Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is an area the world is increasingly waking up to the importance of in recent years. It refers to the level of pollutants and contaminants present in the air inside buildings, including homes, offices, and other indoor spaces. Poor indoor air quality can have a significant impact on our health, causing symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and respiratory issues. In New Zealand, by which some estimates show we spend up to 90% of our time indoors, it's essential to understand indoor air quality and take steps to improve it if necessary.

There are several factors that can impact indoor air quality in New Zealand. One of the most significant is poor ventilation. Homes and buildings that are poorly ventilated can become stuffy and humid, leading to the growth of mould and other allergens. In addition, poor ventilation can cause pollutants to build up in the air, which can lead to health issues over time.

Outdoor air pollution is another factor which can impact indoor air quality. While New Zealand is known for its clean air, some areas can experience high levels of outdoor pollution. This is particularly true during winter when wood burners are used, or in urban areas due to vehicle exhaust gases. This pollution can seep into homes and other indoor spaces, further impacting indoor air quality.

Understanding indoor air quality is important for several reasons. First, poor indoor air quality can have a significant impact on our health, causing both short-term and long-term health issues. By understanding the causes of poor indoor air quality, we can take steps to improve it and protect our health.

In addition, understanding indoor air quality is important for those with allergies or respiratory conditions such as asthma. For these individuals, even small amounts of pollutants can trigger symptoms, making it essential to maintain clean indoor air.

What are the common indoor air pollutants?

There are several pollutants that can impact indoor air quality. Understanding each of these pollutants and their impact on indoor air quality is important for protecting our health and improving the air we breathe.

Particulate Matter (PM2.5 & PM10)

Particulate matter (PM) is a mixture of tiny particles that can be suspended in the air. These particles come in different sizes, with the most harmful being those that are 2.5 micrometers or smaller (PM2.5). These particles can come from a variety of sources, including vehicle exhaust, industrial processes, and even cooking with oil at high temperatures. However, it's important to note that the source of the particulate matter is less important than the size of the particles themselves.

The small size of PM2.5 particles means that they can easily enter our lungs and bloodstream, causing a range of health problems. Exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease, as well as lung cancer. Children, older adults, and people with pre-existing health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the effects of PM2.5 exposure.

 

PM10, also known as coarse particulate matter, is another type of particulate matter that can be found in indoor air. These particles are larger than PM2.5, but can still pose a health risk, particularly to those with respiratory conditions. Sources of PM10 can include dust from construction sites, unpaved roads, and burning wood or coal.

To reduce exposure to both PM2.5 and PM10, it's important to take steps to improve indoor air quality. This can include using air purifiers with HEPA filters, as well as ensuring proper ventilation in your home.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that can be released from products and materials used in construction and renovation, as well as from everyday items such as new carpet, paint, and cleaning products. These chemicals can have both short- and long-term health effects, including eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and even damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some VOCs are also known to be carcinogenic.

To reduce exposure to VOCs, it's important to choose products that have low or no VOC content. When undertaking construction or renovation projects, it's also important to ensure proper ventilation to minimize the build-up of VOCs in the air. If you are concerned about the levels of VOCs in your home, an indoor air quality monitor can help you to track and address any potential issues.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that can be released by gas appliances, such as gas stoves, as well as by outdoor pollution. In New Zealand the biggest emitter of Nitrogen dioxide are diesel vehicles. Exposure to Nitrogen dioxide can cause respiratory issues, particularly in those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

To reduce exposure to Nitrogen dioxide, it's important to ensure proper ventilation when using gas appliances, as well as to minimise exposure to outdoor pollution. Installing air purifiers and air filters can also be effective in removing nitrogen dioxide from the air.

Viruses and Bacteria

Viruses and bacteria are another type of indoor air pollutant that can impact our health. They can be spread through the air and cause illnesses such as colds, flu, and COVID-19.

To reduce exposure to viruses and bacteria, it's important to practice good hygiene, such as washing hands regularly and covering coughs and sneezes. Installing air purifiers with HEPA filters can also be effective in removing viruses and bacteria from the air.

Common Sources of Indoor Air Pollutants

Indoor air pollutants can come from a variety of sources, including outdoor pollution that infiltrates indoor spaces, as well as products and activities that release pollutants into the air. Understanding these sources can help in taking steps to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants.

Cooking is a common source of indoor air pollution, particularly for those who use gas stoves or cook with oil at high temperatures. Cooking can release nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter into the air, both of which can be harmful to health. To reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants while cooking, it's important to use a range hood vented to the outside to remove pollutants from the air.

Cleaning products, such as detergents and disinfectants, can also release VOCs into the air. To reduce exposure to VOCs, it's important to choose products with low or no VOCs, as well as to avoid mixing different cleaning products together.

Indoor smoking is another significant source of indoor air pollutants, releasing not only particulate matter but also carbon monoxide and other harmful gases into the air. Avoiding smoking indoors and encouraging smokers to smoke outdoors can help to improve indoor air quality.

Other sources of indoor air pollution can include building materials, such as paint and flooring, as well as furniture and household products that contain flame retardants and other chemicals. Proper ventilation and choosing products with low chemical emissions can help to reduce exposure to these pollutants.

Finally, outdoor pollution can also impact indoor air quality, particularly for those living in areas with high levels of outdoor pollution. In these cases, it's important to ensure proper ventilation and consider using Air Purifiers with HEPA filters to remove pollutants from the air.

Want to learn more about the air quality in your home or workplace? Take a look at our Air Quality Monitors.

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