Indoor Air Quality & COVID
J. Paige Freeland; Marketing Manager General Filters, Inc.
Most of us have seen the sources of outdoor pollution from vehicle exhaust, wild fires, pollen, industrial emissions, dust, etc. The adverse effects of such pollution on our environment and our health were brought to the forefront in the 1950’s and 60’s, resulting in widespread public concern.
In response, in 1970 the EPA was formed to protect human and environmental health. Legislation introduced by the EPA over many years has worked to clean the environment and restrict the release of pollutants in our waters and the air.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, indoor air quality was hardly a thought for many. Indoor air pollution is less obvious; however, pollution indoors can be up to five times higher than outdoors. How serious is the problem? Air pollution is estimated to have caused more than 6.7 million deaths globally in 2019.
Consider: The average human drinks ½ to .8 gallons of water per day, and we expect the water we drink to be clean. The average human breathes 3 to 5,000 gallons of air each day, yet we rarely think about what we’re breathing.
New homes are more tightly sealed to save energy. Unlike mother nature outdoors, where the air is cleaned by sunshine, plants, wind, and rain, pollutants are trapped inside. Since we spend most of our time indoors, we actually spend more time in spaces with higher levels of pollutants.
Air pollution exacerbates allergy and asthma symptoms, causes headaches, eye irritation, fatigue, coughing, dry skin, and an inability to concentrate. Over time, people without allergies or asthma may actually develop these chronic health issues. Furthermore, poor indoor air quality exacerbates other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, stroke, obesity, chronic lung ailments, and more.
Environmentally you may experience excess dust, mold, mildew, strange smells, hot or cold spots within your home.
The financial costs of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) are in the $billions$ in the US alone: premature death, healthcare, absenteeism, building remediation, elevated hospital budgets, higher energy costs, reduced work productivity, and increased criminal activity.
There’s no mistaking it. Just like clean water, clean air is essential to good health, comfort, and the health of our home. With the advent of COVID, healthy indoor air is on the minds of business owners, hospital administrators, educators, and home owners alike. While many of the COVID safety guidelines focus on public places, people have taken great interest to ensure the air in their homes is safe as well.
COVID, however, is only one of many harmful airborne pollutants potentially present inside with us. The CDC identifies three categories of indoor pollutants: gases (VOC’s, odors, toxins), particulates (pollen, dust, smoke, pet dander, dust mites), and germs (bacteria, viruses, pathogens – like COVID, germs, fungi, allergens).
We bring pollutants into our homes on our shoes, clothes, and packages. We bring it into our homes through hobbies, pets, cooking, cleaning and beauty supplies, new furniture, carpet, and tobacco use. Opening doors and windows along a busy dirt road or highway lets pollutants inside.
People make many different choices about their self-care: the choice to exercise, visit a doctor, go to church, enjoy the spa, eat healthy foods, go to counselors, get ample sleep, keep a clean house. We ask advice from family, friends, and professionals about a whole plethora of health and well-being decisions. As such, breathing clean indoor air should be part of that entire comprehensive health plan.
Whole-house air treatment products, installed with your HVAC system, exist to keep indoor air fresh, clean, pure, comfortable, and healthy.
Air Filtration: Quality MERV-rated air filters remove the smallest airborne particulates from indoor air; pollutants that would normally reach your lungs.
The EPA agrees: “When used along with other best practices recommended by CDC and others, filtration can be part of a plan to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors.” (Consult your HVAC professional before upgrading to higher MERV-rated filters.)
UV Air Purifiers: Degrade pathogens (like COVID), germs, VOC’s, odors, bacteria, and fungi.
From the EPA: “When used properly, air purifiers can help reduce airborne contaminants, including viruses, in a home or confined space.”
Humidifiers: Maintaining 40-60% humidity ensures moist nasal passages prevent pollutants from reaching your lungs. Proper humidity levels also reduce the spread of pathogens indoors.
From the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Studies suggest that higher humidity can enhance the body’s ability to fight off infection; that the coronavirus decays faster at close to 60% relative humidity than at other levels; and that drier air can lead to greater numbers of tiny coronavirus particles that travel farther and penetrate deeper into the lungs.”
Mechanical Ventilation: Bring clean, fresh air inside while simultaneously dispersing polluted air outside.
From the EPA: “Ensuring proper ventilation with outside air can help reduce the concentration of airborne contaminants, including viruses, indoors.”
Children, older adults, and those with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable to poor indoor air quality, but anyone can succumb to its effects. Breathing 3 to 5,000 gallons of air daily is not a matter of choice, but rather survival. Consider the data. We can’t choose not to breathe, but we can make a choice to Breathe Healthier™.