The Impact of Indoor Air Quality on Human Health

The Impact of Indoor Air Quality on Human Health

Imagine a dystopian tale in which an environmental threat wipes out 3.2 million people, approximately the population of Milan, Italy. Unfortunately, that’s not such a far-fetched scenario when it comes to indoor air pollution, which causes 3.2 million premature deaths per year worldwide. 

Understanding Indoor Air Quality Impacts on Health

The good news is that groundbreaking new research is helping us understand the true impact of indoor air pollution on human health and, even better, how to reduce that impact. Although outdoor air pollution has historically received greater attention, more and more studies are finding that indoor air pollution can be just as harmful – or even worse. 

Within the last year, researchers at Harvard University have been hard at work producing several new studies on indoor air quality and health. One such study found that the gas used in homes contains at least 21 hazardous air pollutants, more than previously thought. Some of those pollutants are not detectable by smell, making it difficult for residents to know when they have been exposed. Another recent study estimated that the burning of biomass and gas in buildings is now responsible for over 18,000 early deaths and $205 billion in health impacts in the United States alone. Yet another study from Harvard revealed socioeconomic disparities around indoor air quality, showing that renter households in multifamily buildings are exposed to significantly higher concentrations of fine particulate matter (commonly abbreviated to PM2.5, which are tiny particles in the air) indoors than homeowner households. These studies paint a stark picture and highlight the need to address indoor air pollution, especially since gas-powered appliances can cause levels of household air pollution that would actually be illegal outside. 

Harm Reduction Methods

So, what’s the best way to reduce the threat of harm from indoor air pollution?

One common method is using ventilation to dilute and reduce indoor air pollution. However, ventilation is not a perfect solution. Recent studies have found that ventilation reduces risk from some, but not all, indoor air pollutants. Though mechanical ventilation systems significantly reduce dangerous particulate matter, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde from indoor air, they are ineffective at reducing levels of nitrogen dioxide, which comes primarily from gas stoves. Therefore, it’s a misconception that opening windows or increasing ventilation is enough to eliminate the health impacts of fossil fuel-burning appliances.

Other studies show the limits of different methods to abate or treat indoor air pollution, like electronic filtration, adsorption, and ozonation — a method in which ozone is generated in order to react with and abate certain kinds of pollutants. Ozone is itself harmful to human health, and the EPA has published literature busting industry myths about the safety of this practice. Other novel ideas for prevention, such as blending hydrogen gas for heating, have been debunked as counterproductive. One study found that this method would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions, since most hydrogen gas is derived from methane or coal.

Unfortunately, there is not currently much in the way of legislation to regulate these pollutants or protect Americans from being exposed to them indoors. The United Nations Environment Programme released a report in 2021 showing that only 7 percent of nations in the world have legislated some form of indoor air quality standards. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set standards for a small number of indoor air pollutants in workplaces, but residential air pollution is not federally regulated at all.

An Alternative Solution to Addressing Indoor Air Pollution — Eliminate it at the Source

Fortunately, there is a way to not just reduce, but actually eliminate indoor air pollution in your home!

By electrifying residential buildings, homeowners and landlords can remove the combustion-based appliances that create health hazards. Eliminating the sources of indoor air pollution in the first place is a much more effective way to create a healthy home than simply treating existing emissions. This could quite literally save lives!

BlocPower offers smart, all-electric heating, cooling, and hot water systems to building owners for no money down. Our mission is to make these green technologies available to the communities that need them most, improving their health, safety, and quality of life.

If you’re ready for a greener, smarter and healthier home, get started by answering a few quick questions about your building.