Is Your Home Hurting Your Health?
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Household air pollution is nothing new, yet it is news to most people when they discover how many harmful toxins pervade the air that they breathe everyday in the so-called ‘safe space’ of their own home.
April 10, 2020.
Like most people, you probably consider your home a sanctuary and the place you, and your family, are best protected from harm. Yet current health data paints a less than idyllic picture for the average household when it comes to the serious health threats faced due to levels of toxicity in the air, or what is referred to as indoor air pollution. This is a completely different measurement to the air quality index for the level of pollution in the city or region you live, as your indoor air is affected by a number of other factors specific to the contents of your house and the habits of the inhabitants. While most people will make a substantial investment to ensure their home meets safety and security standards, comparatively few people take the time to ensure their home also meets health standards and is optimizing the wellbeing of the people within it.
According to data from the World Health Organization, household air pollution is the world’s leading environmental health risk and accounts for nearly 8% of deaths worldwide ("Household Air Pollution", n.d.). In other words your household air could be slowly but surely harming your health, causing serious long-term illness as well as lowering your ability to fight off simple infections and contagions. Ongoing exposure to these invisible pollutants kills over 4 million people each year and while there is no doubt that developing nations and lower-income households of developed nations make up a considerable proportion of this figure, you may be shocked to find out the level of toxicity you are living with on a daily basis.
The bad news is you are probably causing more of this type of air pollution than you realized (and certainly more than you need or want in your home) simply from not taking the time to monitor your activity and adjust your household habits. Much like when you want to lose weight or eat healthier, you quickly recognize that not taking the time to measure your food and monitor your eating habits is the main cause of weight gain and nutritional deficiencies. Similarly when it comes to the air you breathe, what you don't know about it is quite possibly hurting you.
The good news is you are also the solution to this problem and your household air quality is very much in your control. With a little more knowledge and the support of your smart devices, there are steps that you can take now to measure your direct environment, uncover the specific toxins and make some simple lifestyle changes. It’s not necessarily expensive and could be as easy as opening or closing a specific window in your apartment. Just as with your diet and nutrition, you need to know what is in the air first, change what you can.
“Of all the risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe” (World Economic Forum, 2019).
Step 1: Stay Informed - Gain More Knowledge about the Risk Factors
We all know there is pollution in the air, but it’s only around factories and in traffic, where you see smoke, or smog or haze… right? Wrong!
It’s true that you can actually see (and even taste) a change in the air quality in heavily polluted areas and on ‘high pollution days’. However, these visible factors form only part of the category of toxins we call air pollution, and it would be foolish to assume that if there is lower or no visibility, then the air is clean and safe to breathe. Moreover, there are other toxins in the air that are not detectable by the naked eye. In any case, relying on the ‘seeing is believing’ method of measuring the toxicity of the air you breathe and your exposure to pollution is like closing your eyes every time you eat and making an assumption the food is good for you because you can’t see anything unhealthy in it!
What is Polluting Household Air?
There are a number of nasty toxins possibly invading your household air. This includes components in the air from outdoor environment, from your appliances and the way you use energy (gas & electricity), the fuel you use for cooking, the household temperature, as well as chemical reactions between the air and substances in paint, furniture and other household materials. The main substances harmful to health are the ones you should pay most attention in measuring. These are:
- Carbon Monoxide (CO)
- Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)
- Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
- Ozone (03)
- Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10)
Who is Most at Risk?
There is a definite correlation between air quality and economic privilege, but there is also a strong correlation between air quality and location, and money itself will not deter toxins from entering your household and polluting the air. Additionally environmental pollution is a global issue that is slowly but surely impacting everyone’s lives, and with the single-use consumption patterns of developed nations now becoming the aspiration of developing nations, the problems are spreading. Globally speaking, relatively few places remain truly clean and safe. This basically translates to the unfortunate fact that everyone is at risk for developing short- or long-term health conditions from household air pollution if they are not pro-actively taking measures to reduce it to non-harmful levels. Obviously the level of damage to health will depend on a number of factors including how long the direct exposure to the toxin is for an individual, and whether they belong to a more sensitive population, like pregnant women and children. Suffice to say that if you live in a city (that is not close to one of the poles) then you are being exposed to a level of air pollution that is very likely a cause for concern.
