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Green Architrends Indoor air pollution
MANILA is one of the most polluted cities in the world, next to Mexico City, Shanghai and New Delhi. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

According to the World Health Organization, this is due to the high level emissions of diesel fuel. This situation normally prompts many people to seek refuge in their homes and offices to avoid outdoor pollution.

The truth is that indoor-air pollution can be up to five times worse than outdoor air pollution due to the products that we use each day.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) places poor indoor-air quality fourth on the list of cancer risks causing over 6,000 deaths per year attributable to indoor-air pollution.

Poor indoor quality is very expensive. It can cost millions of pesos annually in employee sick leave, earnings and productivity losses. In schools, there have been many studies that established a direct link between students' performance and the quality of the air within the school environment.

What is indoor air pollution?

Indoor-air pollution is basically the accumulation of airborne levels of fine particles and volatile chemicals such as formaldehyde, which results from building materials, furnishings inside homes and offices and building systems like cleaning and equipment use.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas. It is widely used to manufacture building and household products, especially as an adhesive resin in pressed wood products.

What are the health effects?

Indoor-air pollution is one of the main causes of what is known as the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). This phenomenon is the mysterious condition wherein many occupants experience various health or comfort problems connected to the time spent in a particular building, for which no specific illness or sickness has been identified. It has been established however that Sick Building Syndrome may also be caused by acoustic, thermal, illumination and other aspects of indoor environment.

Health effects of indoor-air pollution can range from diseases like flu, cold and pneumonia to ailments such as cancer, asthma, allergy, respiratory, circulatory and other systemic effects.

What causes it?

The major sources of indoor pollutants include the outdoors, the building itself, the building occupants, equipment, appliances and consumer products.

In the construction industry, a major cause of indoor-air quality problems is premature occupancy. Buildings are occupied before construction is complete.

This is quite common with commercial establishments when owners want to start doing business right away even before some interior finishes and furnishings are completed and the air-conditioning system fully tested, adjusted and balanced. Without a thorough curing of products and a properly functioning ventilation system, many IAQ problems may be encountered. A better system is to plan from the outset for enough time between scheduled completion and occupancy of the building.

Buildings that have not been used for a long time such as condominium units normally go through extensive maintenance and housekeeping activities before they can be occupied. These activities may involve the application of chemicals such as carpet shampoo, solvents, floor wax and furniture polish. The accumulated emissions of these substances and activities should be removed before the area is occupied.

Another source of IAQ problems is when the maintenance of buildings or homes are neglected or delayed. One problematic area in many buildings is the air-conditioning system. Failure to do regular inspection, repair and cleaning of this equipment could lead to serious health problems. This applies particularly to health-care facilities like hospitals and clinics where people go to get well, only to find out that they end up more unhealthy than when they first came to the hospital or clinic.

Again, during construction activities, dust, fumes and vapors must not be allowed to contaminate the building and the air in areas occupied by people. If needed, a temporary ventilation system must be installed together with isolation barriers to protect areas not undergoing construction.

What can be done about it?

The first line of defense against dirt inside homes and workplaces occur at the front door. Eighty-five percent of the dirt that enters a building is brought in on people's shoes. Some of our Asian neighbors are aware of this. It has been customary for them to remove their shoes before entering their homes. This accounts for the spotless condition of their homes.

For air-conditioned areas, filtration is the most common pollutant removal mechanism, normally a part of the mechanical ventilation system. This involves circulation of air through a filter where particles are removed. Recent advances in filter technology allow much more effective filtration of smaller particles.

Frequent cleaning of surfaces can also reduce the burden on ventilation and filtration.

Many indoor-air quality problems start during the construction of a building. Most of these can be avoided by sequencing the construction process. This means installing materials with high chemical emissions first such as painting, caulking or drying components before installing absorbent materials such as ceiling tile, carpet and office furniture. Absorbent materials should be installed last.

Our dependence on commercial cleaning solutions can also be substituted with cleaning products at health food stores, or you can make them yourself out of cleaning ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice.

Gas stoves and appliances release fumes into the air. Make sure that the areas containing these appliances are well-ventilated.

Candles release soot and other pollutants into the air. It is advisable to use natural paraffin-free candles instead.

As newer, more complex types of buildings are constructed and occupied by more and more people, the issue of indoor-air quality is gaining more importance and prominence.

Now is the time for designers and developers to consider this vital health-related factor in their projects.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Indoor air pollution
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