Recently my daughter bought me ceramic cookware for my kitchen. Before I could exclaim in wonder about the beauty of this new cookware, I saw in horror as she walked around my kitchen, systematically collecting all the nonstick cookware that I already had and then after neatly bundling in a pile, she threw it all, not in the trash can inside my house but in the one outside the building, which means I could never retrieve it!
Obviously I was stunned and asked what she thought she just did, to which she told me something that literately opened my eyes! From the toxic chemicals present in non-stick surface pans, to the leaching of dangerous heavy metals into our food from a variety of other types of metal cookware, there was a world in my kitchen that I was just not aware of! Nonstick coatings have been used on cookware for over 50 years – unfortunately, most modern cookware leaches toxins right into the food!
When my daughter saw me looking at her in shock, she said, “So, this means that obviously you have no idea that these dangerous pollutants are not just restricted to your kitchen, right?”
This simple question got me researching into an area that changed my world. From bugs and termites to candles and air freshens, from cleaning products and cosmetics to gas stoves and kitchen utensils; I had no idea that inside my house there lurked indoor air pollutants that could 5X more harmful, and that indoor air pollution can have a severe negative impact anyone’s health. Living in a developing urban jungle undoubtedly has an effect on the quality of air we breathe. Most people believe that pollution only resides outdoors, but that is a myth. In reality, indoor air can be 5X more polluted than outdoor air! There are many overlooked indoor pollutants that directly affect people’s health. Once I learned about this, I felt an urge to educate my friends, and blog readers about it. I organized a little presentation in my community center last night which was very well-received and where I spoke about my learnings in this topic, my tips and tricks to keep a pollution free home, and here I am sharing a snapshot of it.
But it was not easy to get the buy in from the apartment members when I proposed this presentation. This is briefly how my discussion with the resident welfare president went:
After listening to my brief pitch, the president said, “What do you mean indoor air pollutants?!”
I said, “I am saying that even the air inside your house is significantly more polluted than the air outside.”
He started to laugh, “Haha, now you are just kidding me.” I was smiling so he got a little confused and continued speaking, “All the pollution from vehicles is on the road. All other dangerous emissions are outside. We keep our home windows mostly closed. My wife keeps the house neat and regularly clean it.” Then he said, “It is the outside air that is polluted, not the air inside my house!”
I said, “I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions and I will start the presentation exactly with this.”
He was still unsure but knew I was onto something, so he gave the permission. This is kind of a transcript of my presentation below:
There was a full house in the community center. I started speaking.
So, how many of you use non-stick cookware? Several hands went up.
How many love lighting aromatic candles and air fresheners? Again, same reaction.
Do your houses have fancy wooden interiors? Same.
How about painting your house, using glues and other adhesive material in the building material? Obviously, same reaction.
Indoor air quality
Okay let me spare you the torture of asking the same repetitive questions and tell you that if you use a lot of plastics, you should know that they can release flame-retardant chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which have been linked to neurobehavioral changes in animal studies. Glues and adhesives can emit VOCs, such as acetone or methyl ethyl ketone, that can irritate the eyes and affect the nervous system. Heating equipment, especially gas stoves, can produce carbon monoxide, which can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and even death if not ventilated properly. Latex paints are a big improvement over oil-based paints because they emit fewer chemical fumes. But as they dry, all paints can emit VOCs, which can cause headaches, nausea, or dizziness. Paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints can also contain methylene chloride, which is known to cause cancer in animals.
I know this was a lot, a sudden overdose of information. But this was not all. Yes, I knew you would collectively gasp but When new, many furniture and wood products can emit formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen that can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; and severe allergic reactions. If they break, CFLs can emit mercury, a neurotoxin, in small amounts into the air. Now, I played this video from them that I found online, because I am a bit technologically challenged to make a video myself 😦
Your Child Is Even MORE Vulnerable than You
For mothers this can be even more worrying because infants, toddlers and children are perhaps the most vulnerable. You may not be aware that the concentration of pollutants in air varies with its distance from the floor. Many contaminants are heavier than air, so they concentrate closer to the floor—such as heavy metals and pesticides. Dust inside homes has been shown to collect pesticide residues. There is less air mixing near the floor, even with a window open for ventilation, and this is precisely where your infant or toddler spends most of his time. This means the air your toddler breathes is likely more toxic than yours! Prenatal exposure to airborne toxins is associated with genetic abnormalities at birth that may increase cancer risk, smaller newborn head size, lower birth weight, developmental delays, and a higher risk for childhood asthma. (source)
Okay, let me not make this like a ‘Winter is coming” kind of a presentation. Oh yes, obviously I watch Game of Thrones too! I may be chronologically not exactly a millennial but I do enjoy a bit of gore and drama here and there. (This was a Lol or Laugh Out Loud moment in the presentation 🙂 ) Okay, let me cut out some of these deathly warning signs and tell you what WHO says about the impact of all of this, because it is relevant to women like especially given the amount of time we spend in the kitchen. They say that in poorly ventilated dwellings, smoke in and around the home can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles 100-fold. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time near the domestic hearth. And, according to WHO, 4.3 million people a year die from the exposure to household air pollution. In fact, not surprisingly, in this particular matter of fuel and energy sources, it is the poor that are the most susceptible.
