include headaches, dizziness, lethargy, rashes, nausea, asthma attacks and irritation of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure at high levels may be related to nasal cancer.
Common sources are roofing and flooring materials, wall and pipe insulations, cement and coating materials. Is released only when the asbestos-materials are disturbed or disintegrate over time.
Health effects include scarring of the lungs and even cancer, as these microfibers can remain trapped in the respiratory system for years.
- Biological Pollutants
Common sources are improperly maintained air-conditioners, humidifiers, plants, pets and pests. Microscopic dust mites are a very important source of indoor allergens, found mainly in mattresses, upholstery as well as carpets.
Health effects: runny nose, blocked nose, shortness of breath, watery eyes and rashes. Long term exposure may trigger asthma attacks and even eczema.
- Aerosol Products
Common sources: Any aerosol product contain many toxic compounds such as mercury and methylene chloride, which are small enough to penetrate the lungsâ€™ defences.
Health effects: dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions and eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation.
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) & Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Common sources: Gas appliances, fireplaces, wood and tobacco smoke.
Health effects: Nitrogen dioxide can lower resistance to respiratory infections. Prolonged exposure can damage respiratory tissues and may lead to chronic bronchitis. Carbon disrupts the distribution of oxygen to the body, thus inducing fatigue, confusion, nausea, dizziness and worsens cardiovascular conditions.
General tips for better indoor air quality:
- Always ventilate air in all rooms frequently
- Use a HEPA air cleaner in the rooms to clean the air
- Clean air-cons and ventilating systems frequently
- Encase all beddings with allergen-proof materials
- Wash bedding materials frequently in hot water (above 60ï¿½ C) to reduce dust mites
- Fit gas range with a hood fan that vents pollutants outdoors. Otherwise, ventilate with an exhaust fan while cooking
- Always use gas appliances that uses spark ignition
- Have your gas or oil company inspect your gas appliances at least once a year
- Insist on pump-type sprays rather than aerosols
- Never cook with charcoal in your home
- Covering sources of the formaldehyde with appropriate coatings and sealers
- Never leave a car or lawn mower engine running in an enclosed area
- Avoid or replace asbestos materials in the homes. Otherwise, cover them with plastic or duct tapes.
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