Indoor Pollution: The Silent Killer

Home sweet home. The place where we return everyday. Our safe haven. But is it as safe as we believe to be? Especially for our health. The present scientific and environmental scenario say otherwise.

Indoor pollution is the pollution caused by the presence of various particulate, chemical and biological pollutants, which can cause even serious harm to the human body. Infact, it has been ranked amongst the top five public health risk factors. There are some problems in the study of this type of pollution, due to the individuality and uniqueness of each residential ecosystem. The specific levels of various pollutants vary, based on various external and internal factors. Hence, it becomes difficult to explain the impact of indoor pollution in an uniform manner, for an individual pollutant component or even as a whole. 

The standard of measurement of this condition is indoor air quality (IAQ). In industrial countries, approximately, 1/3 rd of all the buildings tend to have IAQ problems at some point of time. Across the world, 30% of IAQ related complaints are against new or remodelled buildings. Health problems due to poor IAQ range from mild (cold and flu like symptoms) to severe (allergies, asthma, cancer, developmental disorders, or in some cases, death) symptoms.

Indoor pollutant sources includes humid spaces like in kitchen, showers etc., which are ideal thriving spot for various biological pollutants (eg. mold). Also, fuel consuming appliances, aerosol sprays (like deodorants, room freshners etc.), pesticides and so on are a n identified source of particulate as well as chemical pollutants within the residence

Some chemical pollutants have been identified and their harmful exposure levels have also been evaluated. Other pollutant types have been more difficult to evaluate about the acceptable exposure level. Some of the common pollutants are:-

  • Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas that is adverse for human health even at low levels. High concentrations of CO are potentially fatal and can even cause death. CO poisoning symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, chest pain and vomiting. It’s presence as an indoor pollutant is primarily due to fuel consumption and improper ventilation.
  • Nitrogen dioxide: Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) also happens to be a colourless, odorless gas with visible adverse effects on health even at lower levels. It primarily causes  irritation to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat. HIgh exposures lead to  respiratory irritation, shortness of breath and might also contribute to lung diseases like emphysema. It is also a product of fuel burning. Improper placing and/or maintenance of chimneys can lead to driving the pollutants back into the house. 
  • Lead: Lead (Pb) as pollutant is evaluated to be widely present in plumbing materials, gasoline and paints. LEad particulates can be both inhaled and ingested. Accumulation of lead in the body, more specifically into the soft tissue and bones can eventually affect the whole living system. Low level exposures,in children, may lead to impairment in physical and mental development, like lower IQ, shortened attention span etc. Additionally, they can also cause problems in the nervous system, kidney and blood cells. HIgh level exposure risks involve convulsions, coma or even, death.
  • Radon: Radon (Rn), a radioactive gas, is a common element present in the abiotic components of the system. They enter the house via cracks and  drains, get trapped in the living space and with time, keeps accumulating. Since it is odorless, it gets hard to detect. Exposure via inhalation leads to problems like lung cancer.
  • Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde (CH2O) is a well recognized carcinogen, but still finds us in daily household items, like fabrics, paints and furniture. The urea- formaldehyde resins are the most polluting type. Formaldehyde may be inhaled or even may get adsorbed by the skin. Even at extremely low levels, symptoms like allergies, asthma, throat and nose irritation, nausea and headache have been observed.

The most worrisome part is that these items are indispensable parts of daily life. Atleast, till other alternatives are discovered. This leaves us with a question, are all these amenities and necessities for a comfortable living worth all the adverse effects they come with? 

Categories: Health

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