How is indoor air quality a public health issue? Public health encompasses environmental health, and environmental health includes all surrounding settings. That means both outdoor and indoor environments. Air pollution exposure is not limited to the outdoors, it’s also a significant indoor environment concern. Poor air quality in indoor spaces presents a serious health threat.
Indoor air quality refers to the air quality in and around indoor spaces. It includes all sorts of indoor settings—homes, buildings, offices, businesses and shared spaces—making it even more of a public health issue. Focusing on bettering air quality indoors and boosting public understanding of the issue results in improved health and indoor air quality. Here’s how.
Health and Indoor Air Quality
It makes sense that our environments impact us … but the degree to which indoor air affects us might surprise you. One of the reasons is the amount of time we clock indoors. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the more widespread statistics, for example, that we spend roughly 90% of our time indoors. Or, that indoor air is up to two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Sadly, both are true. And because of the time spent indoors, scientists argue that air pollution exposure is a greater indoor threat.
Here are a few other fast facts and statistics that help convey why indoor air quality and health are so intertwined.
- 3.8 million people die from household air pollution exposure every year.
- Those with pre-existing health conditions are at a higher risk of health problems from poor indoor air quality. Plus, people with pre-existing conditions are more likely to spend time indoors.
- Children, the elderly, those with respiratory illnesses and low-income populations are just some of the populations that are more susceptible to air pollution exposure.
- Indoor air pollutants include known carcinogens.
- Both biological and chemical contaminants make up indoor air pollution.
- Indoor air pollution exposure is associated with a higher likelihood of hospital admission.
- Poor indoor air quality is associated with the development of diseases and illnesses, worsening of existing illnesses and increased risk for illnesses and diseases. Indoor contaminants have been proven to both exacerbate and cause health conditions.
Why Intervene in Your Home?
Intervening in your own living space is the easiest exposure prevention option. At least when compared to trying to change, say, your local grocery store’s HVAC system. Intervening in your own space is also incredibly beneficial considering a majority of that 90% figure is spent in your own home.
It’s also important to intervene once you notice negative health symptoms attributed to poor air quality.
Potential health symptoms from air pollution are varied. It depends on exposure time, exposure type and individual conditions.
Short-term symptoms are also often mistaken for allergies or a simple cold. Simply because you don’t see the impact that poor indoor air is having on your health currently, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It truly depends on the contaminant and exposure length! For example, particulate matter is associated with long-term increased risks of heart disease and stroke, while smoke exposure is associated with lower respiratory tract infections.
Here are some short-term symptoms to watch out for and long-term impacts to be wary of:
- Throat, Eye and Nose Irritation
- Sneezing and Watery Eyes
- Worsening Allergy and Asthma Symptoms
- Respiratory Symptoms
- Cough or Wheeze
- Shortness of Breath
- Lung Cancer
- Serious Respiratory Conditions
- Heart Disease
- Premature Death
IAQ as a Public Health Issue
Recognition of indoor air pollution as a public health issue began in the 1970s. During this time, scientists released epidemiological studies that showed how exposure to indoor air pollutants resulted in adverse health effects. Indoor air quality impacts every space and threatens every single person. The bottom line is: If you breathe air in indoor spaces, then indoor air quality impacts your health.
There are specific populations that are more at risk from air pollution. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, those who are obese, those with existing lung conditions, people who work outdoors regularly, those that live in areas with higher pollution rates, low-income populations and people of color are all considered higher-risk populations.
Other public health factors include the lack of indoor air quality regulations. Additionally, the fact that air pollution does not recognize borders, but is widespread and can impact all. Many Americans are exposed to high levels of hazardous air pollutants on a regular basis.
Poor indoor air quality has been a public health concern for years. While the pandemic has highlighted air quality concerns and sparked the current focus on indoor health, IAQ’s relevance existed before COVID-19 and will continue into the future.
Suggestions From the American Public Health Association
What do officials have to say about health and indoor air quality? Here are a few of the American Public Health Association’s suggestions:
- Increase Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding
- Create an advanced air quality monitoring program and localize air quality monitoring, data analysis and collection
- Increase public education and awareness of air quality
- Support EPA’s Clean Power Plan
- Widespread industry collaboration
All are incredibly useful and important suggestions. You can take part in advocating for cleaner air, indoors and out. Or, you can help boost awareness of the health risks related to poor indoor air quality. APHA’s suggestions are doable and crucial to create healthier indoor environments.
Combatting Household Air Pollution
It’s also important to not overlook the easiest step. Part of supporting large-scale improvements includes smaller contributions as well. A possible step is to ensure cleaner, healthier air in your own indoor space.
You can actively intervene in your home’s air quality. It is the one space you fully control. Taking charge of your indoor air quality will result in a healthier space for you and your family while benefitting public health. There are five indoor air quality control methods to utilize.
- Source Control: The easiest way to intervene! The purpose is to keep pollutants out of the home in the first place AKA reducing pollution sources. Quick examples include taking shoes off at the door or limiting VOC-emitting household products.
- Filtration: An IAQ classic. Good filtration requires regularly checking and replacing home air filters, and opting for a high-efficiency air filter.
- Ventilation: Ventilation is crucial because fresh air is necessary for health and indoor air quality. Consider a mechanical ventilation home system. Good ventilation provides fresh air and dilutes indoor air pollution in the process.
- Humidity Control: Humidity control looks like regulating indoor humidity levels to prevent mold growth, the spread of biological contaminants, viruses and bacteria.
- Purification: Air purification actively cleans indoor air, providing healthier breathing air.
Environmental Health and IAQ
Good environmental health relies on environmental awareness. The goal is to better understand how our surrounding environments, indoors and out, play a role in health and wellness. Improving your actions and home’s air quality benefits both individual and public health.