Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is a health hazard to the occupants in any kind of enclosed space. How do you fix something that you cannot measure? Which is the reason we constantly need to monitor the air quality in our homes. Despite this fact, we are faced with several misconceptions around it that we might end up believing.
Read on as we try to bust some of the myths surrounding air quality monitoring:
1. Indoor air is clean. Air pollution is an outdoor problem.
Whenever we think of air pollution, we imagine toxic vehicle exhausts or factory fumes expelling gray smoke. However, indoor air pollution is just as lethal as its outdoor counterpart. Maybe, even more. Many factors that are responsible for deteriorating air quality around us are found inside our abodes. From fresh paint to cleansers, disinfectants, room freshners, furnishings and varnishes, the air we breathe indoors is often more toxic than outdoor air.
We tend to think that staying indoors on poor air quality days is good enough but actually indoor air quality is only 10-20% better than outdoor air quality on poor air quality days and sometimes can be worse than outdoors.
Some of the pollutants that you should be aware about are:
Particulate matter: While larger pollutants are easily visible to the eye, particulate matter, a mixture of very tiny solid and liquid particles is not. They can get into the respiratory tract, penetrate deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream causing severe health damage.
Indoor PM is primarily as a result of the outdoor air leaking into the indoors, but can also be generated indoors through cooking, combustion activities (including burning of candles, use of fireplaces, use of unvented space heaters or kerosene heaters, cigarette smoking) and dusting. Because it is invisible to the eye, the only way to know if your indoor space is polluted is using a PM2.5 air quality monitor.
PM2.5 is the sixth highest risk factor for death around the world, claiming more than 4 million lives annually, according to recent global morbidity data. Add in household pollutants from indoor cooking fires and other combustion sources, and the tally approaches 7 million lives lost each year.
CO2: Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a byproduct of combustion, as well as a result of the metabolic process in living organisms. Exposure to carbon dioxide can lead to certain serious health effects, including headaches, dizziness, restlessness, difficulty breathing, sweating, tiredness, and increased heart rate.
Your body is the most significant source of indoor carbon dioxide. Other sources of CO2 in your homes are conventional open flames in your home - gas or wood stoves, fireplaces, and candles, cigarettes. In some cases, the soil under your home may also release dangerous amounts of CO2.
As per a report, CO2 levels would need to reach a very high concentration of at least 5,000 parts per million (ppm) before they would affect human health. At higher levels, about 2500 ppm, CO2 can make you sleepy and tired, slow down your brain, and even give you a slight headache. But a growing body of research suggests CO2 levels as low as 1,000ppm could cause health problems, even if exposure only lasts for a few hours.
A study by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health finds that there is a direct and negative impact of CO2 on our cognition and decision making skills. They found that on average, a typical participants' cognitive scores dropped 21% with a 400 ppm increase in CO2.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are organic chemicals which have low boiling points and thus they evaporate and mix into the air very easily. Total volatile organic compounds (TVOC) is a group of VOCs used to represent the entire pool of pollutants.
Volatile organic compounds can come from an array of sources, including human-made and natural sources. Because manufacturers utilize VOCs as inorganic solvents, the majority of indoor VOCs come from everyday household staples, including paints and solvents, cleaners and disinfectants, pesticides and air fresheners.
As per a study conducted by BreatheEasy Consultants involving real-time monitoring of air quality inside more than 400 homes in Delhi-NCR, TVOC concentration inside many homes exceeded 1,000 μg/m3, in contrast to the safety limit of 200 μg/m3.
Monitoring air quality can help you understand what activities indoors are leading to poor air pollution so that you can stop these.
2. I don’t need a monitor. I have filled my house with Indoor plants.
A lot of people fill their house with indoor plants thinking that they work in improving the indoor air quality. But most indoor plants only help in removing VOCs and CO2, and that too to a very little extent.
Researchers from Drexel University in the US claimed that previous studies have vastly exaggerated the ability of indoor plants in removing volatile organic compounds.
