Indoor air pollution worse than outdoor

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In a 2013 press release, the World Health Organization declared that outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer deaths, and yet the Environmental Protection Agency has found that indoor levels of pollutants are “2 to 5 times higher – and occasionally more than 100 times higher – than outdoor pollutant levels.”

The point needs repeating: Outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer, and indoor air can be 100 times more polluted than outdoor air.

Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and according to a study published in 2010, indoor air in the typical American home contains over 500 toxic chemicals. Even more disturbing was the fact that there were 120 chemicals they couldn’t even identify.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution:

  • Mold – humidity, leaks, wet carpet, etc.
  • Airborne bacteria or viruses – humans, pets, moist surfaces, humidifiers, ventilation systems
  • Combustion byproducts – furnaces, chimneys, gas appliances, and tobacco smoke
  • Formaldehyde – mattresses, bedding, clothing, carpets, hardwood, tiles and stoves
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – paints, solvents, cleaning products, carpets, air fresheners
  • Phthalates – shower curtains, vinyl flooring, food packaging, toys, personal care products
  • Pesticides – pest control poisons and lawn chemicals
  • Asbestos – damaged/degrading insulation or fireproofing
  • Heavy Metals – paint, tobacco, and dust
  • Radon – building materials, smoke detectors, well water, clocks and watches, outside air

Health Effects of Breathing Polluted Air

airpollutionAccording to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report Unfinished Business, indoor air pollution is one of the highest environmental risks to human health.

  • A publication called Air Pollution and Cancer reports that exposure to toxic airborne particulate has contributed to “3.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2010, due largely to cardiovascular disease, and 223 000 deaths from lung cancer.”
  • A study published in The Lancet in 2011 found that air pollution triggers more heart attacks than cocaine.

Considering the fact that a healthy individual eats about 3 to 5 times a day, and breathes about 11,000 to 23,000 times a day (8 to 16 breaths per minute), how much more important than diet is the quality of air that we breathe?

The EPA warns us of the following disease conditions caused by poor indoor air quality…

Immediate Effects of Air Pollution

  • Asthma, allergies, and other respiratory problems
  • Headaches
  • Eye and skin irritations,
  • Sore throat, colds and flu
  • Memory loss, dizziness, fatigue and depression

Long-Term Effects:

  • Heart Disease
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Reproductive Disorders
  • Sterility
  • Cancer

We can survive longer without food than without water, and longer without water than without air.  Affording yourself clean air to breathe is the single most powerful health upgrade that can be made.

The Dangers are Greater for Children and Pets

dog_and_toddler_4orkjMany people don’t realize that air quality becomes more toxic the closer you are to the floor.

Many chemicals offgas from carpet, vinyl or hardwood floors, and contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides, which are heavier than air, concentrate near the floor. One study found the pesticide Chlorpyrifos almost four times more concentrated at about 5-10 inches from the floor compared to the air 2 feet or more above the floor in a room ventilated with an open window.

The air that your baby and pet breath, is likely far more toxic than the air you breath, and they breath far more often as well.

A normal breathing rate for an adult at rest is 8 to 16 breaths per minute. For a dog it’s 10 to 30 breaths per minute, and for an infant, a normal breathing rate is up to 44 breaths per minute.

Air Pollution, IQ, and Brain Damage in Children

Recent studies have found that exposure to air pollution has a profound impact on the brain of a developing fetus.

  • A 2009 study in New York City outfitted 249 pregnant mothers with backpack air monitors during their final months of pregnancy. At age 5, their children were given IQ tests, and the children whose mothers were exposed to the most air pollution scored 4 to 5 points lower in IQ.

Conclusion

Due to chemicals offgassing from couches, lamps, rugs, paint, and other fabrics and furniture in our homes, our homes have become a potent source of air pollution that’s much worse than outside.

By being mindful of what we  bring into our living spaces, by buying cleaner organic fabrics and by using an air filter, most of the chemical exposures in our homes can be eliminated.  The result is a happier, healthier family living in a safer environment.