Guide Indoor Air Quality & Human Health

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Human activities such as cleaning, cooking and bathing add moisture to indoor air, resulting in the air indoors containing more moisture than the air outdoors. The activities of a family of four typically add ten litres of water to the indoor air — per day British Standard, It is important to notice that condensation is an indicator of dampness in the room; condensation on the window pane is, by itself, not problematic for health Wargocki, Remember The moisture production from a typical family is litres per day — this corresponds to emptying a large bucket of water on the floor every day.

It should be removed with adequate ventilation to reduce the risk of illnesses. The figure shows the risk of becoming ill with asthma. Allergy increases in houses with a ventilation rate below 0. Remember Good indoor air quality is a precondition for preventing important illnesses like asthma and allergy, especially among children. Home for Life. Previous Indoor air quality. A nationwide study over three decades, Clinical and experimental allergy, vol. British Standard BS Code of practice for control of condensation in buildings. Franchi, M. Krzyanowski, M.

Mathisen, H. Nilsson, C.


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Seppanen, O. Indoor Air, 12 2 , 98— Sundell, J. Wargocki, P. Technical University of Denmark. In addition, children are more sensitive to exposures, and they also experience greater exposures: they breathe, eat, and drink more relative to their size than adults do, and they play closer to the ground, exhibit more hand-to-mouth activity, and are less able to identify and protect themselves from potential hazards. Children with asthma are at an even higher risk for negative health effects, including asthma exacerbation and asthma attacks, due to poor IAQ associated with environmental triggers.

However, adults can also be negatively affected by poor IAQ and may even develop adult-onset asthma. Asthma-prone adults and children are both at risk for asthma symptoms or flare-ups due to environmental exposure to allergens such as dust mites, pests, pet dander, mold, and second hand smoke.


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Asthma symptoms in adults are often more persistent than they are in children. Adult-onset asthma, triggered by poor IAQ at schools, can affect teachers, school administrators, and other adults working in school buildings. Not only can poor IAQ lead to the health problems above, but it can also lead to lower academic performance in school and higher absenteeism due to exacerbated asthma symptoms.

The first step in addressing an issue like poor IAQ at school is to raise awareness. National Healthy Schools Day , started in , celebrates and promotes healthy and green indoor school environments for all children and staff.

How does air pollution affect our health?

During National Healthy Schools Day , schools, communities, non-governmental organizations, and other groups can plan activities to highlight and address IAQ issues. These activities may include strengthening or creating an IAQ program at school, replacing cleaning products with safer substitutes, or hosting an IAQ or Green Cleaning Workshop, among other endeavors.

In the United States, the average indoor radon level is about 1. The average outdoor level is about 0. The U.

Indoor Air Pollution

These biological chemicals can arise from a host of means, but there are two common classes: a moisture induced growth of mold colonies and b natural substances released into the air such as animal dander and plant pollen. Moisture buildup inside buildings may arise from water penetrating compromised areas of the building envelope or skin, from plumbing leaks, from condensation due to improper ventilation, or from ground moisture penetrating a building part. Even something as simple as drying clothes indoors on radiators can increase the risk of exposure to amongst other things Aspergillus — a highly dangerous mould that can be fatal for asthma sufferers and the elderly.

In areas where cellulosic materials paper and wood, including drywall become moist and fail to dry within 48 hours, mold mildew can propagate and release allergenic spores into the air. In many cases, if materials have failed to dry out several days after the suspected water event, mold growth is suspected within wall cavities even if it is not immediately visible.

Through a mold investigation, which may include destructive inspection, one should be able to determine the presence or absence of mold. In a situation where there is visible mold and the indoor air quality may have been compromised, mold remediation may be needed. Mold testing and inspections should be carried out by an independent investigator to avoid any conflict of interest and to insure accurate results; free mold testing offered by remediation companies is not recommended.

There are some varieties of mold that contain toxic compounds mycotoxins. However, exposure to hazardous levels of mycotoxin via inhalation is not possible in most cases, as toxins are produced by the fungal body and are not at significant levels in the released spores.

The primary hazard of mold growth, as it relates to indoor air quality, comes from the allergenic properties of the spore cell wall. More serious than most allergenic properties is the ability of mold to trigger episodes in persons that already have asthma , a serious respiratory disease. One of the most acutely toxic indoor air contaminants is carbon monoxide CO , a colourless and odourless gas that is a by-product of incomplete combustion. Common sources of carbon monoxide are tobacco smoke, space heaters using fossil fuels , defective central heating furnaces and automobile exhaust.

