We take our indoor air quality for granted. We don't really see indoor air the way we see smog outdoors, so we simply assume the air inside our homes is clean. The reality is the air inside our homes is seldom as clean than the air right outside our front door.
As building codes change to focus on greater energy efficiency, we are reducing the exchange of air flow from inside our home with fresh air from outside our homes. With the drop in air exchange, we need to learn more about the unhealthy things polluting our indoor air. We also need to learn what we can/should do to keep our indoor air cleaner and healthier, i.e. changing furnace filters regularly. Hopefully we're starting to pay attention to indoor air quality as asthma and other respiratory problems rise.
Healthy Homes, Healthy You
At rest we take 15 breaths per minute. Each breath is 500 ml, which over the course of a single day equals 10,000 liters or a room approximately 8 by 7 feet. Do you know what is in the air you and your loved ones breathe? Do you realize that some of today’s debilitating ailments come from the air we breathe?
The 1970’s energy crisis brought energy efficient homes. Efficiency came from reducing the loss of warm/cool air from our homes. At the same time it created a virtual soup of indoor pollutants, now trapped inside our homes. These pollutants are compromising our health with a mixture of germs, odors, particulates, and non-odorous combustion gases like carbon dioxide and radon.
What is Healthy Air?
Most people think air is primarily oxygen. In fact, air on earth is made up of several gases – 78% nitrogen, only 21% oxygen, less than 1% argon, just 0.03% carbon dioxide (CO2) and minute amounts of other gases plus water vapor. Good quality air contains these gases and NO germs. What many of us imagine is the fresh air we see on a beautiful sunny day, and don’t realize how many pollutants our industrial factories put into the air because we can’t see them.
Pollutants that Contaminate the Air We Breathe
Unfortunately we're all subjected to the pollutants disbursed into the atmosphere. That's why it's so hard to have healthy air inside your house. These are the most common pollutants preventing healthy air indoors:
- Soot – a combination of fine solids and aerosols suspended in the air we breathe. This type of pollution comes from factories, auto exhaust, dust storms, construction and agriculture. Our bodies are able to filter out particulates bigger than 10 microns but anything smaller than 10 microns (a human hair is 100 microns) gets inhaled causing damage to our lungs, and some pollutants can even reach our bloodstream. Studies show that people living in hazy cities (versus clean air environments) are more likely to die from lung cancer, heart attacks and respiratory failure.
- Smog – is a kind of air pollution created in the warmer months, by the action of sunlight on a mixture of hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen. Smog occurs in many cities, varying in it’s chemical makeup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses an Air Quality index to explain air pollution levels. 8 hour average ozone concentrations of 85 to 104 ppbv are considered “unhealthy to sensitive groups” including senior citizens, children and people with heart and lung conditions like asthma.
Tips for Healthy Air in Our Homes
Nature has many ways of dealing with the pollutants. Governments around the world play a tremendous role in controlling the release of pollutants into the atmosphere, i.e. the U.S. Clean Air Act. There are also many non-profit groups focusing on ways to promote clean air and search for solutions to global warming such as Clean Air Cool Planet.
Air pollution doesn’t stop when you walk indoors. In fact the problem worsens because we spend 90% of our time indoors and indoor air is 2 to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air. The EPA is focusing on indoor healthy air, with a heavy emphasis on our schools where 20% of the US population spend their days and 1 in 5 schools have unsatisfactory indoor air quality.
Madeline Flagg, founder of Purely Green Environmental, is NORMI trained and offers air quality testing services and products to homeowners and businesses. With degree in chemistry and biology, she has the scientific to truly understand and communicate air quality problems and solutions.