How does Indoor air pollution occur?
Let’s look at the key ways that your house can become polluted. One of the most frequent or common causes of air pollution inside the house is cooking. There are several different methods to cook such as using wood, sawdust, gas and coal. The by-products of these cooking methods are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), which are extremely harmful to our respiratory system. Over 3 billion of the world’s population live in houses that use wood and coal as fuel. It is extremely common for children below the age of 10 to spend most of their time with their mothers at home. These children are exposed to the polluted air in the kitchens while their mothers are cooking.
Other sources of pollutants are mosquito coils, candles and incense sticks which release particulate matter which are harmful. Cigarette smoke also contains harmful chemicals which can pollute the air inside homes. If you live in a neighbourhood that is polluted, this too will cause Indoor air pollution.
What are the effects of Indoor air pollution?
These pollutants will result in coughing, tightening of the chest, watering and irritation of the eyes, allergies in the respiratory system, pneumonia and asthma becoming aggravated. Long-term sustained exposure to smoke pollutants could result in impaired development or reduced functioning of the lungs and long-term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Overexposure to carbon monoxide in the kitchen can even result in death in extreme situations.
How to minimise Indoor air pollution?
To ensure that this harmful smoke does not pollute your home, you need to ensure there is adequate air circulation. Keeping doors and windows open when cooking, installing exhaust fans will all increase air circulation. It is also important to segregate the kitchen from the hall to minimise toxins and polluted smoke from being inhaled by those in the household. Closing dishes with lids and keeping your children away from the kitchen while cooking are all great habits to inculcate in your home.
What are the common causes of Indoor air pollution?
If you live in an environment where pest control is frequently used, particles of the pesticides can travel through the air and settle in your home. The particles will have a higher concentration at floor level, thereby polluting carpets and soft toys that are laying on the ground. These particles can cause allergies and prolonged absorption could result in poisoning. Toddlers who crawl on carpeted floors or put their soft toys in their mouths are at high risk of such exposure.
Various cleaning products such as solvents, dry cleaning fluids, paints, polish and perfumes all have carbonic vapours. When you inhale these vapours through your respiratory system, they could cause allergies and asthma, and long-term exposure could impact the kidneys, nervous system, liver, blood circulation systems or even cause cancer.
Fur from pets, remains of cockroaches and other animals, dust mites, mould, pollen and other bio-pollutants are also commonly found in homes. These can result in allergies in the skin, respiratory system, eyes and they can also cause headaches and asthma.
Radon is a gas that is released when soil and stones breakdown. This is a common gas and is mostly found in the external environment, it is evenly distributed and therefore not found in high concentrations. However, due to poor circulation inside homes, the concentration of radon can be high. The highest concentration of radon can be found on the ground level or the basement level of a home, particularly if there are cracks in the floor. This is the second most leading cause of lung cancer in the world.
Asbestos is prohibited in many countries in the world. However, in Sri Lanka, asbestos is used in the construction of roofs and it is also used as a heat insulator. Since asbestos is a strong raw material it is commonly used in construction projects. If asbestos becomes damaged, it releases harmful pollutants into the air. Though this does not have any short-term effects, long term exposure to these particles can result in lung cancer or malignant mesothelioma. If a child is exposed to asbestos, this could result in them developing cancers when they become adults.
Unknowingly we could bring pollutants to our home from our shoes, clothes and skin. Therefore, it is important to clean up well before you interact with your children.
We have explained to you how damaging or dangerous the impact of long-term exposure to Indoor air pollution is. It is our responsibility to protect and take care of our dear little ones who believe that there is no better or safer place in the world than home.
Dr Deepika Herath
MBBS, MSc (Community Medicine)