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Indoor air quality

June 1, 2010
by Rachel R. Belew, MS
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Aging adults more vulnerable to health complications

At a glance…

Indoor air is two to 10 times more polluted than the air outside. It is imperative that long-term care facilities measure internal air quality to ensure residents' health and wellness.

It is often thought that indoor environments are among the healthiest and safest places for people to be-particularly for aging adults, who can have unique health needs and environmental sensitivities.

Unfortunately, indoor air is two to 10 times more polluted than the air outside, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and up to 1,000 times more polluted following new construction or renovation. Even worse, indoor air pollution is known to cause or aggravate myriad health problems, including asthma, upper respiratory complications, eye irritation, cognitive impairment, nausea, nosebleeds, and even cancer. For residents of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), assisted living facilities, and nursing homes, indoor air pollution is especially concerning.

“Aging adults, particularly the elderly, can have weakened immune systems and age-related health problems, which make them more vulnerable to health complications associated with indoor air pollution,” says Gail Vittori, co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (www.cmpbs.org) and co-coordinator of the Green Guide for Health Care (www.gghc.org), a best practices guide for healthy, sustainable hospitals. “That makes enhanced indoor air quality a critical contributor to their health and wellness at long-term living facilities.”

Experts agree that the most effective way to combat indoor air pollution is through source control.

What is IAQ?

Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the healthfulness of the air that people breathe inside their homes, offices, and other buildings. Studies consistently show that good IAQ helps improve cognition, boosts productivity, and contributes to better overall health. Conversely, polluted indoor air can trigger or exacerbate a variety of symptoms and/or illnesses-some of which can be life-threatening.

Rachel R. Belew, MS
Rachel R. Belew, MS

Poor IAQ is caused by air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals that emit from common products and materials. Mattresses, furniture, cabinetry, ceiling tiles, wallcoverings, cleaning products, deodorizers, and nearly all furnishings and maintenance products release VOCs into the air. Some VOCs are malodorous (such as those that emit from paints, adhesives, and vinyl products); some smell pleasant (such as air fresheners and laundry detergents); and others are odor-free. Many VOCs are toxic, especially in large concentrations.

“Products that off-gas can emit hundreds of VOCs into the air at the same time, creating an airborne ‘cocktail’ of potent chemicals,” says Dr. Marilyn Black, a global expert on indoor air pollution and founder of the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI), a third-party, industry-independent certifier of low-emitting products and materials. “Mix in mold spores and animal allergens, respirable particles, heavy metals, carbon monoxide, and ozone-all of which are frighteningly common in buildings-and you've got a potentially lethal combination of pollutants in your midst,” she warns.

Poor IAQ and aging adults

The risk of health complications resulting from poor IAQ is even greater among older adults than among young or middle-aged adults. “As people age, they often spend more time indoors and are challenged by weakened immune systems and vital organ function,” Vittori says.

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There is a product that takes care of several IAQ concerns. The EZ Breathe works by ventilating the home/building on a regular basis and taking care of smells, humidity, and airborn particles. There is no maintenance,no filters, and it is 30 watts to run (about $3 a month). Perfect for people with respiratory problems.

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