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     Volume 5 Issue 110 | September 1, 2006 |

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Indoor Pollution

Syeda Shamin Mortada

All of us have to go out for our day-to-day activities and most of us worry about the risks our health is exposed to due to the severe pollution outside. Well, most of these “pollution risks” are simply unavoidable and to choose to stay at home is again simply impossible. For those who prefer to stay indoors due to the pollution outdoors, may be surprised to learn that researchers have discovered that the air inside your home can be much more polluted than the air outside. If this kind of pollution is not properly managed it can lead to serious health hazards. And this is a problem which can be grave in nature as we spend 90% of our time indoors; it may be in the office, in our home or in the car.

The sources of this pollution can be manifold - for example household products, furnishings, wet or moist walls, ceiling, carpets, poorly maintained humidifiers and dehumidifiers, bedding, household pets, interior building materials, contaminated or complicated ventilation systems, improperly placed outdoor air intakes, moisture or standing water, heating and air conditioning equipment, smoking, cooking, house cleaning products and so on and so forth. Then there are the biological pollutants which make their way in many homes such as animal dander, pollen, fungi, cockroaches, dust mites, mildew, moulds, plants, bacteria, and viruses.

Unknown to many, Asbestos is a major interior pollutant. Found in many products such as roofing and flooring materials, wall and pipe insulation, cement, coating materials, heating equipment, textured paints etc. Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide all of them poisonous are released through cooking heating systems which are not properly ventilated. Radon gas comes from uranium containing soil surrounding the house. It can enter the home through any openings or cracks in the foundation floors, walls, drains, or joints. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a major source of indoor air contaminant because it contains carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and many other gases and particles. Lead is also known to be a harmful pollutant especially in the cases of children. We may be exposed to lead: through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint, and dust.

Needless to say that these pollutants can adversely affect our health. Symptoms can be seen soon after exposure or even years after. Some common signs include irritation of eyes, nose, throat, headaches, skin irritation, dizziness, or fatigue. While some exposures may lead to certain diseases like visual disorders, memory impairment, asthma, hypersensitivity, humidifier fevers, influenza and other infectious diseases. Some effects are similar to that of a common cold or a viral problem that may make it all the more difficult to determine the pollutant. The more severe diseases which may be fatal occur after a long period and repeated exposures are respiratory diseases, heart diseases, cancer etc. For example, lead affects all systems within the body. At high levels it can cause convulsions, coma and even death.

The good part is by being more careful and altering our lifestyle a bit we can lead a healthy life with as little pollution as possible. If we are cautious enough, our indoors may not be 100% pollution free but we can be certain that our health will be safe from any serious damage.

There are ways to reduce pollution indoors. The first step of course would be to be more vigilant. The next would be to keep the house clean. House dust mites, pollens, animal dander, and other allergy-causing agents can be reduced, although not eliminated, through regular dusting and cleaning. Good ventilation and maintenance play important roles to keep interior air pollution in control. Ventilation can be increased through installation and use of exhaust fans especially in kitchens and bathrooms. If that is not possible open your windows to let the outside air in. Moisture control is a key factor in controlling pollution. Moulds, mildews and dust mites grow and increase in moist environment. Ventilate the attic and crawl spaces to prevent moisture build up. Empty water trays in air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators frequently. Heating and air conditioning system should be well maintained and filters should be changed on a regular basis. Please do remember to keep your carpets and doormats clean and dry. Try to use exposures to household chemicals such as methylene chloride and benzene to a minimum. Perchloroethylene is another chemical which we need to be careful about. It is most widely used in dry cleaning. Studies indicate that people breathe low levels of this chemical both in homes where dry-cleaned goods are stored and when they wear these clothes. This chemical causes cancer in animals. Discourage smoking and quit smoking yourself. Smoke combined with radon is a serious health risk. And of course do not forget to eat and drink nutritious food and clean water.

Given above is just a birds' eye view on the whole context of Indoor Pollution. Considering the amount of time we spend in closed surroundings it is of primary importance that we learn to deal with the issue. Let us therefore start off by keeping our surroundings and our homes as clean, dry and hygienic as possible.

Source: The Inside Story: A guide to Indoor Air Quality.
By National Service Centre for Environmental Publications
- An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality
- Indoor Air Pollution

By Judy Tidwell

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