Indoor Air Pollution: The Low-Down

Living in a city with emissions from cars and industries can be suffocating. The occasional haze that visits makes staying indoors for as long as you can a tempting prospect. However, thinking that you’re spared from air pollution since most Singaporeans stay indoors in their homes or offices most of the time is a common misconception that many hold. According to the Environment Protection Agency in the United States, indoor air pollution can be about 3-5 times worse than outdoor air pollution. Given that most of us spend up to 90% of our day indoors with moderate to poor ventilation, the level of indoor pollution can potentially wreak havoc on your health.

What is indoor air pollution?

Indoor air pollution is air that is contaminated with harmful smoke, smells, chemicals or particles within a confined space, such as an office building, a classroom or your bedroom.

What are the sources of indoor air pollutions?

The well-known sources are tobacco smoke, chemicals involved in building construction and renovation (such as asbestos, formaldehyde, radon, lead, paint and thinner) and heavy-duty cleaning products (such as bleach, floor cleaning concentrate and toilet cleaning concentrate).

Besides the usual suspects, there are some surprises hidden in plain sight. Moulds that grow in the corners of the room and pollen that float in the air are common allergens that can trigger respiratory issues. Personal grooming products such as soaps, sprays, nail products and air fresheners (even the “natural” and “organic” ones) release pollutants into the air.

A study published in Science by a group of researchers found that while consumer products only make up a small fraction of the number of known pollutants, they were responsible for 38% of all Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emissions, as compared to 33% released by diesel and gasoline. This means that as much as every hair wash or spritz of perfume makes you smell good, they also pollute the air indoors and gradually make you unwell.

How do I know if there’s indoor air pollution?

The symptoms that manifest due to poor indoor air quality can be vague and mistaken for signs of other issues such as allergies, cold, flu or general stress. However, if a group of people who have stayed in the same confined space for a long time experience similar symptoms, such as dizziness, headaches or nausea, chances are that the pollution indoor is at a harmful level. In unspecific cases, the illness is known as the sick building syndrome.

Generally, if you experience relief after leaving the room or building, there is a possibility of indoor air pollution.