by Marshaneil Soumi D’ Rozario | 09 MAY 2018
When we talk about air pollution, the things that come to our minds are smog, dust, smoke, power plants, emissions from trucks and so on which are all part of outdoor air pollution. But what many of us are unaware is that air indoors can actually be far worse. According to WHO, 4.3 million people a year die from exposure to household air pollution globally. People who are exposed to air indoors face problems such as headache, eye, nose, and throat irritation, fatigue, dizziness and nausea. If ignored, they can lead to severe conditions such as lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, respiratory conditions, stroke, cataract and so on. In fact, household air pollution was reported as being responsible for 3% or 56,000 of IHD deaths each year, 3% or 43,000 stroke deaths, 2% or 10,000 lung cancer deaths, and 3% or 8,000 COPD deaths a year. Dr. Anita Jacob, Pulmonologist, Narayana Multispecialty Hospital, Whitefield gives her inputs on this issue.
What is Indoor air pollution?
Air pollution denotes presence of harmful contaminants in the air. Even though the more visible and discussed type of pollution is outdoor air pollution, and we consider our own homes and workplaces as safe it may not be the case always. The contamination of air indoors is called indoor air pollution and it is as significant as the pollution outside. Considering the pollutant concentration can be much higher indoors and majority of the people spend 90% of their time indoors currently it can be more dangerous
What are the causes of indoor air pollution?
The cause of indoor air pollution varies in different parts of the world. In a developing country like India the major indoor air pollutants are the products of the cooking fuels such as wood, charcoal and animal dung. Burning such fuels produces large amount of smoke and other air pollutants in the confined space of the home, resulting in high exposure. Women and children are the groups most vulnerable as they spend more time indoors and are exposed to the smoke.
Another major pollutant being the environmental tobacco smoke if a family member is smoking inside the home or premises. Other major air pollutants applicable to both developed and developing countries are volatile organic compounds which originate mainly from solvents and chemicals. The main indoor sources are perfumes, hair sprays, furniture polish, glues, air fresheners, moth repellents, wood preservatives, and many other products used in the house. Another important category of indoor air pollutants originate from living things such as pollen from plants, hair and fur from pets, house dust mites, cockroaches, moulds and fungi on the walls. Exposure to Radon produced from the soil naturally in high concentrations due to improper ventilation, Asbestos used for roofing, and formaldehyde gas from carpets and insulation foams are the other indoor air pollutants
How can it affect the health?
Statistics suggest that in developing countries, health impacts of indoor air pollution far outweigh those of outdoor air pollution. According to WHO, approximately 3.8 million people die due to illness attributable to household air pollution. The most affected group from indoor air pollution are women, elderly and children as they spend most of the time indoors. Some pollutants like formaledehyde can cause acute effects like watering of eyes, headache, and nasal congestion as in the case of other irritant gases. The most commonly affected organ is lung; however other organs such as heart, liver and kidneys may be affected. Indoor air pollution can even lead to cancers of lungs and blood The common lung diseases attributed to indoor air pollution are
Acute respiratory infections – Pneumonias, bronchitis
Obstructive lung diseases – COPD, worsening of asthma
For the neonates indoor air pollution can lead to low birth weight, still births and deterioration of lung function. The children exposed to indoor air pollution has higher incidence of pneumonias and even are susceptible to developing asthma. Long term exposure to indoor air pollution can lead to a disease called ‘sick building syndrome’ which is manifested as tiredness, allergic symptoms adverse mental effects and poor efficiency
How can you keep your indoors free from pollution?
Avoid firewood, coal cow dung and other solid fuels as fuel. Wherever possible use clean fuels such as LPG, gobar gas or electric stove for cooking
The stoves should be modified from traditional smoky and leaky cooking stoves to the ones which are fuel efficient, smokeless and have an exit (e.g., chimney) for indoor pollutants. A good example is the one designed by the National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative, of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy under a Special Project on Cookstove during 2009-2010
Do not smoke at home and premises
Adequate air flow (ventilation), proper filtration, and humidity control all contribute to a healthy indoor air environment
Use kitchen exhaust while cooking
Use bathroom exhaust while using bathroom
Dust the house weekly at least to avoid dust mites and cockroaches. Put pillows in airtight covers or wash them every week in hot water
Remove carpets that are laid on concrete.Wash bed covers and clothes every week in hot water (130°F)
Remove animals from the house or choose pets without fur
Avoid use of strong perfumes, air fresheners and agarbathis and strongly scented cleansing material
Follow the instructions in the manual while using pesticides
How can you create awareness?
People should be educated about the use of alternative cleaner sources of energy to replace direct combustion of biomass fuel. The stakeholders must include not only public, but also politicians and administrators to ensure their commitment and increase their awareness about health effects of indoor air pollution. Public should be educated about the harmful effects of second hand smoking( passive smoking) through media, posters and other IEC methods likewise for the harmful effects of active smoking. Education of women is the key as they are the ones who deal with the household and are most affected by the harmful effects of indoor air pollution.
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