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May 2020

Air Hygiene Part 1: Why is Indoor Air Quality so important?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Health and Safety, Air Quality

In the first part of this two-part blog post, we take a look at why the quality of the air we breathe indoors is so important. In part 2 next week we’ll take a look at how an air purifier actually does the work of improving indoor air quality, and what you should consider before buying one.
There is no doubt that the quality of the air we breathe can have a real impact on our health and wellbeing. Just ask any asthma sufferer. But it’s not just asthmatics that should be concerned about air quality. The WHO states thatas air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases increases”.  

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that air pollution contributes to 9% of all deaths globally (approximately 5 million deaths) - making it the leading environmental cause of early death. This makes air pollution one of the world’s largest health and environmental problems.

Why do we need good indoor air quality (IAQ)?

The modern lifestyle has changed the amount of time we spend outside. The industrial revolution means that gone are the days when most people spent  8-12 hours working outside, and instead we spend most of our working life (and often our leisure time as well) indoors. In fact, current estimates have some of us spending up to 90% of our lives indoors. 

My mother used to tell me to “Go outside and get some fresh air” a lot while I was growing up, and it turns out she was right. Studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Association (EPA)  - an American government agency whose mission is to protect human and environmental health -  show that indoor environments can have higher pollution levels than pollution levels outside. Indoor air quality can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Yes, you read that correctly - up to 5 times more polluted! 

Poor IAQ comes with a cost, as indoor air pollutants increase the risk of illness. The EPA estimates that poor indoor air may cost tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical care. 

What causes poor IAQ?

According to the EPA, one of the primary causes of indoor air problems are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are emitted as gases from common household products. Paints, varnishes and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and when they are stored. In addition, inadequate ventilation can aggravate the situation  by not bringing  enough fresh air in or by not carrying pollutants out

Known health problems associated with VOC’s include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea, damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system and some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Health problems may be experienced soon after exposure but also years later. Some of the health problems that may show up shortly after a single exposure to a pollutant (such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue) are usually short-term and treatable. Sometimes the treatment is as simple as eliminating the source of the pollution, if it can be identified.

Other health problems may show up either years after exposure has occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal, and are why the EPA recognises poor IAQ as one of the top 5 health hazards and has consistently ranked indoor air pollution as an important environmental health problem. 

As if this wasn’t enough, poor IAQ can also be exacerbated by bacteria, viruses and germs spread from person to person. As we have learned with the Coronavirus pandemic, airborne pathogens may be contained within respiratory droplets or particulates, which can be carried through the air. While they are moving they can be inhaled and cause infection. Larger droplets and particles will settle onto surfaces over time, and create a risk of cross contamination.  

According to Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA), absenteeism costs the South African economy around R12 - R16 billion per year. Some researchers estimate that South African businesses are losing as much as 17% of their payroll every year due to absenteeism (you can read more about absenteeism and the cost to your business here).  IAQ clearly has a role to play in absenteeism, so it follows that the trapping and removal of allergens, viruses and bacteria that cause sickness, discomfort and absenteeism is increasingly becoming a business priority.  

And if you need another reason to consider improving IAQ, a 1989 EPA Report to Congress concluded that improved indoor air quality can result in higher productivity and fewer lost work days, and the International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy stated that improving air quality will substantially reduce Sick Building Syndrome symptoms by between 20 - 50%. In the current economy, what business wouldn’t want to look at ways to minimise absenteeism and increase productivity?

In part two we’ll take a look at how an air purifier can help improve IAQ, how they do this, and what you should consider before investing in one. Sign up to our blog to make sure you stay up to date with hygiene trends and information.

You can visit our website to view our range of air hygiene products, or contact our team for further information. 

View Air Hygiene Range

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at blog.initial.co.za, and our Ambius blog - https://www.ambius.co.za/blog. Life outside of Rentokil Initial mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned twelve, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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