Mothballs increase the indoor air pollution by 100 times. What else is poisoning the air in our homes?
A recent WHO study concluded that poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) killed 1.3 million Indians in the year 2010 (one of the highest instances in the world). This makes IAQ a more potent threat than air pollution and is second only to high blood pressure. The reason behind this figure is indoor pollution due to burning of solid biomass fuels like coal and wood for cooking, which happens in 80 per cent of rural and 20 per cent of urban homes. It stands to reason that women and small children are the most affected by this pollution
While this figure can dramatically reduce if these households switched to LPG, it is surprising to note that the key pollutant from burning biomass, naphthalene, can also enter homes that use LPG in many ways. For example, naphthalene mothballs used in cupboards increases the pollution level by 100 times. Cigarette smoke also releases naphthalene into the air.
It is important to understand here is that IAQ is a serious health issue. To provide perspective, the WHO guideline for safe indoor air is 20 micro gram of particulate matter per cubic metre whereas the all India average is 375 microgram per cubic metre, way beyond acceptable levels.
A major indoor air pollutant, formaldehyde, is released through furniture made from pressed wood, particle board and MDF. These items look modern, come in efficient modular form but are not good for our health and certainly do not wear as well as real wood. A great alternative is furniture made out of real wood, especially those purchased from antique sellers. Otherwise cane and bamboo are also aesthetic and safe options. Changing furniture for better air quality might seem to be a weird idea but findings from research are difficult to ignore.
Readers would know by now that I strongly advocate natural cleaning and personal care products for a number of reasons and we now have used IAQ as a strong motivator to get rid of chemical air sprays, detergent, shampoos, deodorants, floor cleaners and embrace safe plant-based products.
Growing fresh air
An urban garden in the home is one way of growing our own fresh air, especially if we incorporate certain species that are known to absorb air pollutants. The money-plant (Epipremnum pinnatum) is a valuable ally in the quest for clean air and is known to absorb and remove formaldehyde, benzene and xylene. It is also easy to grow and requires little maintenance.
It is also heartening to note that ill-effects of poor indoor air quality like asthma, headaches and eye-irritation are reversible through exposure to a clean environment. In a landmark study done at Delhi’s Paharpur Business Centre, a building that has remarkably high air quality due to its innovative practices, showed that working in clean air for 8-10 hours a day reduces the prevalence and magnitude of health impairments associated with chronic exposures to air pollution. In this building, the air outside is first cleaned to remove water soluble pollutants and then passed through a green house of specific plants that absorb other pollutants. The health and work productivity of the employees in this building was noted to be better than that of the average Delhi citizen. I would strongly urge readers to read this report available on the Central Pollution Control Board’s website.
In the coming weeks we will explore in detail natural alternatives for products used around the home.
Keywords: Indoor Air Quality,