Pollutionwatch: How clean is the air we breathe at home?


The World Health Organisation estimates that we spend around 90% of our time indoors but relatively little attention is paid to indoor air quality. Being indoors can offer some protection from outdoor air pollution but it can also expose us to other air pollution sources.

There is good awareness of issues around badly maintained gas appliances, radioactive radon gas and second hand tobacco smoke but indoors we can also be exposed to nitrogen dioxides from gas cooking and solvents that slowly seep from plastics, paints and furnishings. The lemon and pine scents that we use to make our homes smell fresh can also react chemically to generate air pollutants and ozone based air fresheners can cause serious indoor air pollution problems. The US Environmental Protection Agency underlines that the best way to clean indoor air is ventilation with clean outdoor air, but this can be difficult due to weather conditions and outdoor air pollution.

Travelling in cars and buses exposes us to exhaust from other vehicles and several studies highlight high particle concentrations in tube and metro systems.

Despite the amount of time we spend indoors, improvements in outdoor air pollution have led to improved population health, and indoor smoking bans have been followed by decreases in the numbers of people having heart attacks.

Indoor air pollution problems in the developed world are tiny compared to those in developing countries where badly ventilated solid fuel cooking is thought to cause over 1.6 million deaths annually, over half of these being children. Strategies to improve this include better stoves, better fuels and keeping children away from cooking fires.

Gary Fuller


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