The importance of quality air

On the face of it, Bermuda has an idyllic environment – lots of sunshine and sea breezes – but that does not always translate into good health.

Like any other country, Bermuda has issues with indoor air quality and its damp environment can result in the rapid growth of mould which has been linked to the development of asthma.

People need to pay attention to an issue that can contribute to allergies, headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

So what is indoor air quality (IAQ)? According to one definition (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indoor_air_quality) IAQ is a “term which refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants”.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC,) in Australia defines indoor air as “air within a building occupied for at least one hour by people of varying states of health”.

It adds: “This can include the office, classroom, transport facility, shopping centre, hospital and home. Indoor air quality can be defined as the totality of attributes of indoor air that affect a person’s health and wellbeing.”

Attention to IAQ is becoming more important as homes are becoming better sealed with modern doors and windows – potentially leading to higher levels of pollutants. The days of draughty homes are increasingly over.

Some of the best methods for controlling IAQ are ventilation as well as filtration. It also means that the continuing cleaning of rugs and carpets is also very important.

According to Brendan Stones, general manager at Air Care, IAQ can be significantly improved by the addition of the correct amount of fresh air into offices and homes.

“This serves to keep the levels of pollutants such as Carbon Dioxide and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds, which are given off by things such as carpets, furniture, paints and even cleaning products) down, and when properly treated can reduce the levels of particulates in the air and also lower the amount of moisture in the indoor environment.”

One of the most significant issues in Bermuda is mould which is often linked to moisture. Its appearance – and growth – can be controlled by keeping humidity within a property down to somewhere below 60 percent.

Mr Stones added: “Many people do not know the effect that poor air quality has on their health, you hear people saying “it smells musty in here”, this is likely in indicator of mould growth within the space with all of the potential problems that that can bring.

“Even things like plants which people think make the air healthier can lead to problems, as they add moisture to the air and many plants give off allergens, as well as the potential for pollutants from fertilisers used on the plants.

“Every time we breathe out we are adding moisture and carbon dioxide to the air around us and if the space is not properly ventilated then these pollutants can build up to levels at which they may have negative effects on our health.”

Mr Stones said there is testing equipment which measures the levels of several common atmospheric pollutants, such as Particulates, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Ozone, Radon and VOC’s.

He added that the tests, which can be carried out over a week to make sure there is a good picture of what is happening, also record the temperature and humidity within the space as these also can affect occupant comfort and health.

Other easy techniques to control indoor air quality include using a vacuum with a HEPA filter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HEPA#Vacuum_cleaners) and being very careful about things like air fragrances – in one study a plug-in air freshener was found to emit 20 types of volatile organic compounds.

Mr Stones added: “I suspect that not many people in Bermuda, outside the health professionals, are very aware of the importance of indoor air quality, yet it is something that affects our everyday lives, whether that is at home or at work.”

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