October 23, 2019 (IANSlife) The ambient air pollution in Indian cities, especially Delhi and other northern regions, have been reported to be one of the worst in the world. Come Diwali and the air quality further deteriorates because of a culmination of various factors at the same time -- incessant burning of firecrackers, burning of crop stubble, cooling of temperatures causing inversion and change in wind directions.
While a toxic haze overlays the city for days, we often deceive ourselves by staying indoors, shutting all doors and windows, until the smog clears, thinking we’re safe from the effects of pollution. However, what we are unaware of is that air quality inside homes, offices and other indoor environments can be equally harmful leading to several health risks, especially because we spend about 90 per cent of our time indoors.
While our homes are already exposed to pollutants due to the use of synthetic building and furnishing materials, use of chemical products including personal care and cleaning goods, emissions from cooking (even LPG), tobacco smoke, entry of outdoor air into the house further aggravates the situation. Also, urban housing these days are notorious for having restricted ventilation.
According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is responsible for one-third of global deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease. Exposure to such toxic air is linked to numerous health effects from minor ones like headaches, nausea, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat to more acute conditions like asthma, bronchitis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cancer, and even mental disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
To shield yourself from the detrimental reactions of indoor air pollution, take these precautions.
1. Install an air cleaning system
The easiest way to ventilate a home is by opening the windows. But, when the air outside is already polluted, this is probably not a good idea. An alternate option would be to install portable or central air cleaning systems, which studies have shown can effectively reduce air pollutants, both caused by indoor elements as well as for particles that have penetrated from outside. However, air purifiers of substandard qualities can do more harm than good. Products with HEPA or high-efficiency particulate arresting air filters are the best.
2. Wear a face mask
Face masks can be effective to a certain extent in shielding micro-particles from entering and causing damage to the lungs. Use a face mask which has air filtration devices, which are better than cloth or surgical masks. The latter is ineffective against pollutants like PM 2.5. N95 or N99 masks are considered to be more beneficial in fending off pollutants. But make sure you wear them right,
ensuring it covers both the nose and the mouth.
3. Go green
Houseplants not only liven up the interiors, but also improve air quality and make spaces healthier. Indoor plants remove pollutants from the air by absorbing harmful gases through their leaves and roots. The microorganisms that live in the soil of potted plants also play an instrumental role in neutralizing VOCs and other pollutants. Plants also help improve our mood and bring a sense of calm to our living spaces.
Some of the most common air purifying plants are Money Plant, Areca Palm, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue or Snake Plant. The Money Plant removes formaldehyde and carbon monoxide (CO) from the air and helps in increasing general indoor air quality. Areca Palms are easy on the eye and help keep your home safe. As they grow, these palms work like air purifiers by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Snake Plant is a must-have in your home. This plant absorbs harmful toxins such as xylene, carbon monoxide, benzene and formaldehyde from the air. And it is a night plant as it reduces CO2 at night.
Living in urban areas, we have all become accustomed to crying foul over the air quality during the winter season. But it is time we took some control over the situation by assessing our own actions and footprint. Get an air cleaner to protect your loved ones for sure, but let us not go overboard this Diwali by buying and gifting indiscriminately – at the end of the day, consumerism is at the heart of the problems we face. Let us be careful with our actions and I wish all our readers a green and happy Diwali.
The author, Barun Aggarwal, CEO, BreatheEasy Consultants Pvt Ltd – a full service Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) solution provider whose focus is not only on IAQ but also energy conservation.
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Editing by Deepika Bhan and N. Lothungbeni Humtsoe