What influences indoor environmental quality and our health?

What do we need to consider as designers, builders, homebuyers and homeowners?

Fast-pace technological progress resulted in many new products available for a consumer.

Do we actually know how any of these products can affect our well-being?

Thousands of synthetic chemicals have been incorporated into building materials and building envelopes are sealed so tightly that chemicals and occupant-generated pollutants remain trapped inside homes, where they are inhaled into the lungs and absorbed through the skin.

 

What are the sources of indoor air pollution?

There are 5 main sources of pollution to consider

 

  1. Volatile Organic Compounds(VOC):

  • Chemicals containing carbon-hydrogen bonds
  • Naturally occurring and manufactured
  • Most VOCs are petrochemical derived from oil, gas and coal
  • Exist in form of gas, liquid and solid

VOC and Health effects: rashes, headaches, eye irritation, chronic cough, chronic sinus infections, joint and muscle pain, memory loss, inability to concentrate, fatigue, anxiety, depression and increased number of allergies

 

 

Volatile Organic Compounds can be found in:

  • Plywood
  • Particleboard
  • Carpets and carpet pads
  • Insulation
  • Paints
  • Finishes
  • Solvents
  • Adhesives
  • Synthetic fabrics
  • Cleaning products
  • Insecticides
  • Aerosol products
  • Air fresheners

Strategies to minimize VOC:

  • Check amounts of VOC for building or finishing products before specifying or purchasing
  • If used, isolate from interior spaces
  • Minimize use

 

 

 

  1. Toxic Byproducts of Combustion:

  • Gas, oil, coal, wood and other fuels burned indoor consume oxygen.
  • In tight, energy efficient buildings these fumes can cause serious health consequences.
  • Indoor combustion is in fireplaces, woodstoves, gas-fired appliances, clothes dryers, water and space heaters

 

Byproducts and Health effects:

Effects of exposure to gas fumes, primarily affect cardiovascular, nervous and reproductive systems, however can affect any organ of the body. Some earliest symptoms include depression, fatigue, irritability and inability to concentrate

 

 

 

  1. Pesticides/biocides

  • Odorless and invisible substances
  • Poisons designed to kill a variety of plants and animals such as insects, weeds, mold and fungus
  • They were first developed as offshoots of nerve gas used during WWII
  • Pesticides are not safe

Sources:

  • Many building products such as wool carpets, paints and wood products treated with biocides
  • Lawn treatment products
  • Pesticides contaminate everything and everyone they contact
  • Residues are found in rain, fog, snow, food, water, wildlife and even in arctic ice

Pesticides and Health effects: Leukemia, brain tumours, breast cancer and other cancers, infertility, birth defects, learning disorders, neurological disorders, allergies and disorders of immune system.

 

 

 

  1. Electromagnetic fields

  • Fields such as radio and television waves, microwaves and power line waves are generated by human activity
  • The Earths’ magnetic field is similar to the one of a human body. Communication between cells in the body is a function of electrical charges. These natural fields pulse on and off and do not oscillate- DC (7.83hz)
  • Manufactured fields oscillate back and forth by alternating current AC(60hz+)
  • Common sources: power lines, electrical wires, electric blankets, televisions and other household appliances

Electromagnetic fields and Health effects:

Scientists agree that electromagnetic fields have biological effects. Experiments have shown, that fields change protein synthesis and hormone levels. Exposure can contribute to nervous disorders such as insomnia, depression and anxiety

Over 50 years people have been exposed to ever increasing amounts of manufactured radiation. The long-term consequences are not clearly understood.

 

 

  1. Naturally Occurring Pollutants

  • Radioactive contaminants during the decay of uranium, radon is produced. Radon is invisible, odorless radioactive gas that seeps from underground into the homes commonly through cracks in foundation and mechanical openings. It can also enter groundwater and affect water supplies
  • Heavy Metals present in the air, food, water and countless human made chemicals and products. Other sources: cigarette smoke, paint pigments, cookware, pipes. Each metal targets different areas of the body. Commonly affected are brain and nervous system, resulting in learning,  memory problems, mood disorders and early dementia

 

  • Biological Pollutants include pollen, house dust and mold spores. House dust composed of dust mites, animal dander, hold spores, textile particles, heavy metals, skin cells and more.
    • Mold grows everywhere: wood surfaces, insulation materials, beneath carpets, inside duct work, bathroom tilesBiological Pollutants refer to a moisture problem:
      • Overall high humidity(>50%)
      • Cold walls (Inadequate insulation and waterproofing)
      • Water infiltration through cracks

Biological Pollutants and Health effects : Development of allergies, Asthma, red and watery eyes, cough, runny nose.

Possible Solution:

  • Repair existing cracks or fix defects of construction to avoid moisture penetration from outside
  • Add more ventilation
  • Increase air circulation
  • Avoid dead air spaces
  • Add a good dehumidifier
  • Clean it up

 

 

Do you know how healthy is your home?