People’s minds typically move to outdoor air pollution when we talk about air pollution. After all, outdoor pollution is more heavily publicised, and we also discuss it more on this website. However, it’s not the only type of pollution we need to consider.
Where outdoor air quality has been increasing in many developed countries, the opposite is often true for indoor air quality. With more extreme weather and better housing (which means less unintentional ventilation), we now experiencing decreasing indoor air quality in many homes.
With the northern hemisphere now heading into winter and many relying on traditional heating methods due to rising energy costs, it’s more important than ever to talk about indoor air pollution and what we can do to prevent its effects.
When asked whether they were concerned about indoor air pollution, 44% of Americans said they were concerned about mould. This was followed by 25% who were mildly worried about gas emissions and 23% concerned about volatile organic compounds.
Beginning from the top, mould is a dangerous indoor air pollutant. It grows in houses with high humidity and poor ventilation but can also be found post-flooding or water damage. Luckily, mould is generally easy to find - its musky odour indicates its presence.
The key to keeping mould under control is to find the source. A dehumidifier and better ventilation are needed if the environment is overly humid. If there is a leak causing mould, the leak needs to be removed.
When removing mould, ensure to use safety equipment such as a respirator, goggles and gloves. Once covered, a disinfectant that is effective against mould is your best choice for removing the issue. However, remember that the chemicals used in mould removal are often powerful, and you will want to air out the room for at least a couple of hours afterwards.
The second most worrying indoor air pollution for Americans is gas emissions. While these can vary greatly, the most commonly discussed is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide can be emitted from malfunctioning stoves, furnaces, or other appliances which rely on gas or propane. If you don’t have an exhaust fan over a gas stove, carbon monoxide can also be present.
Unfortunately, carbon monoxide is very tricky to identify. It’s a colourless, odourless gas that is produced when any fossil fuel, wood, or charcoal is burned. While indoor appliances are designed to minimise the risk of CO, they can malfunction and cause a buildup of gas. Also, devices intended to be used outdoors (such as barbecues) can create CO when used indoors.
The best way to ensure you are protected from CO is to use a combination CO and smoke detector. These devices can emit a loud noise to let household members know when either smoke or carbon monoxide is at dangerous levels.
The survey's third most concerning indoor air pollutant was a range of pollutants called VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These gases are emitted from paints, cleaning products, air fresheners, nail polish, and various other commonly-used household items.
Like carbon monoxide, VOCs can only be discovered with a dedicated monitor. Luckily, we can take steps to reduce VOC concentrations in our house. When using strong chemicals such as cleaners, it’s important to open the doors and ventilate well after use. Alternatively, try moving to weaker or natural solutions instead.
The same goes for painting, using nail polish, and using pesticides. If you need to use any of these products, ensure you use them in a well-ventilated room, which can be left open for a couple of hours after use.
While many more indoor air pollutants can potentially be dangerous, ventilation and controlling the emission sources are the best methods for ensuring we are safe. We recommend reading this article if you’re wondering about radon, asbestos, or other indoor air pollutants.