“This has been a common misconception for some time. Plants are great, but they don’t actually clean indoor air quickly enough to have an effect on the air quality of your home or office environment,” said Michael Waring, an associate professor at Drexel’s College of Engineering, in a statement.
Also, keeping potted plants at home does not really help with particulate matter - the mix of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air that is one of main sources of air pollution.
3. I don’t need a monitor. I already bought a purifier - my house is clean.
A lot of people buy a purifier and think that they’ve done their bit to protect their family from air pollution.
The problem is that people who are not monitoring air quality in their home, don’t end up turning on their purifier most of the time. They turn the purifier only on days when they can actually see smog with the visual eye and air quality is so severe that clearly there is a need to turn on the purifier. Data has shown that air quality is actually a problem all year round, however without a monitor you will never know.
Moreover, not every air purifier is equipped to work for your space. Having a monitor helps you understand if the purifier is effective for your room which may vary based on room-size, amount of leakage etc. Effectiveness will also depend on season - you may find a purifier that is effective in the summer but not in the winter - monitoring regularly is the only way to ensure that your purifier continues to be effective and protects your family’s health.
Purifiers also require filter changes regularly. The only real way to know if the purifier needs filter changes is when the number on the monitor stops coming down even when the purifier is running. Many people keep running the purifier not realizing that it is actually not just ineffective, but gathering dust and viruses on the filter putting their family’s health at further risk.
4. I don’t need a monitor. My purifier has a PM2.5 indicator on it.
A lot of people check the air quality numbers on purifiers but here’s why this approach is wrong:
As stressed earlier, people who don't have a monitor won't even turn on their purifier most of the year, so the indicator is really no use. You need a monitor firstly to know when to turn your purifier on.
The air near the purifier cleans up quickly - so the number on the purifier is not what you are breathing. What is worse, is that often this number is used to auto-control the speed the purifier runs on, which again is based on the incorrect assumption that the room is clean, even though only the air around the purifier has been cleaned.
Purifier companies use poor quality sensors to keep the prices low since the purifier needs to be competitive in the market. A lot of science goes into calibrating sensors which needs to be done seasonally, plus sensors need to be replaced once a year due to drift and life of sensor, but purifier manufacturers mostly ignore these details.
Finally the monitor in the purifier is not portable. You can’t take it to the balcony to measure air quality outdoors or to your kids school to check air quality there. Infact, often people have multiple purifiers in each room, so they end up paying for 6 sensors instead of requiring one for their house.
5. Outdoor monitors can only be Government monitors. I have no choice if a Government monitor is not set up close to my house.
As low cost monitoring and sensors are becoming more and more accurate, various Governments around the world are investing in low cost monitoring to ensure that more areas are covered under monitoring. You can sponsor an outdoor monitor in your neighborhood or apartment complex, set it up conveniently in your balcony and make it public on the Airveda app at a very affordable price. This will ensure that you can know the air quality in your condominium and where your child is playing to ensure you are sending the kids outside when the air is relatively cleaner.
There are a variety of proactive steps one can take to ensure you are reducing the exposure to air pollution for your family and ensuring better health for them. Investing in air quality monitoring at home helps with the following:
Knowing when you need to turn your purifier on.
It helps you know if your purifier is effective given the size of your room and the present air quality conditions and when they need filter changes.
Monitoring air quality can help you understand what activities and pollution sources indoors are leading to poor air pollution so that you can stop these.
Check air quality outdoors so that you can step out when air quality is good.
Understand trends during the day so that you can optimize your workout/walk time as well as the time when your kids are going to the playground for the best air quality during the day.
A standalone portable monitor can measure air quality in your home, as well as be taken outside to monitor the air quality at your kid’s school, enabling you to make important parenting decisions accordingly.
You can also sponsor an outdoor air quality monitor in your neighborhood and make that data available to your neighbors and community and get a sponsorship badge in the Airveda app - not just managing your family’s health but driving awareness and better health in your community!
There are a variety of proactive steps someone can take to improve their indoor air quality. One of the simplest solutions is using an air quality monitor at home. Please leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below. If you wish to learn more about which air quality monitor is right for you feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org