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Breathe easy: Indoor pollution more harmful than earlier thought

Even as Delhiites are braving the government’s odd-even policy on traffic restrictions to curb pollution, new research led by an Indian-origin scientist has highlighted the dangerous effects of indoor pollution on our health and has called for policies to ensure closer monitoring of air quality.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 27, 2016 20:44 IST
Urban dwellers typically spend 90% of their time indoors and this has been linked to “Sick Building Syndrome” where people exhibit a range of ill-health effects related to breathing indoor air.
Urban dwellers typically spend 90% of their time indoors and this has been linked to “Sick Building Syndrome” where people exhibit a range of ill-health effects related to breathing indoor air.(Shutterstock)

Even as Delhiites are braving the government’s odd-even policy on traffic restrictions to curb pollution, new research led by an Indian-origin scientist has highlighted the dangerous effects of indoor pollution on our health and has called for policies to ensure closer monitoring of air quality.

According to Prashant Kumar from the University of Surrey, the research offers insight into “Sick Building Syndrome” and how new smart cities could help combat air quality issues.

When we think of the term “air pollution”, we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling grey smoke. “However, there are actually various sources of pollution that have a negative effect on air quality, many of which are found inside our homes and offices. From cooking residue to paints, varnishes and fungal spores the air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than that outside,” explained Kumar.

Read: Air pollution not just sickens and kills you, it also makes you fat!

In 2012, indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths globally, compared with 3.7 million for outdoor air pollution. Urban dwellers typically spend 90% of their time indoors and this has been linked to “Sick Building Syndrome” where people exhibit a range of ill-health effects related to breathing indoor air.

“It is essential that we are able to effectively monitor indoor air pollution so that we can better understand when and where levels are worst, and in turn offer solutions to make our air healthier,” added Kumar in the journal Science of the Total Environment. “Our work looks at the use of small, low-energy monitoring sensors that would be able to gather real-time data and tell families or workers when levels of pollutants are too high,” he continued.

With this research, we are calling for greater importance to be placed on ensuring buildings are built with indoor pollution monitoring in mind. As we enter the age of smart cities this is one way in which technology will actively benefit health, the authors noted.

Read: Silent indoor killers: Is your air freshener risking your health?

A collaborative effort of European, Australian and British researchers led by the University of Surrey, the study assesses the harmful effects of indoor pollution in order to make recommendations on how best to monitor and negate these outcomes.

In another paper published earlier in the journal Environmental Pollution, Kumar and PhD student Anju Goel also found that outdoor air pollution was at a high where buildings were located at traffic intersections. Even where there was low traffic volume, traffic intersections with densely built up surroundings showed twice the concentration than at open junctions. Exposure to these concentrations showed that ground floor dwellings in these areas were exposed to twice as many harmful particles.

Watch: How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality with Plants

“This has important implications for town planning and we should consider whether we really want schools, offices or hospitals to be built within these environments,” Kumar noted.