Indoor Air Quality and Its Impact on Health
In an age where we spend so much time indoors, the air quality inside has become important.
Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the air condition inside buildings and structures as it relates to the comfort and health of occupants. Poor indoor air quality can significantly affect human health, leading to various issues, from short-term discomfort to long-term chronic illnesses.
Here we dive into the various aspects of indoor air quality, its health risks, common pollutants, associated symptoms, long-term effects, and the role of professionals like Atlantic Environmental in ensuring a healthy indoor environment.
What are the Health Risks of Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Poor indoor air quality has been linked to a host of health problems. Short-term effects may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
However, the more concerning implications are the long-term health risks. Prolonged exposure to indoor air pollutants can contribute to developing or exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cardiovascular diseases. Poor indoor air quality can also affect cognitive function, leading to more severe outcomes such as lung cancer.
Extremely high levels of some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, can even lead to death.
What are the 5 Major Indoor Air Pollutants?
Indoor air pollutants come from various sources, such as inadequate heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Inadequate maintenance of fuel-burning equipment reduces air volume, quality, and distribution. They can generate carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, and respirable particulates when not appropriately vented.
Below, we list the five major categories of indoor air pollutants.
Particulate matter, often termed PM, refers to tiny solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in our air. These particles vary in size, with diameters ranging from a few nanometers to tens of micrometers. They are classified into different categories based on their size, notably PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller) and PM10 (particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or smaller).
Particulate matter originates from a multitude of sources, both natural and human-made. Natural sources include dust kicked up by wind, volcanic emissions, and pollen. However, most particulate matter results from human activities such as industrial processes, construction, transportation, and burning fossil fuels for energy.
These activities release pollutants into the atmosphere, including soot, smoke, and chemical compounds, which can become suspended as particulate matter. These particles have significant implications for air quality and public health, as they can penetrate deep into the respiratory system and even enter the bloodstream, leading to various adverse health effects.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of organic chemicals that quickly evaporate into the air at room temperature. They are characterized by their low boiling points and high vapor pressures, which contribute to their ability to release gases into the atmosphere readily.
VOCs are emitted from a variety of sources. Natural sources include vegetation, trees, and even certain types of bacteria. However, most VOC emissions result from human activities such as industrial processes, vehicle exhaust, and using products like paints, solvents, and cleaning agents.
Biological Pollutants (Bioaerosols)
Biological pollutants are substances of organic origin. These pollutants stem from living organisms or their byproducts and can include a range of microorganisms, allergens, and other biological agents.
Familiar sources of biological pollutants indoors include mold and mildew, dust mites, pollen, bacteria, viruses, and insect droppings. These pollutants can thrive in environments with excess moisture, inadequate ventilation, and poor sanitation. They are often responsible for triggering allergies, respiratory problems, and other health issues, particularly in individuals with sensitivities.
Adequate ventilation, moisture control, and regular cleaning are essential in minimizing the presence and impact of biological pollutants in indoor spaces.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an indoor air pollutant with distinct sources and potential health implications.
Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is a natural component of the Earth’s atmosphere. However, in indoor environments, elevated levels of CO2 can result from poor ventilation, particularly in crowded or enclosed spaces.
Common sources include human exhalation and combustion processes (such as burning fossil fuels for heating). While CO2 is not typically harmful at normal levels, increased concentrations can indicate inadequate ventilation and may lead to discomfort, drowsiness, reduced cognitive function and death.
Radon is a radioactive gas naturally produced by uranium decay in soil and rock. It can seep into buildings through cracks in the foundation or other openings, accumulating in enclosed spaces such as basements. Prolonged exposure to elevated radon levels is a significant health concern, as it is a leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
Radon is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, making it invisible without proper testing. To mitigate radon exposure, conducting radon testing in building structures and implementing measures to reduce infiltration, such as sealing cracks and installing ventilation systems designed to expel radon-rich air, is essential.
What are the Symptoms of Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Symptoms of poor indoor air quality can vary widely depending on individual sensitivities, the specific pollutants present, and the duration of exposure. Common symptoms of poor indoor air quality include:
Respiratory Infection, Eye and Skin Irritation
Coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and watery and itchy eyes can result from biological contaminants such as bacteria, mold, mites, pollen, and viruses. In addition, these bioaerosols can trigger allergic reactions such as allergic rhinitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and asthma. And much worse, they can cause Legionnaires disease.
Headaches, Dizziness and Nausea
Releasing organic vapors such as disinfectants, cleaners, paints, fuels, solvents, and pesticides can cause these symptoms. In addition, formaldehyde found in plywood, particle board, fiberboard and cigarette smoke can be a cause.
Worsening of Existing Conditions
When exposed to indoor pollutants, individuals with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory conditions may experience worsened symptoms.
What are 3 Long-Term Effects of Indoor Air Pollution?
The long-term effects of poor indoor air quality can be particularly concerning:
Prolonged exposure to indoor air pollutants can lead to the development of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. These conditions can significantly reduce one’s quality of life. In addition, indoor air pollutants can weaken the immune system and impair the body’s natural defense against respiratory infections.
Indoor air pollutants can also affect cardiovascular health, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Particulate matter and VOCs are particularly implicated in these effects.
Radon gas, prevalent in some regions, is a known carcinogen and the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Over time, prolonged exposure to elevated radon levels increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
Hiring Atlantic Environmental for Investigative Surveys, Testing, and Sampling
Given the critical nature of indoor air quality on health, ensuring that the air we breathe within enclosed spaces is clean and safe is essential. Atlantic Environmental is a trusted company offering indoor air quality assessments and management training.
The services at Atlantic Environmental include investigative surveys, testing, and sampling that aim to identify and quantify pollutants in indoor environments.
The Atlantic Environmental team of experts uses advanced equipment to measure and analyze various indoor air pollutants, allowing for a full understanding of the air quality within a given space.
This data-driven approach enables accurate recommendations dependent on each specific situation.
In addition, Atlantic Environmental offers prevention and maintenance assistance, helping clients implement strategies to improve and maintain healthy indoor air quality over the long term.
Learn More About Indoor Air Quality Testing Services
Identifying and addressing indoor air pollutants is vital for creating a safe and comfortable working environment. With investigative surveys, testing, and sampling expertise, Atlantic Environmental offers a valuable solution to ensure optimal indoor air quality and a healthier work environment for all.
Contact Atlantic Environmental to learn more about our services.