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Air Pollution – The Silent Killer

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By Ruth MacEachern

Product Manager

Jul 24, 2019

We have all seen images of heavily polluted cities, where the entire city appears to be living in a constant cloud, or grey twilight. At home too, almost everyone will have experienced air pollution firsthand. Perhaps in the summer months during a dry spell, you have noticed a greyish haze settling over the landscape like a dull mist; this is also air pollution. While it may not seem like anything other than an aesthetic issue, air pollution can have significant consequences for those it affects. 

Air pollution and health 

According to a recent study by the WHO, over 4.2 million deaths occur each year as a result of exposure to ambient, or outdoor, air pollution. In other words, in 2016, air pollution contributed to 7.6% of all deaths internationally. 

However, it is not just outdoor air pollution that is an issue. The WHO also found that 3.8 million people die every year as a result of household exposure to air pollution. Most commonly, household air pollution is caused by smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels that are used within the home. Studies have found that 50% of all pneumonia deaths in children under the age of five are due to household air pollution. 

Clearly, air pollution is an incredibly important issue around the world, so why aren’t we talking about it? Air pollution is often discussed in the context of large cities suffering from immense air pollution, such as New Delhi, Beijing, and Mexico City. Often, the discussion ends here. As air pollution is such a serious, deadly issue, we all need to become more aware of its harmful effects, and what we can do to better protect ourselves, and our families, from its deadly effects. 

Categorising air pollution health risks

We all experience some forms of air pollution, both outdoors and inside our homes. However, we are not all experiencing the same levels of exposure to pollutants. Below is a breakdown of the various levels of exposure to air pollution, and the health effects these levels can have. 

High levels of air pollution can cause immediate health issues, including: 
Cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses
Damage to cells in the respiratory system 
Additional stress on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, forcing the heart and lungs to work much harder to oxygenate the body 
Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause the following permanent health issues: 
Diminished lung capacity and functioning 
Reduced lifespan 
Contraction of diseases like emphysema, asthma, bronchitis, and maybe even cancer
Accelerated ageing of the lungs
Individuals who are the most susceptible to serious health issues from air pollution are: 
Young children under the age of 14
The elderly 
Pregnant women 
Individuals who work outside
Individuals who have heart or lung diseases 
Athletes who train outdoors

Individuals who fall into these categories can face greater health impacts from air pollution, even if they are exposed to lower levels of pollution. 

Air quality issues specific to the UK 

There are a number of indoor air quality and air pollution issues that are particular to the UK and to countries with similar climates. We have all likely experienced mould in our homes – usually around window frames, near windows, or on ceilings. The damp climate of the UK is perfect for fostering mould and, unfortunately, most homes in the UK have some form of mould lurking in corners or around window frames.

However, mould is more than an aesthetic issue; it can also cause health issues, or exacerbate existing health troubles. The NHS states that, if you have damp and mould in your house, you and your family are more likely to experience respiratory problems or infections, allergies, or asthma. These health issues are more likely to affect children, the elderly, and others with compromised immune systems and existing allergies and skin problems, like eczema. 

There are a number of ways to eradicate or reduce, the amount of damp and mould in your home. We have a series of recommendations on eliminating mould and damp; however, the easiest and most efficient way to handle damp is with extractor fans and proper ventilation.

Volatile organic compounds and your home

The individuals who suffer the most from indoor air pollution are those who live in underdeveloped countries and do not have access to clean-burning stoves or fuel. However, all homes everywhere in the world have to combat volatile organic compounds.

In fact, studies by the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) have found that homes in the UK could have up to 900 different chemicals just in the air alone. These chemicals are not from dangerous cooking fires or fuel burned inside the home, rather, that are often from the many products we use to sanitise and scent our domiciles. 

Many of the products we use, such as aerosol sprays, contain volatile organic compounds; even new furniture releases a volatile organic compound called formaldehyde. These VOCs are an issue because they can cause allergic reactions and manifest as sore throats, irritated eyes, and rashes.

Some of the household and consumer products that contain, and release VOCs are: 
New furniture
Aerosol sprays
Cleaning products 
Cigarette smoke 
Dry cleaned clothing
Hobby supplies
Select automotive products 
Some scented candles

Your home is a place of refuge away from the rest of the world. You should not have to concerned about potentially getting a rash or breathing in VOCs simply because you like to use certain cleaning products, get your clothing dry cleaned, or use certain cleaning sprays.

How you can improve the air quality in your home

The first step towards bettering the air quality in your home is testing the air to first discover the kinds of chemicals and VOCs that are there.

Home Health Checks 

If you are concerned about the air quality in your home, or if you are experiencing headaches or allergic-like reactions continually, one of our Home Health Checks is the best place to start. This check will monitor a wide array of considerations, variables, and VOCs such as temperature, relative humidity, mould sites, VOCs and TVOCs present, and MVOCs (microbial VOCs).

Taking steps to improve air quality in your home

Once you are aware of the air quality of your home, and know about potential problems that may arise, you can begin working to improve the air quality in your home. We have a whole blog post dedicated to different, small ways you can improve your indoor air quality. This list includes everything from bringing in houseplants to fixing leaks, to choosing eco-friendly cleaning products and non-scented paint.

Maintaining clean air quality

Once you have taken steps to improve the air quality of your home, it is important to maintain the levels of clean air and continually monitor the air quality. This is an ongoing process as your home’s air environment will change and fluctuate depending on any changes in the weather, the products or sprays you use, and the furniture you purchase.

For ventilation monitoring, it is important to ensure you are up to date with your home’s plans and efficiency and that you are aware of all ventilation points. You will need to check these points to ensure that they are cleared at all times of the year.

Ventilation systems for your home 

However, ventilation systems are the most effective and efficient method for purifying and improving indoor air quality. EnviroVent offers a number of different ventilation systems to suit any person, or professional, building. When choosing the correct ventilation system for your property, it is important to consider the specific needs for your property, and how they can be best accommodated and served.

Below are the various ventilation systems and fans that EnviroVent offers:

Positive Input Ventilation (PIV) – these ventilation systems work to create a whole-house ventilation system and drastically improve air quality into a property at a continuous rate. 
Extractor Fans – you probably have the most experience with extractor fans, which are often found in bathrooms and kitchens. These two spaces are generally damp and without proper ventilation, can result in issues with excess smoke, steam, or mould. A new, high-quality extractor fan can make a world of difference in clearing unwanted fumes and damp from your home. 
Heat Recovery Ventilation (MVHR) – this is a ventilation system which is used to reduce the heating and cooling needs of buildings and homes. This increases energy efficiency and means that you can keep your home or office air clean, while also reducing energy costs. The Heat Recovery Ventilation systems typical are able to recover roughly 60 – 95% of the heat in the exhaust air.

There is no single right way to better your home’s air quality and protect yourself and your family from VOCs and harmful chemicals. However, the most efficient and effective way to purify your home’s air is through installing high-performance ventilation systems and extractor fans.