It’s all around us – air. Comprised of nitrogen and oxygen and other trace gases, our atmosphere keeps us going, circulates weather, and transmits sounds and smells. But bad air, and therefore bad indoor air quality, is an increasingly dark part of the world we live in. One figure suggests that over 10,000 deaths worldwide occur every 24 hours because of poor indoor air quality and other negative factors in our environments. Unlike natural disasters, poor indoor air quality and pollution don’t come in with a bang – it affects you slowly, over years. As it can often be invisible, it can be ignored by policy makers and the media. Continue reading
We generally think of things that affect our indoor air quality as coming from outside or inside our home. Outdoor factors that affect our indoor air quality include pollen, exhaust, or other industrial emissions. Indoor factors, like a poorly functioning HVAC system, smoking, or cleaning materials can all contribute to poor indoor air quality. A recent study from the University of Calgary points out a growing indoor air quality concern in the form of a colourless, odourless gas known as radon.
Radon gas is released from the radioactive decay of radium, uranium, or thorium in soil and bedrock deep underground. It occurs naturally in the environment all around Canada. Your indoor air quality is affected as the gas is released – your home acts like a chimney for fumes that would otherwise be released into the environment. Radon gas most frequently collects in the lower levels of your home with inadequate ventilation, such as the basement, where it has a silent, but deadly effect on your indoor air quality.
Radon gas and your indoor air quality should concern you – it is the second highest cause of lung cancer in Canada after smoking. Radon decays quickly and puts small, radioactive particles into the air. When these are inhaled, they damage the cells that line your lungs. Long term exposure to these radon particles can lead to the development of lung cancer.
One surprising result of the study was that newer homes were found with 31% higher radon in their indoor air quality. One reason for this finding is that homes 25 years old or younger are both larger and more airtight than before. Your indoor air quality can become saturated with radon because these bigger, taller homes have more surface area to ‘call’ radon. As the air in your home warms, it creates a kind of negative pressure in the basement which has a tug on the foundation. If radon lurks underneath, it is pulled through any cracks or holes in your foundation where it can then affect your indoor air quality. Modern homes are also more airtight, making your indoor air quality systems, like your HVAC or air intake, important to keep in good repair.
If it’s colourless and odourless, how can you know if radon is affecting your indoor air quality and the health of your family? In the study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, radon was found affecting the indoor air quality in over 2300 homes in the Calgary areas – that’s 1 in 8 homes, making this a common problem. The good news is that it is easy to test for radon that may be affecting your health and indoor air quality. Have a trained indoor air quality technician visit your home or business and test for radon and other factors that could be having a negative impact on your health. The World Health Organization recommends that acceptable levels of radon in your indoor air quality be 100 Bq/m3, but in Canada there are no rules requiring testing, which would ensure more people were living in homes with safe indoor air quality. While there are areas in Canada which have higher occurrences of homes with radon found in their indoor air quality, the only way to be sure of levels in your home is to be tested – often homes right next door to each other can have very different indoor radon levels, making mapping and tracking of this problem difficult. Radon testing of your indoor air quality usually takes between 7-90 days, as radon can vary from day to day or month to month.
In recent years a green wave has overtaken our stores: you can get environmentally friendly soap and disinfectants almost everywhere. You may believe they help keep your indoor air quality at a high level, and that they help reduce your exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) or other bad chemicals, but it’s important to be informed beyond the marketing schtick. Continue reading
Your indoor air quality is effected by factors both inside and outside of your home or business. Inside your home, indoor air quality culprits, like chemicals, volatile organic compounds, or moulds can be fixed or controlled, but outdoor causes of poor indoor air quality – such as allergens – are something we’re often at the mercy of.
The level of outdoor pollution is a growing concern in cities around the globe. But our indoor air quality can have just as big an affect as does the outdoors. Household indoor air quality is usually the focus – protecting our elders, children and family members from the toxic effects of VOCs or mould growth is at the top of many minds. But if you’re a business owner, you should also consider the effect that the indoor air quality of your office or store has on your employees and customers.
