Indoor air pollution health risks
Take a moment and glance around the room your are presently in. Can you see any purely natural products that are not painted, not preserved, not glued, not mixed with synthetics? The pot plant? Perhaps, but if it is not of the ‘carefree’ plastic or silk variety, it probably grows in a plastic pot. Even the solid wood table and the pure wool carpet can’t escape the scrutiny. The furniture item may be treated with a wood preservative and made to look good with an oil-based finish. The loops and fibres of the carpet are very likely glued onto a synthetic base, and the floor covering may rest on a synthetic underlay. In other words, almost all products in our homes are in someway manufactured and may emit hazardous gases or harbor unhealthy pollutants.
Heavily polluted air, in the form of toxic gases and very fine particles, bypass the mucous membrane in nose and throat and enter deep into the lungs. They fill up the tiny air cells, alveoli, or enter the bloodstream together with oxygen and, as in some cases, may replace the oxygen altogether. The result will be some form of respiratory or cardiovascular disorder and may affect the brain and the nervous system.
Larger substances normally don’t make it past the mucous membranes, but if they are, e.g. pollen or animal dander, they can cause allergic reactions, such as hayfever, asthma and pet allergies. The indoor air can be very dry, particularly during the heating season and, as a consequence, the mucus will dry out and let the larger substances, including viruses, bacteria and fungi, reach the alveoli as well. This is the time of sniffing and wheezing, of common colds and influenza.
Breathing, of course, isn’t the only way we get exposed to pollutants. We can eat or drink hazardous substances or we can absorb them through the skin. Since this book is about indoor air quality, I will in this chapter concentrate mainly on the health effects of the most common air pollutants we can find in our homes. My intention is not to sound like a scaremonger, but to inform and also give advise on how to either remedy a pollution problem or to prevent it from occurring in the first place.