Facts and Myths About Indoor Air Pollution

Over the years, there’s much talk about indoor air quality—how it can lead to respiratory problems like moderate to severe asthma or even lung cancer for people exposed to radon for prolonged periods.

But not all claims may be real or as simple as they seem. Here are four most common talked-about facts about indoor air pollution and whether they are correct or not.

1. Indoor Plants Can Help Clean the Air

This one is mixed. Some studies seem to suggest that plants help reduce or prevent indoor air pollution. However, others said it’s not true.

Perhaps one of the most popular types of research quoted was NASA’s Clean Air Study. The oft-quoted story also features a list of indoor plants that absorb carbon and get rid of toxic pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

However, you must remember that the study was conducted in a sealed space station. This means that the results may be different if the same experiment is performed at home or in the workplace.

In 2019, Drexel University also released a study that revealed potted plants do not improve indoor air quality and that such a claim may be overstated.

Interestingly, some studies suggest that, depending on the type and location of the plants, they can prevent or reduce indoor air pollution.

In 2019, Portland State University research showed that putting up green roofs (or adding vegetation on the roof) can enhance air quality inside a space by reducing the amount of ozone from the outside.

2. Many Things Can Worsen Indoor Air Pollution

This statement is true. The usual culprits for poor indoor air quality include VOCs emitted by wall paint and even products such as shampoos and conditioners. Homes with heaters may also experience worse indoor air during the winter because of the furnace.

Other studies, though, revealed less-known sources of indoor air pollutants. In 2019, the American Chemical Society included bleach into the list. This product releases fumes that may become even more harmful to inhale if combined with a citrus compound and light.

Showers and dishwashers, in a way, may contribute to indoor air pollution as water with trace amounts of radon and chlorine can be released through indoor air, according to a 1999 research by the Austin College of Engineering of the University of Texas.

The good news is these are controllable factors. For example, homeowners with heaters can opt for regular furnace tune-up or replacement from professionals.

Newer types of paint contain minimal VOCs. Property owners can also check their homes for radon. If this gas is present at high levels, improving the ventilation, especially in the crawlspace, can lower it to acceptable standards.

3. Air Purifiers Work

What’s the real deal about air purifiers? Can they truly get rid of indoor air pollutants? Experts say that they do work—to a certain extent. Also, many factors can affect their effectiveness and performance.

For example, the best of the bunch may absorb fibers, pet dander, dust, and dirt. But they can never filter air pollutants that are gaseous like VOCs and radon. They remain too small to be captured by the device’s mesh or filter.

Further, to be truly effective, the air purifier may have to be fitted with HEPA filters. HEPA stands for a high-efficiency particulate absorbing filter. The mesh is so fine it can catch some of the smallest solid particles.

Meanwhile, some of these products may do more harm than good. They can release ozone, which will only add more ozone into the space and increase the risk of developing lung problems or worsening symptoms of asthma.

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Should you buy air purifiers, though? The answer is yes, especially if you or someone in your household has respiratory conditions like asthma. However, you need to choose the product wisely.

4. Indoor Air Quality Has Been Getting Worse

This is actually hard to measure. The EPA said that the concentrations of certain pollutants might be up to five times higher indoors. But the agency also claimed that one of the reasons you can feel it is most Americans spend at least 90% of their waking lives indoors.

While homeowners can use meters to measure indoor air quality, they may not always be accurate. The results may also be limited. Some pollutants, such as smoke from cooking, can dissipate quickly.

It may be challenging to determine the quality of indoor air over the years; one thing seems clear: it is now one of the leading risk factors for death, especially in poorer countries.

When it comes to claims about indoor air quality, sometimes it’s not black and white. Nevertheless, it remains a critical problem that demands proper attention from homeowners to policymakers.