NJ AIR QUALITY BLOG

Indoor Air Quality is as Important as Outdoor Air Quality

ByMarc Silberberg

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When most of us think of air pollution we usually think of the outdoor environment. Living in states such as New Jersey certainly brings unsatisfactory air quality to mind. New Jersey boasts one of the busiest airports in the world, Newark Airport and major industrial and manufacturing plants have called New Jersey their home for many years. A sophisticated highway system is advantageous to many types of businesses but with it comes harmful emissions. Even during the pandemic in 2020 while other cities were finding silver linings in the quarantine, six New Jersey metropolitan sectors from Atlantic City to Jersey City had an average of 46 days of increased air pollution. Air pollution is responsible for 17,646 deaths each year in New Jersey. The reasons for these premature deaths range from asthma attacks to certain types of cancers.

Researchers at the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) found ground-level ozone and fine droplet pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as methane gas (from wildfires), coal, diesel fuel and gasoline (caused by the high turnpike and airline traffic along with the many factories along the way). Take a ride in your car from Staten Island to New Jersey and you will see exactly what we mean. There are smokestacks all along the highway on both sides with billowing smoke for all to see and breathe.

As if outdoor air pollution wasn’t a great enough problem, there is another venue where good air quality is just as and even more important. This is in the interior of our homes, offices, schools, and theaters to name a few. In fact, indoor air quality has become such an important predicament that it has been taken on by the national political arena, namely our very own president. On March 29, 2022, the White House hosted a virtual conference sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

An expert on the airborne transmission of infectious diseases, Linsey Marr, was one of the panelists of the event. The title of the event was, “Let’s Clear the Air on COVID-19.” The hour-long event centered on how important indoor air quality is in the reduction of COVID-19. Whenever a sick person, no matter what sickness he or she is carrying, sneezes or coughs indoors, aerosols or tiny, microscopic droplets which some say can penetrate masks, will carry a virus from person to person. The members of this hour-long virtual symposium came up with three ideas to decrease the harmful spread of viruses and bacteria in indoor venues.

1) Ventilation Systems: By bringing fresh outdoor air indoors, the number of harmful germs is diluted by the fresh air reducing the amount of contaminated air that the people in the room will inhale. Instead of recirculating the same polluted air through the home or building clean air can be circulated by modifying air conditioning and ventilation systems.

2) Filtration: A HEPA unit, (a portable air purifier) will cut down the amount of both large size dust particles and small droplets at the same time. By pulling air through a filter, the contaminated particles are trapped, and cleaner air gets pushed out of the other side of the machine. More than ninety-nine percent of both the small and large particles become trapped by these filters quite efficiently.

3) Disinfection: For high-risk areas such as hospitals, nursing homes and school lunchrooms this sterilization method is very important. Germicidal UV lamps are effective in killing off viruses and new techniques are constantly being monitored for their effectiveness

One of the problems with indoor air quality solutions is that in general people are not strict enough in protecting their air conditioning machinery. Folks are not well informed on what to look out for in investigating unsatisfactory indoor air quality in homes and offices. It is definitely the right move to open a window and bring in some fresh air when there is an unpleasant odor in the house. However, it is even more important to find the source of that smell by using specific detectors such as CO2 sensors and humidity monitors that will prevent the emergence of mold, fungus, and mildew. There is a magic balance between air that is too dry and air that has too much humidity. Both can cause coughing and dry mouth. If the air in your home or office is too dry you may get a tickling in your nose and throat. Too much humidity is a perfect storm for the breeding of mold and fungus.

We must protect all but specifically our innocent children. We make sure to know where they are at all times for their safety, but what about the air quality of the indoor recreational places that they occupy for long lengths of time? It could be the movie theater, the pool halls and even your own or your neighbor’s home. You can never know where the bad air quality hovers. Of course, if someone is a smoker in a friend’s home you would be cautious about letting your child stay there for extended periods, but most unsafe indoor air quality is less obvious.

Chemical cleaning products and construction materials and residues such as sawdust will take residence in an innocent home dweller’s lungs causing allergies or worse illnesses. Radon gas can penetrate through cracks in the walls, so good home air quality maintenance is a must in all homes, large and small.

Some Rooms In The House Are More Susceptible To Poor Indoor Air Quality

The Bathroom: Talking about the harmfulness of too much humidity and the bathroom is the first chamber that comes to mind. Showers and sinks flowing with hot water are the ideal conditions for the growth and perpetuation of mold. Spray cans such as air fresheners and deodorants contain aerosols that will pollute the bathroom atmosphere.

The Kitchen: A common kitchen pollutant that comes to mind is burning food either for food that was kept too long on the stove or from indoor kitchen stove grills. However, scorched food is not the only way the kitchen becomes polluted. Natural gas or propane from your stove gives off noxious fumes such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Even energy as clean as electrical energy can give off harmful fumes propagating harmful pollution no matter how new and updated your kitchen is. Yes, an overhead stove fan will somewhat help but these fumes will still succeed in escaping the kitchen and haunt other rooms in the house.

The Home Office: Since the pandemic there has been a major increase in the workforce utilizing the home as an office. Furnishings such as plastic desks and other items that are packed in harmful plastic when delivered will cause home pollution. We all recognize that strong chemical smell coming from new office chairs and desks but few of us realize the threat of the volatile organic compounds that are discharged as gasses. Even though the manufacturer will tell you that the smell will go away, even if it does, the releasing of these gasses may continue indefinitely. Copy paper and printer cartridges may also give off VOC (volatile organic compounds).

In Summary

It would be so wonderful if our homes were a perfect retreat from the unhealthy outdoor city air. For those of us who live in cities and communities that have busy airports and manufacturing plants we are constantly being exposed to harmful pollutants. Add on the congestion of major busy highway systems and you have the perfect brew of bad outdoor air quality.

Unfortunately, for most of us shutting the door to our homes is not the answer to easy and healthful breathing. The home can be a breeding ground for volatile organic compounds no matter how new the house is. This is because cooking in the kitchen, showering in the bathroom and bringing new furniture into the home office are causes of unsatisfactory indoor air quality. You may think that just by opening the windows or turning on the kitchen or bathroom fan that you will be solving the problem of noxious gasses in the home. This is too simple to be the solution. These popular methods of airing out the home decrease the indoor pollution somewhat but there is usually much more than what the nose knows. There are various ways to check indoor air quality yourself if you are handy and detectors are also an assist. Spraying the bathroom or kitchen with aerosol air fresheners not only will not solve the air quality issue but can make it worse since this spray can themselves emit harmful droplets.

Being locked up during the pandemic has opened our eyes to the subject of indoor air pollution. The WHO (World Health Organization) calculates that the hazards from this air situation can cause both mild and severe health issues. For example, sneezing, conjunctivitis, and headaches are classified as minor even though they interrupt a person’s normal lifestyle. Serious breathing problems, hormonal disorders and even seizures are noted to be caused by dangerous indoor air quality. By being on guard for the signs of this growing issue you and your family will have a good chance of keeping healthy. Don’t worry, there are professionals out there to help you if all else fails.

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