Every breath you take

Every breath you take may not be cleaner than the air outside. With the issue of air pollution making the news every day, are we really safe in the confines of our homes?

As you step out in the morning on your way to work, you can’t help, but notice the thick blanket of smog over the city. You rush to work so you can get into the safety of your air-conditioned office. But is the air in your office any better?

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Delhi and Cairo have the worst PM10 pollution levels out of the world’s megacities. The study further reveals that indoor air pollution contributes between 22 and 52 percent to the overall pollution levels.

Barun Aggarwal, CEO, Breathe Easy Consultants, opines that while the composition of indoor air is different from outside air quality, it can be equally harmful. “Air pollution is dynamic. In India, Particulate Matter (PM) is extremely high in most cities. And since most of us spend almost 90 percent of our time indoors (office, schools, home), the risk of getting exposed to it is high.”

A WHO study states that air pollution is responsible for the deaths of seven million people worldwide each year; most of them residing in Asia and Africa. Of the seven million, 3.8 million were from indoor air pollution ( due to cook stoves), which is a huge problem in India.

Indoor quality is determined by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), bio-aerosols and nitrous oxides (cooking gas), and is also influenced by pollution caused by vehicles and industrial plants. Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) air pollution programme explains, “The main culprits are VOCs that may be released by various sources including paints, glues, resins, polishing materials, and furnishings as well as a lack of proper ventilation and breeding of moulds. Hence, it is important to pay attention to the materials we use indoors since the ability to avoid pollution here is in our hands.”

The Centre introduced several measures and programmes to improve air quality indoors.

One such initiative was providing around 37 million poor women with free gas connections to encourage them to switch from coal/dung-fired clay ovens to cooking gas. However, in an urban setting, it is not just cooking that we need to worry about.

Rajat Malhotra, COO for IFM in West Asia and head of JLL points out, “CO2 levels in our bedrooms are more than six times the CO2 levels outside. Air quality within our office/ workspaces and rooms is much unhealthier. Till the WHO report was published, we were kept blinkered and blindfolded for so many years. Today, people want to know what is happening.” However, Roychowdhury asserts that built-in design intervention in buildings is a critical aspect.

“It is essential to pay a lot more attention to the architectural and building design, and it should become a part of the building by-laws to ensure that they meet the health indicators associated with the indoor air quality,” she explains, adding that despite guidelines by the Central Pollution Control Board, there is still no active implementation.

On the same note, Sujatha Ganapathy, VC – WELL AP, Knight Frank India, concludes, “At the government level, better transportation and construction methods will help control pollution levels. That means using low VOC content in buildings, and reducing the creation of dust in constructions, which is classified as PM10 and can cause a wide range of health problems including respiratory illnesses.”

Solutions:Use a dehumidifier and/ or air conditioner to reduce moisture;

Keep trash covered to avoid attracting pests;

Minimise air freshener use;

Ensure that exhaust fans are functional in your bathrooms andkitchen;

Avoid scented candles;

Keep plants indoors, which can significantly reduce indoor air pollution;

Using LPG instead of biomass fuel for cooking can significantly reduce the level of indoor
pollution.

Deborah Pereira, Times Property, The Times of India, Chennai