Is indoor air pollution a serious threat to your health? NH investigates…
According to the World Health Association (WHO), air pollution is the single biggest environmental risk to human health, with nine out of 10 people in the world breathing in polluted air. The WHO says that by reducing air pollution levels, countries can lessen their burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.
But it’s not just when we’re pounding the pavements that we are exposed to dangerous levels of toxins. The air inside our homes can be just as harmful. “There is so much media focus on outdoor pollution and vehicle emissions that we barely give a thought to the air quality in our homes,” says Dr Chris Etheridge, medical herbalist, clinician and adviser to Puressential (uk.puressentiel.com), “and when we do think about indoor air quality, it’s usually in terms of neutralising nasty odours rather than potential problems from airborne toxins.”
According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare, poor indoor air quality is reported to have an annual cost to the UK of more than 204,000 healthy life years, with 45 percent of those lost to cardiovascular diseases, 23 percent to asthma and allergy, and 15 percent to lung cancer. According to WHO, 4.3 million people die world wide every year from exposure to household air pollution. Given UK citizens spend around 90 percent of their time indoors, statistics like these are becoming increasingly alarming.
“There is a lot of noise about how outdoor air pollution affects your health,” says Peter Howarth, professor of respiratory medicine at The University of Southampton. “But indoor air can be more hazardous than outdoor air, particularly in young children and the elderly and where air quality is poorest. ‘Toxic home syndrome’ occurs when families are exposed to a potent mix of airborne pollutants arising from poor home ventilation, which causes respiratory and skin diseases to occur more frequently.”
“I have had many patients come to me with serious respiratory conditions due to pollutants within the home,” says Peter. “Mould allergy is recognised to be associated with worse asthma and poorer control of it. The presence of moulds within the home is a reflection of poor ventilation and increased humidity. Homes with mould are also likely to have higher house dust mite allergen levels and this may worsen both respiratory and skin conditions. The lack of adequate ventilation within the home can also be associated with the build up of non-allergenic noxious fumes which are detrimental to health.”
Proper ventilation is a must to prevent mould, which, once it grows, releases invisible spores into the air which quickly find their way into our lungs. Open windows as much as possible, and in small areas which are prone to damp, consider running a fan after you’ve used the shower to help speed up the drying process.
But this is not the only threat in the home. Your kitchen could be the worst culprit. A recent study found cooking your Sunday roast causes the air to turn toxic, with potentially damaging consequences.
In a purpose-built home in the US, scientists from the HOMEChem project cooked various meals over the course of a day and tested for tiny particles called PM2.5s that, when inhaled, are linked to heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. They found the fumes from some meals to be 13 times more polluting than a London roadside, and more than 20 times over the World Health Organisation’s safe outdoor limits. These high levels generally stayed for around an hour after the cooker was used.
As well as using your extractor fan, and changing its filter regularly, always open as many windows as possible while you’re in the kitchen, and leave them open for an hour after you’ve finished to allow the toxic air to leave the room.
We all like a clean and tidy house, but pollutants can come from cleaning products and air fresheners, too. The solution is to buy clean – you may be using all-natural beauty products, but have you given thought to what’s in the detergents you use, or the cleaning sprays in your cupboards? Switch to toxin-free, natural brands.
Household items like MDF furniture and memory foam mattresses can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde. These compounds can also come from certain upholstered furniture and carpets. If possible, you should use natural wooden furniture and flooring, and organic mattresses.
For your walls, choose VOC and solvent-free paints, and be wary of what you use for your flooring – carpets emit VOCs for a few days after installation, and vinyl is usually strengthened with chemicals which give off gases. Natural wood or bamboo is the safest bet.
Even regular dust or pet dander can cause problems in those susceptible, so keep on top of things. If someone in the household has respiratory problems, it’s worth considering an air purifier. These ‘clean’ the air, removing cooking odours, dust and chemicals from cleaning agents. A very high-performing air purifier, such as one from Blueair (blueair.com) will help remove bacteria and virus from the air too, helping reduce the risk for coughs and colds. And never be afraid to open the windows – the street outside may be polluted, the air in your home could be worse.
Save over £11
when you subscribe today
Exclusive prizes from our Heaven Skincare, Senspa, Green People and more...