From a global perspective those at highest risk of acquiring chronic illness or suffering premature death are anyone living low- and middle-income countries (irrespective of individual household wealth), as well as low-income households in developed nations. For the former, household air pollution is a leading cause of deaths from diseases that include stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. However these are only the conditions with direct links to household air pollution, other illnesses related to the potential cell mutation, chronic immune suppression and degraded respiratory function can also be indirectly related to consistent exposure to toxins.
From a local perspective the highest risk in any given household are individuals who spend more time in the home and those with a pre-existing health condition (especially asthma, allergies and respiratory disorders) or compromised immune system. This often includes elderly family members, children, infants and pregnant women. Children and infants are especially susceptible to air pollution as they have a higher respiration rate and tend to breath more with their mouth. That simply translates to them breathing more times a minute and without the use of the nose as a natural filter system. Coupled with organs and immune systems that are still developing, this puts kids at a great risk of early exposure to toxins, that if remains consistent will accumulate to almost certain detrimental effects.
How to Solve this Problem?
First and foremost, you are contributing to the problem by remaining ignorant. Everyone has the capacity for knowledge on any subject. Choosing to ignore that capacity and not learn is choosing to remain ignorant. In choosing to ignore the information available to you about the nutritional value of food, you are effectively creating and perpetuating an unhealthy diet and poor eating habits. Similarly, ignoring the plethora of research and information about indoor air pollution that is readily available, allows you to continue with poor household hygiene and air quality. The question is, are you ready to address this gap in your awareness?
Until relatively recently environmental issues were not common knowledge, but with climate change, air pollution and other global health concerns having been firmly planted in the news cycle for the past decade, not knowing about these things is akin to not caring. If you didn’t realize you should be caring about indoor air pollution before, then now you do. What you should also know is that a significant percentage of this contributes to overall air pollution (including outdoor). In fact, it is everyone’s responsibility to investigate their personal environment to know what to factors can be changed to ensure yourself, your family and even your neighborhood is subject to the higher quality of air, and health, that all deserve.
Step 2: Stay Aware - Measure & Monitor Your Personal Environment
With the exception of those who pay close attention to their air quality and optimize ventilation, energy use, and cooking appliances as well as reduce the toxic load from paint, furniture and outdoor air, most households will have at least some of the following air pollutants present in harmful amounts during some part of the year. The trick is finding out which ones, where and when, which is all now possible with a portable devices that can measure the environment where they are placed (near a person to assess their toxic exposure) and provide you with the numerical data to determine health risks.
The most comprehensive and powerful personal device is Onigiri™, a new pocket-sized device designed to measure air components (including UV) in your direct location so you can be aware of potential dangers to your health from the air you are living in. This includes the spaces you work, exercise, sleep, socialize, commute and relax in. While it is portable one of the most important locations to gather data from is your home environment as this is where you sleep and where your body should be getting it’s best chance to recover from life’s many stressors and health hazards.
The Onigiri™ device is coupled with the Onigiri™ app, that immediately alerts you when the level of toxicity (of several specific air pollutants) has become harmful to your health. This can change frequently throughout the day, week and year, depending on factors including your location, people in your environment, the weather, traffic and season.
The purpose of the Onigiri™ system is to help you develop the life-long health habit:
MEASURE, CHANGE, MONITOR, REPEAT.
With this habit you are in control of the future health of yourself and your family.
Step 3: Stay Healthy - Follow Guidance from Health and Industry Experts
Fortunately, there is no shortage of professionals or experts who are dedicated to promoting both human health and environmental health. Now most of their expertise is available to you online through various portals for education and healthcare, and with the surge in the health tech sector due to remarkable developments in wearable devices, portable monitors and health tracking apps, there is expert advice at your fingertips 24/7.
The Onigiri™ system comes complete with expert advice from health & fitness professionals direct to you via the app, based on your individual measurement and personal needs. These recommendations are delivered to you daily through the app, and/or whenever you are in a location where your exposure level is considered unhealthy. This ongoing support will help guide you toward making better choices from the options available to you. It is not always possible to completely change your environment but it is always possible to change the way you relate to your environment… we call this your lifestyle… and small changes in this often lead to huge changes in your health. Your household lifestyle is likely where you can make the most changes, and therefore have the greatest power to improve the health of your whole family.
1. WHO (n.d.) Household Air Pollution - The World’s Leading Environmental Health Risk. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/airpollution/household/about/en/
2. World Economic Forum (2019). The Global Risks Report 2019, 14th Edition. Retrieved from: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Risks_Report_2019.pdf