OPINION: Why it is important to have good indoor air quality

“I count three scratches on that wall. Ok, on to the next one. One, two, three… Oh my god, I’m so bored?” With more and more reasons not to go outside, from pandemics to raging wildfires, people across the globe continue to self-isolate and quarantine. People have spent so much time inside, they’ve begun to run out of things to do. Some people, like me, have found themselves absent-mindedly counting scratches and dents on their walls. I promise I’m not the only one who has done this. 

With all of this time spent indoors, and approaching winter weather that will force people inside even more, it’s a great time to think about the air that we breathe. At least, that is according to The New York Times, which on Oct. 5 published an article discussing what products work best to maintain good indoor air quality and why. Inspired by the content of this article, I’d like to continue the conversation and tell you exactly why it is so important to maintain good indoor air quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency describes on its website sources of indoor pollution and its effects.

The EPA’s list of sources for indoor pollution is intimidatingly large:

  • Fuel-burning combustion appliances.
  • Tobacco products.
  • Building materials and furnishings such as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, newly installed flooring, upholstery or carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products.
  • Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies.
  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices.
  • Excess moisture.
  • Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides and outdoor air pollution.

Many variables contribute to how dangerous an indoor pollutant is. The EPA website says one of the significant factors is age, i.e. the older the source, the more likely it is to put pollutants into your environment.

The consequences of living with these pollutants are even scarier. According to the EPA website, short-term effects may include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat as well as some fatigue, headaches and dizziness, which typically are treatable by identifying the source of the pollution and eliminating it.

Long-term effects may include diseases of the heart and/or lungs and certain cancers, according to the EPA website. While the short-term effects may seem livable, the long-term effects can be fatal. We need to make an effort to keep the air we breathe in our homes clean.

According to theWorld Health Organization, household air pollution was “responsible for 3.8 million deaths, and 7.7% of the global mortality,” in 2016.  I certainly do not want to see these numbers higher for 2020.

Ensuring that you have clean air in your indoor environment is incredibly important. If you are unsure whether your home has issues with pollutants or fear you may be experiencing symptoms related to indoor air pollution, see a doctor or a local health department official to find out.

If you want to make sure your home is pollution-free, the EPA website suggests first identifying potential sources of pollution. To do so, see the preceding list. Look for signs that you potentially need to improve your home’s air quality, or at the very least its ventilation, such as an abundance of condensation, thick or stinky air, dirty ventilation equipment and mold. The EPA website also recommends that you measure your home’s radon levels and reduce the amount of energy needed to cool or heat your home. Of course, if you are living in an apartment or dorm, this may not be possible.

According to that Oct. 5 New York Times article, the only meaningful way to improve air quality in your home, without altering any of your home’s infrastructure, is by using a HEPA air purifier and ensuring that it is adjusted to the appropriate square footage of your living quarters.

It is also said in the article that plants can help, but should not be relied upon for truly clean air. The work they do is nowhere near the quality of the work done by an air purifier. In fact, the only real way for plants to help, according to Bryan E. Cummings & Michael S. Waring of the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, which was cited by the Times article, would require 10-1000 plants per square meter of indoor space. So while plants are helpful, they are much less helpful than a proper purifier. 

The air you breathe is perhaps the most valuable resource on the planet. It is quite literally life. If the air is dirty, that life can be harmed or taken away. You should take care of the air in your home, because that air is monitorable and adjustable and it is controlled by you. Clean your air.

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