ARI: acute respiratory infections
COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Yes, unfortunately, developing countries, women and children are three sub groups of people who are more exposed to this type of indoor pollution in the kitchen and fuel usage. And being Indians, I felt that this is something I should particularly draw attention to here.
SO WHAT HAPPENS OUTSIDE?!
I know you all who thought so far that the air inside your houses is ultra clean and it is outside that harmful toxic pollutants reside, are a bit shaken now. But you must also be wondering that if such pollutants exist outside, then what really happens? Well, there are at least trees outside to clean the air.
We all learned in school about the magical ways in which trees purify the air around us, and wrote about it religiously in our exam papers, and then forgot soon after as we got busy with lives. So, as I start talking about the cleaning of air in our homes, let us take a few minutes and watch this wonderful video from one of my favorite socially responsible organizations.
So, there are trees outside to maintain the balance in nature, but what about inside?! Trees clean the air outside but what does it for the air inside?? Am I guessing your mental thoughts correctly right now? Well, there are things that you can do. Here are my own mantras.
Air Purification Requires a Multi-Faceted Approach
There is no one magic wand to make everything alright at once. Indoor air pollutants are multi-faceted and controlling them needs multiple approaches too. You need to start work on many fronts. The first thing you need to do is control or eliminate as many sources of pollution as you can. Open some windows, preferably in opposite sides so there is cross-ventilation!
Next, remember that air pollutants fall into three main categories, each requiring a different approach:
- Biological particles (molds, bacteria, spores, viruses, parasites, animal dander, pollen, etc.)
- Non-biological particles (smoke, dust, heavy metals, radioactive isotopes, etc.)
- Gases (fumes from things like adhesives, petroleum products, pesticides, paint, and cleaning products; radon, carbon monoxide, etc.)
Modern air purififiers work using the following four primary technologies:
|Technology||Types of Pollutants||How It Works|
|Filtration||Particles and biologicals||Mechanical or electrostatic, these physically trap particles in a filter (HEPA is example)|
|Photo Catalytic Oxidation (PCO)||Particles, gases, biologicals||Destroys pollutants using a UV lamp and a catalyst that reacts with the UV light|
|Negative Ionization||Particles and biologicals||Disperses charged particles into the air to attract to nearby objects, or to each other, thereby settling faster|
|Ozone||Biologicals||Activated oxygen assists with the breakdown of biologicals|
All of you may not be able to buy these air purifiers, but remembering these categories and points help you plan your response to indoor air pollution better. Let me also tell you what are some of the things I have started doing.
Basic Steps for Improving the Air Quality in Your Home
Modern day human spend on average 90 percent of their time indoors, being exposed to indoor air contaminants. A study even said that indoor air pollution was responsible for 99,000 deaths across Europe in 2012. Here are a few simple things you can do to lower your family’s toxic load:
- Increase ventilation by opening a few windows every day for 5 to 10 minutes, preferably on opposite sides of the house.
- Get some houseplants, yes those lush nature’s gifts. Even NASA has declared that plants markedly improve the air!
- Take your shoes off as soon as you enter the house, and leave them by the door to prevent trapping of toxic particles.
- Discourage your friends and family from tobacco smoking in or around your home.
- Switch to organic or non toxic cleaning products, such as baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Avoid fancy chemical air fresheners and scented candles, which can fill your bodies with countless different chemicals.
- Dry your clothes in the sun whenever possible.
- Clean your furniture, carpets, rugs, and floors regularly.
- Clean your air conditioning ductwork and chimney regularly.
- Avoid storing paints, adhesives, solvents, and other harsh chemicals in your house or in any storage space around.
- Avoid using nonstick cookware. You can switch to ceramic, but of course steel is still the oldest and best according to me.
- When building or remodeling, opt for safer and more eco-friendly materials. VOC-free paints are becoming easier to find. An option is the Asian Paints Royale Atmos that I have spoken later about in more detail.
- Opt for sustainable hardwood flooring instead of carpet, which trap the worst pollution.
- Make sure your house has proper drainage.
There are many unknown and unthought of indoor air contaminants, including off-gassing of toxic chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from building materials and furniture; carbon monoxide; radon; spores and mycotoxins from mold; pesticides; allergens from pets, insects, dust mites and other sources, and tobacco smoke, that need your attention and action, but this can be done, slowly and steadily. All it takes is awareness, and the right controllers. While I have mentioned my own tips and tricks in the presentation above, I also want to mention the new Asian Paints Royale Atmos, which is a paint that reduces harmful air pollutants and makes the air cleaner. Additionally, it also absorbs various foul smells & makes the air fresher. Thus, for the first time, Asian Paints presents a paint that not only looks good, but also helps purify air and improve the air quality inside your home.
If you are looking to paint your home, or any of your friends and family members are, consider this new indoor air purifying paint, and keep educating everybody about this important issue so we can all tackle it together. See the video below to know more about this new wonder paint.
Some sources of info for making me presentation and later this blog-post: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/7-sources-of-indoor-air-pollution.html, http://news.psu.edu/story/141253/2009/04/20/research/probing-question-indoor-air-pollution-really-problem, pixabay for image