A recent study found that the indoor air quality of retail stores is often worse when outdoor air pollution is high. Looking to identify culprits in poor indoor air quality, the authors of this review looked at online databases and studies related to indoor air quality at retail stores around the world. Three factors they focused on as having a great effect on indoor air quality were air filtration, ventilation, and VOCs.
Air filtration seems like an obvious part of having good indoor air quality, but filters need regular maintenance – installing one once and forgetting about it will decrease the efficacy of your system and eventually cause poor indoor air quality as it gets clogged with contaminants. Having your air filter changed regularly and the system tested and repaired if necessary will have a positive effect on your indoor air quality.
Filtration is just part of the indoor air quality system – ventilation is its close sibling. Ventilation is more than just moving air around or bringing new air in, and poor ventilation can cause many indoor air quality issues. Ventilation is a combination of processes: bringing in new air, conditioning that air (such as through filtration), distributing that air, and then exhausting it outside again. If one part of this chain is broken, your indoor air quality may suffer as a result. One potential indoor air quality issue that could arise from a faulty ventilation system is an accumulation of carbon dioxide gas, which may cause people to become drowsy or have headaches.
The review found that retail shops and offices (especially those with frequently opening and closing outside doors) had poorer indoor air quality than restaurants and hospitals, where exhaust fans helped keep indoor air quality at a high level.
VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are organic chemicals that vaporize at room temperature, thereby affecting your indoor air quality as they are released into your indoor atmosphere. New office furniture, ceiling tiles, or even the photocopier can off-gas VOCs into your office environment, and these pollutants collect and can have a huge effect on your indoor air quality and the health and productivity of your employees and customers.
If you suspect that something isn’t right with the indoor air quality of your business, it’s important to have a professional visit and test your site. They can help identify problems and offer solutions to improve your indoor air quality, whether it be airflow patterns, ventilation, or a dirty furnace. While there are no umbrella laws in Canada that deal with indoor air quality in your business, there is, however, a clause common to all occupational health and safety legislation that states that an employer must provide a safe and healthy workplace – which includes your indoor air quality! Ventilation is a key part of many building codes, and if you’re worried about your business’s indoor air quality, the building code should provide you with a set of guidelines and criteria to help you reach an acceptable standard.
Your indoor air quality can be affected by many things both inside – such as house plants – and outside of your environment, and when it becomes poor, your indoor air quality can have a serious effect on your health. Indoor air pollution is currently a hot topic, though not a new one; since the late 1970s people have been studying, testing and improving indoor air quality at home and at our businesses. As our buildings get more tightly sealed, they protect us from the bad things outside, but sometimes it’s what is already inside that can be causing indoor air quality issues.
Mold can be a major factor in poor indoor quality in your home or business. Recently a very common sample of household mold was sold at auction for more than $14,600. This mold, Penicillin, is relatively harmless – the sample was from Dr. Alexander Fleming’s laboratory, where they first discovered its lifesaving properties. It was the indoor air quality of the laboratory that first alerted them to it as the microscopic spores arrived via an open window and colonized a bacteria sample.
The link between air quality and health is well known, but a recent study found that air pollutants and poor indoor air quality might make a bigger contribution to cognitive decline and diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s than previously thought. While there are many factors leading to the growth of disease, this study showed strong evidence that poor indoor air quality and long-term exposure to airborne pollutants was a major contributing factor in the development of cognitive decline in older adults – signifying the importance of clean air.
Wiarton Willie may have predicted an early spring this year, but we could still have many days of snow left. Snow is being named as the culprit in a number of scares this winter as excessive build up blocked some home heating vents and caused toxic levels of carbon monoxide to build up inside. Indoor air quality is a key part of your home or business’s healthy living environment, and carbon monoxide is known as ‘the silent killer’ for its ability to effect your indoor air quality with few warning signs.
The indoor air quality of your home or office is an important part of having a healthy living and working environment. Good indoor air quality can have a huge effect on both you and your family, leaving you feeling more refreshed and in better health. Continue reading