What Are You Breathing?

The overall health of your body and mind, in a great degree, depends on the air you breathe. Nowadays, people tend to forget about the importance of fresh air and underestimate air pollution and the health effects of bad indoor air quality. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that up to 4.3 million people worldwide die annually from exposure to household air pollutants.

As we are spending more time in air-conditioned spaces these days, which recirculate most of the indoor air, there is a need to better understand the air that we breathe and the hazards of inadequate fresh air in buildings.

Indoor air is constantly polluted by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as PM10 or PM2.5—small and very fine particulate matters measuring 10 and 2.5 micrometres or less, respectively, in diameter.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination and nausea; as well as damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals, while some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. In addition, exposure to excessive PM2.5 has been linked to a higher risk of premature death, and these very fine particles have been found in brain cells that cause Alzheimer’s and dementia.

More alarmingly, recent studies have shown that air pollution enters our blood stream not only from our lungs, but in equal amounts through our skin as well. To put the risk of air pollution into context, a typical person eats about 1 kilogram of food a day and drinks about 2 kilograms of water a day, however, we breathe about 15 kilograms of air per day. Adding the equivalent air pollutants entering through our skins, we are exposed to 30 kilograms of air per day.

Based on these facts, if 5 per cent of the air is polluted, we would be exposed to 1.5 kilograms of pollution from the air per day. Even if the food we eat were 100 per cent chemically produced, it would only be equivalent to 1 kilogram of pollution per day. In short, if we are concerned about eating organic food and drinking filtered water, we should be infinitely more concerned with the air we surround ourselves with. 

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