How to deal with indoor air pollution

With air pollution in several cities across India reaching alarming levels, we look at what home owners can do, to keep the indoor air clean and free of pollutants

Rising air pollution is a big worry in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India has six of the top 10 polluted cities in the world with air quality index (AQI) in the ‘severe’ or ‘severe plus’ categories, several times in a year. Indoor air pollution occurs when particles and gases contaminate the air of indoor areas. “Contaminants like animal dander, dust mites and bacteria can put you at risk of asthma, throat irritation, flu and infections. One may also get allergic reactions, eye irritation and bronchitis, various respiratory diseases or even lung cancer,” says Dr Arvind Kate, a pulmonologist at Zen Multispecialty Hospital.

Outdoor pollution can also have an impact inside the house and fill it with toxic gases and contaminants. According to Pawan Gadia, CEO, online and retail, Ferns N Petals, people are now more health conscious and aware of the risk of respiratory infections. Hence, they have started keeping air-purifying plants in their homes, to combat indoor pollution.

“Ideally, one can keep around six plants up to a height of three ft in the house. Peace lily, snake plant, spider plant and areca plant, are some of the plants that cleanse the air. Peace lily has the ability to break down and neutralise toxic gases found in the air, such as formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide. Snake plant converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night. According to the studies conducted by NASA, the spider plant was the best of the lot and can remove contaminants such as ammonia and benzene from the air,” Gadia elaborates.

 

Impact of plants on air quality

Research has ignited a debate on the impact of plants on indoor air quality. One research stated that ‘Plants are great but they do not actually clean indoor air quickly enough to have an effect on the air quality of your home or office environment’. This study by researchers at Drexel University in the US said claims about the ability of plants to improve the air quality, are vastly overstated. According to Michael Waring, an associate professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering, the key finding is that ‘Natural or ventilation air exchange rates in indoor environments, like homes and offices, dilutes concentrations of volatile organic compounds – the air pollution that plants are allegedly cleaning – much faster than plants can extract them from the air’. Another study by researchers from The Ohio State University, however, shows that plants may be cheaper options than technology, for cleaning the air near a number of industrial sites, roadways, power plants, commercial boilers and oil and gas drilling sites.

See also: Plants do not improve indoor air quality but cut outdoor pollution, latest studies show

 

Factors that contribute to indoor air pollution

Poorly maintained floors, walls and furniture, may trap pollutants like dust particles, fumes and moisture. “It has been reported that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air, as this air is trapped within the house. Airborne pollutants in the indoor air include a plethora of bacteria, allergens, pollen and other injurious particles that can cause severe health issues,” cautions Himanshu H Shah, business head – air coolers and air purifiers, Voltas Ltd.

Dr Kate advises that one should monitor the home for potential indoor asthma triggers. He suggests several ways in which one can deal with indoor pollution:

  • Chemical odours and fragrances tend to increase indoor air pollution and may trigger symptoms of asthma like breathlessness.
  • Deal with any source of musty smell and ensure that it is removed, to enhance the indoor air quality.
  • Keep the home dust-free, to deal with pollution.
  • Using a mask or covering the face while doing activities like dusting or cooking, can be helpful.
  • Increase the intake of vitamin C intake in the diet and do yoga exercises like bhasri pranayama, or kapalbharati, under the guidance of a yoga teacher, to fight seasonal challenges and prevent recurrent cough and cold.

 

Difference between air purifiers and humidifiers

An air purifier can be helpful, in getting rid of harmful particles and can improve the air quality. A common misconception is that air purifiers and humidifiers serve the same purpose and can be used interchangeably.

“While air purifiers clean the indoor air by removing dust, allergens and smoke, humidifiers mainly improve the moisture level in the air. Some home owners use both, for improved well-being. However, considering the dangerously high pollution levels, priority should be given to an air purifier, as it filters all types of toxins and helps to tackle health issues like allergies, asthma, headaches, congestion and poor sleeping, caused due to polluted air,” Shah explains.

 

How to select the right air filter

One of the most important aspects to consider, is the filtration system of the air purifier. “For the best possible improvement in air quality, look for models with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters that eliminate 99.97% of common airborne allergens sized at 0.3 microns and larger,” suggests Shah. Minute pollutants that cannot be seen by our naked eyes, when inhaled, can cause respiratory issues over a period of time, warns Mario Schmidt, managing director, Lingel Windows and Air Purifiers.

Opt for air purifiers that can filter PM 2.5 air pollutants. Filters with UV rays also help to kill airborne pathogens, thus, improving the quality of the air we inhale. The HEPA filter also sterilises the pathogens and viruses, making the air we breathe pure, elaborates Schmidt.

Also consider the room size and the CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate), the international standard for calculating the air purifier’s efficiency. Germicidal UV lamps, air quality indicators and air purifiers with remote controls, are some of the other features that one can check for. Over time, the filters collect pollutants and begin to lose efficiency. Hence, it is advisable to change the pre-filters every four to five months and the HEPA filters every two to four years, depending on the pollution levels around the place of usage.

“When installing an air purifier, ensure that the company gives a demonstration of the unit. The air purifier should be wall-mounted, to keep it away from the reach of children or pets. The filter should automatically monitor the air quality in the room and should also have an indicator warning for filter replacement. Finally, never leave the windows open, when using an air purifier,” concludes Schmidt.

 

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