Whenever we talk about 'air pollution', it is usually what goes on outside buildings and dwellings. However, indoor air pollution is just as lethal as the outdoor variety.
Indoor, or household, air pollution caused 64 per cent fewer deaths in the last two decades (2000-2019) in India, according to a report by interdisciplinary journal 'Lancelot Planetary Health'. According to the Environment Protection Act, 1986, the levels of indoor air pollutants are often 2-5 times higher than outdoor levels. In some cases, these levels can exceed the outdoor levels of the same pollutants 100 times. Many air pollutants that are considered important in ambient (outdoor) air, are also found, sometimes at higher levels, in indoor air.
People spend, on average, 65 per cent of their time inside their homes. A growing body of research suggests that indoor air pollution can be much more concentrated than pollution outside.
Let's take a look at what precautions and suggestions health experts and industry leaders shared below to counter indoor air pollution which remains largely unregulated.
Dr. Akshay Budhraja, Pulmonologist, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka states that "Indoor air is not always worse than outdoor. It depends on how aware you are about it and how to preserve indoor air quality at home & offices. Sometimes indoor concentration of some pollutants is 4-5 times higher than outside. The indoor air quality worsens by both the smog present outside and because of the pollutants generated inside like combustion sources (gas stove, cooking, fire place, cigarette smoking), molds, pet dander, radon, pesticides, volatile organic compounds present in paint, carpets and upholsteries. People tend to keep the windows open during early morning hours when the level of smog is highest. Many people smoke inside the house. Sometimes people do not use exhausts, chimneys and there is poor ventilation of the rooms."
Adding, "Many people experience "sick building syndrome" that is experiencing respiratory symptoms when inside the building which resolves once the person is out of that particular building. That is caused by the pollutants/allergens present inside the building. Indoor pollutants can cause respiratory symptoms like asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, itching in eyes, nose, throat, headache, heart diseases, poor sleep quality etc."
He advises, "Keep your windows closed during early morning and later evening hours. Use chimneys and exhausts wherever necessary. Minimise the use of chemicals. Avoid furniture polishing when at home. Keep your home and surroundings clean by: keeping your footwears outside as they bring lots of soil and dust drycleaning/washing of bed covers, quilts, curtains at regular intervals. Use indoor plants, air purifiers."
Dr. Shuchin Bajaj, Internal Medicine ( Founder Director), Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals states, "Smoke from cooking and smoking tobacco comprise a large chunk of the indoor air pollution, which, when mixed with ambient pollutants, increase the amount of ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter (PM) and carbon monoxide (CO). The wind speed in winters slows down which compels the pollutants to remain within the lower parts of the atmosphere, as a result, we inhale more pollutants than any other time of the year."
"Air temperature also has a profound effect on risk of heart attack - the risk increases when the temperature drops to zero degrees C or below - windy, short days of sunshine, and lower air pressure are linked to increased risk. The increase in heart attack risk could be due to weather's effect on the circulatory system. Cold and wind cause the body to contract the blood vessels of the skin to preserve temperature and energy. This causes the heart to pump more due to higher resistance, which increases the stress on the heart and may trigger a heart attack."
Dr Arunesh Kumar, HOD & Senior Consultant - Pulmonology, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram reiterates, "The air that we breathe inside our homes or offices may be more hazardous than the air outside. This is especially so during the cold winter months when the doors and windows are kept closely shut. Indoor air pollution has been linked to a wide variety of adverse health effects, including headaches, frequent colds and sore throats, respiratory problems, chronic cough, eye irritation, lethargy, skin rashes, dizziness and memory lapses. To keep the air inside the house or office pollutant free, it is important to use aerosol free products, instead of scented cleaning products. Also, it is important to clean the duct and filters regularly to make sure you get filtered clean air and use natural air purifiers like indoor plants as they remove formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethane from the air and replace it with oxygen. One can even install air purifiers inside the house to get rid of indoor air quality problems."
Himanshu Agarwal, CEO, Magneto CleanTech, a company which develops central air purification systems and technologies to tackle the problem of poor indoor air quality in developing nations believes, "Although pollution has been a longstanding subject of public debate, there is a dire need to shift the focus of this conversation from outdoor to indoor air pollution, where people have a much higher exposure. We are all responsible for pollution with our lifestyle and consumption habits particularly within our homes, where self-created air pollution can lead to 10x worse indoor air quality than outdoors."
"The authorities have in the recent past become visibly environmentally sensitive and energy-efficient with their projects and initiatives. We as a civil society must also educate ourselves and others on the imperative of tackling indoor air pollution with a sense of urgency. Air pollution is a long-haul challenge and not a seasonal or regional issue. Remember, China (and many others) is still struggling with pollution despite having taken stringent measures for many years now. Furthermore, in these times of the pandemic, the connection between pollution and air borne infections must not be lost sight of. Air Pollution has all kinds of respiratory, cardiac, mental and immune impacts on humans, especially children. However, with technological advancements, one can ensure complete protection from air pollution and airborne viruses for their loved ones. It is time we individually treat air pollution as much and where it matters the most - indoors."