By depriving the brain of oxygen, high levels of carbon monoxide can lead to nausea, unconsciousness and death. Volatile organic compounds VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors up to ten times higher than outdoors.

Indoor air pollution: A neglected yet important risk to public health

VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper , graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions. Chlorinated drinking water releases chloroform when hot water is used in the home.

Benzene is emitted from fuel stored in attached garages. Overheated cooking oils emit acrolein and formaldehyde. A meta-analysis of 77 surveys of VOCs in homes in the US found the top ten riskiest indoor air VOCs were acrolein, formaldehyde, benzene, hexachlorobutadiene, acetaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, benzyl chloride, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, acrylonitrile, and vinyl chloride. These compounds exceeded health standards in most homes. Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products.

Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds during usage, and, to some degree, when they are stored.

Testing emissions from building materials used indoors has become increasingly common for floor coverings, paints, and many other important indoor building materials and finishes. Several initiatives envisage to reduce indoor air contamination by limiting VOC emissions from products. These initiatives changed the marketplace where an increasing number of low-emitting products has become available during the last decades.

At least 18 Microbial VOCs MVOCs have been characterised [20] [21] including 1-octenol , 3-methylfuran , 2-pentanol , 2-hexanone , 2-heptanone , 3-octanone , 3-octanol , 2-octenol , 1-octene , 2-pentanone , 2-nonanone , borneol , geosmin , 1-butanol , 3-methylbutanol , 3-methylbutanol , and thujopsene. The first of these compounds is called mushroom alcohol.

The last four are products of Stachybotrys chartarum , which has been linked with sick building syndrome. Legionellosis or Legionnaire's Disease is caused by a waterborne bacterium Legionella that grows best in slow-moving or still, warm water. The primary route of exposure is through the creation of an aerosol effect, most commonly from evaporative cooling towers or showerheads.

A common source of Legionella in commercial buildings is from poorly placed or maintained evaporative cooling towers, which often release water in an aerosol which may enter nearby ventilation intakes. Outbreaks in medical facilities and nursing homes, where patients are immuno-suppressed and immuno-weak, are the most commonly reported cases of Legionellosis. More than one case has involved outdoor fountains in public attractions. The presence of Legionella in commercial building water supplies is highly under-reported, as healthy people require heavy exposure to acquire infection. Legionella is a parasite of protozoans such as amoeba , and thus requires conditions suitable for both organisms.

The bacterium forms a biofilm which is resistant to chemical and antimicrobial treatments, including chlorine. There are many bacteria of health significance found in indoor air and on indoor surfaces. The role of microbes in the indoor environment is increasingly studied using modern gene-based analysis of environmental samples.

Currently efforts are under way to link microbial ecologists and indoor air scientists to forge new methods for analysis and to better interpret the results. Among the most important bacteria known to occur in indoor air are Mycobacterium tuberculosis , Staphylococcus aureus , Streptococcus pneumoniae. Many common building materials used before contain asbestos , such as some floor tiles, ceiling tiles, shingles, fireproofing, heating systems, pipe wrap, taping muds, mastics, and other insulation materials.

Normally, significant releases of asbestos fiber do not occur unless the building materials are disturbed, such as by cutting, sanding, drilling, or building remodelling. Removal of asbestos-containing materials is not always optimal because the fibers can be spread into the air during the removal process. A management program for intact asbestos-containing materials is often recommended instead.

Richard Sharpe, Nicholas Osborne, Sotiris Vardoulakis, and Sani Dimitroulopoulou

When asbestos-containing material is damaged or disintegrates, microscopic fibers are dispersed into the air. Inhalation of asbestos fibers over long exposure times is associated with increased incidence of lung cancer , in particular the specific form mesothelioma. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is significantly greater to smokers, however there is no confirmed connection to damage caused by asbestosis.

The symptoms of the disease do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is found in older homes and buildings, but occurs most commonly in schools, hospitals and industrial settings.

Indoor Air Pollution in Developed Countries - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science

Although all asbestos is hazardous, products that are friable, eg. The US Federal Government and some states have set standards for acceptable levels of asbestos fibers in indoor air. There are particularly stringent regulations applicable to schools.