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Is The Air You’re Breathing Indoors More Toxic Than Outdoor Air?
Research conducted by the EPA discovered that the air inside of our homes, office buildings, and other interior spaces is much more dangerous than we might think. The presence of obvious pollutants outdoors can make it easier to assume that the majority of the threat for unclean air lurks beyond our doors and walls, but the truth is that our indoor environments could actually be two to five times more toxic than the outside world. In rare cases, with the right circumstances in place, air measurements indoors have even been found to be 100 times more polluted than the air outdoors.
Information gathered by the International Agency for research regarding Cancer, and data gathered by the World Health Organization have further studied the dangerous of indoor air, and concluded that approximately 80% of all cancers may be attributed to environmental factors, including the frequent exposure many of us have to carcinogenic materials – like the ones in housecleaning products. The World Health Organization has even noted further that 3% of the global burden of disease is attributed to indoor air pollution.
Thanks to the popularity of office jobs, and the comfort that most homes afford today, many of us are spending as much as 90% of our lives indoors, forcing researchers to learn more about how we can reduce our exposure to indoor pollutants as much as possible. However, there are some steps that you can take to naturally clean out your own interior spaces – for the good of your health, and the health of your family.
The Health Issues of Poor Indoor Air Quality
The problem of poor air quality in your home or office building is just as serious as it sounds – if not more so. In fact, it’s estimated that around 20% of office workers who are exposed to bio toxins in their work environments on a regular basis suffer from an issue known as “sick building syndrome“. While the symptoms of this problem can vary, most of the time it causes workers to struggle concentrating, or suffer from racing thoughts.
Of course, sick building syndrome isn’t the only threat to worry about where indoor pollutants and toxins are involved. Even on a short term basis, indoor air pollution can lead to dry and irritated mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, throat, and respiratory tract, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, forgetfulness, headaches, lethargy, irritability, and nausea. When exposed for a longer period of time, some individuals find that their symptoms develop even further, into hypersensitivity pneumonitis, Legionnaire’s disease, and asthma.
As research into the effects of dangerous indoor air has been gathered over the years, scientists have found that childhood diagnoses of allergies, Tourette’s, Asperger’s, and autism can also be linked to pollutants found primarily indoors, such as phthalates, dust, PVC flooring, and even second-hand smoke.
The Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
A buildup of pollutants or toxins within an indoor space can happen for a number of reasons. For instance, inadequate ventilation throughout a home or building can be a primary cause – particularly during times of the year when humidity is high. Other sources include:
- Radon – Radon is a noxious gas that comes from the soil and bedrock located beneath a home or building. It can contain chemicals like uranium and radium, and experts often recommend having your home checked for Radon levels regularly to avoid illness. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer at this time.
- Tobacco smoke – Tobacco smoke is brimming with 43 compounds known to cause cancer, and at least 200 known poisons. Even second-hand smoke causes thousands of deaths every year, and the presence of smoke can make respiratory symptoms more severe.
- Mildew and mold – If indoor air quality poor, and the space suffers from high humidity, then this may lead to mold and mildew, which can cause very serious health problems.
- Heating and cooking processes that may give off nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and many other different gasses and chemicals.
- Household products – the average home contains about 10 gallons of synthetic chemicals, and the indoor use of cleaners, paints, pesticides, and even perfumes can lead to the distribution of toxins throughout the home.
Using Plants to Filter the Air
One of the most effective solutions that experts have begun to recommend as a method of improving indoor air quality, is to use plants to filter the air that we breathe. As strange as it may sound, bringing some of nature indoors with you through the use of office plants our houseplants can be an excellent idea – perfect for promoting your physical and emotional health. Not only does research suggest that living closer to nature might actually help you to live longer, but it also reduces stress, and helps to remove organic chemicals from enclosed spaces.
Research conducted by NASA, alongside the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, found that houseplants were capable of removing around 87% of the air toxins within a room during a period of twenty-four hours. As a result, the scientists went on to recommend using around 15 to 18 good sized houseplants within an 1,800 square foot house. Additionally, NASA also constructed a BioHome using bio-regenerative technology to provide a life support system ultimately designed for the permanent human habitation of space. The structure uses common houseplants which NASA has claimed serve as living purifiers for the air – absorbing chemical pollutants that result from the synthetic materials in most living areas.
A couple of potted plants could easily change the atmosphere of a home or inside space for the better. Not only does plant life help to freshen the air you breathe, but research has found that it’s capable of a lot more, too, including:
- Lowering stress in office workers, according to researchers from the Agricultural University of Norway.
- Reducing fatigue and stress, as well as lowering flu-like symptoms in employees, according to research.
- Lessening the impact of cold-related illnesses, sore throats, coughs, and fatigue, by decreasing levels of dust and increasing humidity – according to a Norway study by the University of Agriculture.
The Best plants for cleaning the air in your home include:
10. The Peace Lily
9. Garlic Vine
8. Yellow Goddess
7. Christmas Cactus
6. African Violets
5. Parlor Ivy
4. English Ivy
2. Devil’s Ivy
1. The Feston Rose
Other Options for Purifying the Air in Your Home
While opening the windows to reduce the pollution in your home can be a good place to start, there are many different steps that you can take to help clean the air in your home and reduce your chances of falling victim to the negative effects of interior toxins. For instance, air filters are particularly helpful inside, as they help to capture some of the tiny microbes, toxins, and particles that you might not otherwise be aware of, ensuring that the air you breathe is less contaminated.
Alternatively, if you’d rather avoid the chance of bugs getting into your home, or you want to continue purifying the air inside when you’re not there, you could consider using air exchangers, such as a heat recovery ventilator, or an energy recovery ventilator. Because many newer homes today are more energy-efficient and air-tight – properly ensuring air exchange with air outdoors can be more difficult. HRV systems can help to prevent condensation and mold growth, while improving air quality. Similarly, an ERV recovers heat like a HRV, while also recuperating the energy trapped within the humidity inside, which can improve the overall efficiency of the recovery.
Besides simply improving the flow of air in your home, one of the best ways to reduce pollutants is to ensure that you don’t use products that are filled with toxins. Though scented candles, room fresheners, and cleaning supplies can help your home to smell nicer, they’re actually not worth the risk that they pose to your health. Even perfumes can be enough to damage your health when sprayed regularly over time. While keeping your home clean is a good way to reduce the buildup of debris that could cause allergies and asthma, avoid the following ingredients:
- Butyl Cellosolve (Window cleaner) – This substance has been found to damage the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and bone marrow.
- Petroleum Solvents (Floor cleaner) – This has been found to damage the mucous membranes in your nose and eyes.
- Nonylphenol Exthoxylate (Detergent) – This surfactant has been banned in Europe, but can still be found in some all-purpose cleaners and laundry detergents. It has been shown to biodegrade into further toxic compounds.
- Phenols (Disinfectants) – These substances are toxic to both the circulatory and respiratory systems.
Look for natural fragrances, organic cleaning products, and healthier options that are free from many of the dangerous chemicals that pervade households and builds today. If you want to make a romantic gesture, choose an LED candle instead, and avoid the risk.
Protecting your Air
While it might be impossible to completely clean the air you breathe indoors every day from all pollutants and toxins (particularly in an office building where you might have little control over the chemicals and solutions that are used), it’s important to remember that there are a number of great ways to help lower the concentration of dangerous substances in the air you breathe – even if all you do is remember to open a window every so often, or ensure that you have your HVAC filters checked at home.