Smog hidden in the home: 95% of pollutants are found indoors

04/12/2020

Are we really safe at home?

Other than holding our nose when we are on the street and a bus passes by puffing crap. We should do it when we enter the house: this is where we are exposed to 95% of the pollutants that end up in our lungs, according to a study by the National Renewable Energy Protection Association. The trouble is that few are still aware of it: according to a survey conducted by Toluna on behalf of Dyson on a thousand inhabitants of Northern Italy, one in two people thinks the air of the house is better than that outside and only 14% understand the effects of indoor pollution on well-being. Smog on the street scares two out of three people, especially in big cities, while fungi, molds and odors do not give weight and cigarette smoke and fine dust are considered a problem only when you are outside: indoors you feel in short, safe. In reality, many pollutants are concentrated in homes, offices and schools and since we spend most of our time within four walls we should realize this.

The sources of indoor pollution

Because there can be anything: particles from cigarette smoke, gases and hydrocarbons from the combustion of wood or from the use of stoves, dust and particulates, volatile organic compounds that are released from furniture, paints, household products but also biological pollutants such as bacteria, viruses, pollen, mites, allergens, molds. "In part the pollutants are produced inside, in part they come from outside: we create and disperse gases and particles when we cook, burn wood or clean the house with detergents and detergents, or when we remove the dust with a vacuum cleaner that we have not cleaned fine filters; other pollutant emissions derive from paraffin candles and home fragrances, not to mention cigarette smoke. Combustion gases and fine particles arrive from external traffic, including heavy metals and hydrocarbons. The finest particles, with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (the so-called PM2.5, ed), are the most dangerous because they can penetrate to the pulmonary alveoli ", explains Alessandro Miani, president of the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine (Sima).

Carcinogenic substances

Some substances that can be found in indoor air are certain carcinogens, such as formaldehyde or benzo-a-pyrene. And concern is emerging for phthalates present in indoor air: used by the plastics industry to improve flexibility, they are also released into the air due to the wear of furniture and plastic objects and it is believed that the concentration can become consistent at closed, if there is no adequate air exchange. Unfortunately, these are very small particles, smaller than a micron (almost ten times smaller than a red blood cell, ed), which therefore can for example cross the blood brain barrier and also have consequences on the central nervous system. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, they alter hormonal balances: exposure therefore entails greater risks in infants, children, adolescents».

Negative effects on the body

The possible negative effects in breathing this mass of pollutants are different: indoor air pollution causes allergies and asthma, has harmful effects on the respiratory, immune, cardiovascular, nervous systems as well as on the skin and mucous membranes. There is even a specific indoor pollution disease, sick building syndrome, which according to WHO in the West affects one in five buildings: "Symptoms (such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, fatigue, ed) are non-specific, mild and resolve quickly, but productivity can drop a lot if you have to work in "sick" buildings, with inadequate or undersized air conditioning and ventilation systems, poor air exchange, irritants emitted by the materials present " , says Paola Fermo, professor of analytical chemistry at the University of Milan. In addition to workers confined to unhealthy offices, children are also exposed to the risks of poor ventilation in closed environments because they have a higher respiratory rate than adults and their developing respiratory system makes them more susceptible allergies.

Plants and filters

To mitigate the phenomenon, we are also studying the purifying effect of plants such as tillandsias, which "metabolize" pollutants, and of devices for purifying the air based on filtration or photo-oxidation systems ». On the market you are already starting to find tools that promise to clean the air in your home: but is it to be trusted? "The air purification systems to be considered valid and effective are those that mount Hepa filters (High Efficiency Particular Air filters, are also found in vacuum cleaners, ed), which, however, must be replaced regularly to really work as indicated by the manufacturer »Replies Miani. "Sima always recommends the purchase of devices that have been scientifically validated by an Italian public body such as public universities, the National Research Council, the Higher Institute of Health and so on, to ensure that what is promised in advertising or on the packaging corresponds to a 'effective effectiveness of the product in monitoring and reducing pollutants ". Alternatively, one can ask whether, even in the absence of the validation of an Italian body, there is that of international bodies.