Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality has become a significant health issue in recent years. In studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution has been ranked as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Considering persons from industrialized countries spend more than 90% of their time indoors, public health professionals have had to become increasingly aware of the various causes of indoor air pollutants and the steps that can be taken to minimize the risks.
Indoor air quality pollutants may be a result of natural sources, poor building design, inadequate maintenance, structural components and furnishings, consumer products and occupant activities (Yeager, 1999). The symptoms of indoor pollutants are very similar to allergies, influenza, and the common cold. This makes the investigation of indoor air quality very difficult. However, York Region Health Services has taken a proactive role in the identification and investigation of adverse indoor air quality. Public Health Inspectors investigate complaints within their mandate and provide education to the general public on issues such as; mould, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, and humidity. Investigations are completed in order to ensure the requirements of the Health Protection and Promotion Act are met, and Mandatory Program and Services Guidelines are fulfilled.
Moulds belong to the fungus family and are present almost everywhere in indoor and outdoor environments, especially in areas that are wet or damp (ie. bathrooms and basements). Many fungi can produce mycotoxins, which are fungal metabolites that have been identified as toxic agents. If inhaled, swallowed, or if they come into contact with skin, these mycotoxins can be harmful to health.
Moulds may grow on any damp or humid surface. Mycotoxin producing moulds, which cause indoor air quality concerns, prefer water saturated materials containing cellulose. Examples of this are; wallpaper, ceiling tiles, carpets, insulation material, chipboard and drywall.
Individuals who are allergic to mould, or have a low resistance to mould because of other health conditions may experience adverse health effects. The development of symptoms depends on the nature of the fungal material, amount of exposure, and the susceptibility of exposed persons.
How can you prevent mould in your home?
Carbon dioxide is a colourless, odourless gas generated indoors primarily through human metabolism. It is used as an indicator of general indoor air quality. If carbon dioxide is not being removed, it is reasonable to assume that other pollutants are not being removed as well.
Generally, levels over 1,000 ppm are an indication of a poor supply of fresh air or overcrowding.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless toxic gas that is a product of incomplete combustion. This type of pollution occurs when combustion gases are not properly exhausted from a building. Carbon monoxide combines with haemoglobin in blood, reducing the oxygen supply to the body. Contact your local fire department for additional information on Carbon monoxide.
Temperature and Relative Humidity
Temperature and relative humidity are two of several parameters that affect thermal comfort. Humidity may result from washing, bathing, cooking, and unvented clothes dryers. High humidity levels may result in condensation within a building, and the subsequent development of moulds. Relative humidity below 30% is associated with increased discomfort and the drying of mucous membranes and skin.
Air conditions of 30% to 60% relative humidity at temperatures between 20-25°C are usually considered comfortable.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
VOC's include formaldehyde, pesticides, solvents, and cleaning agents. Products used in the office and home environments emit a wide variety of volatile organic compounds. These include, but are not limited to, hairsprays, perfumes, cleaning products, building materials, copiers and printers. Concentrations of these compounds are consistently higher in the indoor environment rather than outdoors.
For more information about indoor air quality please contact York Region Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653, TTY 1-866-252-9933