Written by ESG’s blog contributor and Warren Wilson College student Annie Pryor.
Do you recall the anti-smoking campaign in the late 90’s? I sure do. One ad, which focused on the dangers of secondhand smoke, played on TV often: a little girl coughs, buckled in her seatbelt in the backseat of a small car. Eerie music starts to play and smoke curls around her forehead. The camera pans over to the windows, suggesting that her mother’s smoking habits are imprisoning her child. Statistics regarding cancer-related illness and second-hand smoke appear on the screen.
In short, I grew up in a world aware of the dangers of certain types of air pollutants. However, air pollutants are not limited to cigarette smoke. Other types include: mold, dust mites, chemicals found in carpeting and in treated lumber, as well as gases and particulates from paint and other finishes. At times, particularly when found in high concentrations, these and other air pollutants can negatively impact the health of humans, particularly the elderly, children and persons with compromised immune systems. Some of the negative influences of these pollutants include increased levels of, or exacerbation of asthma, headaches, and even cancer.
But really, what’s the big deal? According to the EPA “Indoor air pollutants may be present at levels two to five times higher – and occasionally more than 100 times higher – than outdoor levels of pollutants. The average person spends nearly 90 percent of his or her time indoors.” So, in a nutshell, if your indoor air quality is terrible, odds are so is your health, and being sick is a big deal.
Poor ventilation in a home can majorly impact the indoor air quality of that space. A house that is too tightly sealed and insulated will probably keep outdoor air outside, and will simply circulate air that is already inside. That is, while you may be saving energy, a too-tight energy envelope may have a negative influence on the air quality in that space.
However, keeping pollutants out of a space and controlling the source of air may help “reduce indoor air pollution and limit chemical exposure,” according to the Greenguard Environmental Institute. That is, using products that are certified for low chemical emissions can help reduce the amount of chemical pollutants present in a building’s air.
The anti-smoking ads of the 90s had an impact, but there are many more things we can do to improve indoor air quality. Hopefully you’ve learned a few ideas here that you can implement today.