Why the air you are breathing indoors is killing you slowly

Nowadays, (outdoor) air pollution finds increasing attention — also due to recent events like the ‘Diesel scandal’. There is no doubt that it should be taken care of to keep the air around us as clean as possible. However, thinking about it, most of the time you spend inside buildings — in fact, in average it counts for about 90% of your day (cf. Klepeis et al, 2001). Nearly 22 hours per day we are surrounded by polluted air indoors.

What? I cannot see any cars driving around in my office…

Opening windows and the resulting air circulation improves the indoor air quality

That is true — but the usual suspects we know do not mostly define the indoor air quality. In fact, opening your windows now and then is actually beneficial and cleans the indoor air from all the unwanted gases inside the building (www.epa.gov, 2016). Ever noticed, that there is an increased offer for ventilation systems and air purifier on the market? Well, that is exactly as of this reason. Indoor air quality is a major influence factor to our health (www.who.int, 2018) and since we are spending a lot of our time inside of buildings, we should be determined to monitor and take care of the air around us.

So, what kind of gases is it then, and where do they come from?

Basically, everything around you expels gases which define indoor air quality — even yourself by breathing and sweating. (cf. Shirasu & Touhara, 2011) Experts are using the term Volatile Organic Compounds, which represents a group of gases. Sources for these are for example paint, furniture or cosmetics. (Jones, 1999) Also while cooking dinner or cleaning your bathroom, VOCs are emitted. (www.who.int, 2018) As you probably already guessed, those gases are not deadly dangerous. Nevertheless, when being exposed to them over a longer period, they affect our health. (www.epa.gov, 2017) -> Find an extended list of sources >> here<<

Let’s open a window before we talk about my health situation

High concentration of VOCs can cause headache

Opening windows is actually one of the most effective ways to clean the air. If you for example feel a lack in concentration or a starting headache, you might consider doing that. Other common symptoms can be dizziness, eye-, nose-, or throat irritations. You should especially take care of your VOC exposure when you are already experiencing sicknesses like asthma. Breathing low level VOCs over time might worsen those symptoms. (cf. www.epa.gov, 2017)

Great, now I have to take chemistry classes to keep track of the air around me…

That is for sure not necessary. One measure could be to regularly open the windows to refresh the air (www.epa.gov, 2016). Therefore, you can always be certain to be surrounded by good air. Although, if you are interested in the exact share of VOCs in the air around you, there are devices on the market which are able to track the so called Indoor Air Quality, but also others like air purifiers which take direct measures to improve the IAQ.

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Klepeis, N.E. (2001). Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology: The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. 11, pp. 231–252, doi:10.1038/sj.jea.7500165

Shirasu, M., Touhara, K. (2011). The Journal of Biochemistry: The scent of disease: volatile organic compounds of the human body related to disease and disorder. 150(3), pp. 257–266, https://doi.org/10.1093/jb/mvr090

Uniform Resource Locators

United States Environmental Protection agency. Improving Indoor Air Quality, retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/improving-indoor-air-quality

United States Environmental Protection agency. Improving Indoor Air Quality, retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality

United States Environmental Protection agency. Improving Indoor Air Quality, retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/care-your-air-guide-indoor-air-quality

World Health Organization (2018). Indoor air pollution, retrieved from: http://www.who.int/indoorair/en/