What is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air quality refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Indoor air pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of poor indoor air quality in homes. In NYC, the most common causes are inadequate ventilation; a lack of fresh outdoor air or contaminated air being brought into the building; poor upkeep of ventilation, heating and air-conditioning systems; and moisture damage due to leaks, flooding or high humidity. In a ranking of smog levels, New York City was rated the tenth worst city in the country. Unfortunately, the air we breathe affects not just our physical environment, but it impacts our mental capacity as well.
Naturally, everyone yearns for an environment with clean air. People in major metropolitan areas, however, not only suffer from various respiratory illnesses due to air pollution but are also in danger of impaired cognitive function. In fact, elevated pollution levels are linked to premature birth, low birth weight, mental illness in children and dementia in the elderly. The visible ozone pollution that manifests itself as smog in cities like Los Angeles is the result of air pollutants reacting to sunlight. While it is clearly uncomfortable to breathe, it also leaves what amounts to a sunburn on the lungs. Consequently, smog can leave people suffering from shortness of breath, cause bouts of coughing, and asthma attacks.
Environmental Justice and Indoor Air Quality
Furthermore, the danger isn’t limited to people inhabiting urban areas; researchers from the American Lung Association found that more than 40 percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air. Yet studies have shown that people who live in poor neighborhoods suffer disproportionately from health issues related to poor air quality. Asthma emergency department visits, for example, are more than three times higher among children in high poverty neighborhoods. High truck and traffic volume, industrial facilities and older heating systems all contribut to higher air pollution levels in impoverished neighborhoods.
Subsequently, the Environmental Protection Agency has started to promote the concept of environmental justice, which it defines as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” In order to achieve environmental justice, the EPA stresses that communities must join together to devise local solutions for environmental health issues such as indoor air quality.
As a result, the EPA’s Indoor Environments Division now offers help and programs to educate communities about avoiding both indoor and outdoor health concerns. Essentially, the IED’s mission is to improve the indoor air quality in dwellings where people work and live.
Common Indoor Air Pollutants in NYC
What most people don’t realize is that indoor air pollutants are often more dangerous than their outdoors counterparts. For this reason, the first step to keeping your home and family safe is to understand and control these dangerous substances. We have included a list below of some of the most common indoor air pollutants.
- Carbon monoxide (CO) – an odorless, invisible gas. CO stops your body from using the oxygen it needs to work normally. You may experience tiredness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and a fast heart rate. If the concentration of CO is high enough, it can lead to death.
- Radon – an odorless, colorless gas. Being exposed to elevated levels of radon increases your risk of getting lung cancer.
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) – a toxic and corrosive gas. This gas irritates the throat, eyes, nose, and respiratory tract. Exposure to very high doses can lead to pulmonary edema or lung injury. Moderate exposure can lead to acute or chronic bronchitis. Can also impair lung function for people who are already at risk.
- Secondhand smoke – Environmental tobacco smoke that comes from incompletely burned tobacco products. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. In the long run it can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, and lung cancer, as well as trigger asthma attacks.
- Lead particles – a natural, soft metal that is very toxic if consumed. Exposure to lead can damage the brain, nervous systems, kidneys and red blood cells.
- Asbestos – a group of minerals found naturally all over the world. Exposure to asbestos can lead to various lung disorders, including lung cancer and asbestosis (inflammatory condition of the lungs that causes permanent lung damage).
- Mold – a type of fungi that grows indoor and outdoors. It can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms may include nasal stuffiness, eye or throat irritation, swelling, coughing or wheezing, headaches, or skin irritation, as well as trigger asthma attacks.
Easy Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Winter tends to make things worse for the indoor air quality in NYC because there is very little fresh air coming from the outside. Therefore, allergens become trapped inside. Although it may not be possible to eliminate all the allergens inside your home, you can reduce your exposure to them by making simple changes. Start by keeping your home clean – vacuum the carpets and area rugs at least once or twice a week; regularly clean bedding, drapes, and other items that tend to attract allergens; and clear away clutter that may trap dust. Also, keep plants outdoors because they can promote mold growth if left inside.
If you have a forced air heating system, change the filters regularly. If you’re allergic to indoor allergens and can’t control the sources of the problem, invest in an air purifier. You may also want to consider a dehumidifier in damp areas, such as a basement, to help prevent mold growth. Even during colder months, open some windows occasionally to allow fresh air to move throughout the house. Also, use fans in your kitchen to clear out any possible contaminants from cooking fumes.
Indoor Air Quality Testing in NYC
If you suspect any issues with your indoor air quality, you should contact an air quality testing company in NYC to investigate sources of air pollution. Indoor air quality is like drinking water. The air you breathe must be free of toxins and contaminants in the same way as the water you drink. One other issue to keep in mind is to hire professionals who are certified and have gone through the adequate regulatory compliance training programs that equip them to handle issues related to lead, asbestos and related hazardous materials.