Most people expect air pollution to be something they are more exposed to outdoors than indoors. However, according to the World Health Organization, indoor smoke from household air pollution presents a serious health risk. As many as 3 billion people who cook and heat their homes with biomass, kerosene fuels and coal.
In addition to activities, we do indoors that cause harmful air pollution (like candle burning, cooking, and using certain types of cleaning products) it’s also common for poor outdoor air quality to migrate indoors.
In one study, long-range wildfire plumes were found to have elevated average indoor PM2.5 concentrations by up to 4.6 times higher than the outdoors.
The exchange of air pollution also works the other way – as household air pollution can serve as a major source of outdoor air pollution in both urban and rural areas (source).
Why is it Becoming More Important to Understand Individual Air Pollution Exposure?
Human beings have always been exposed to certain types of ambient air pollution like smoke, dust and fires, but the addition of man-made sources of traffic pollution like industrial emissions has dramatically increased the overall health burden of air pollution exposure. Today its estimated that 91% of the entire world population live in areas where air quality exceeds safe limits and that 4.2 million deaths each year can be attributed to air pollution exposure.
Indoor Air Quality Impacts Health & Cognition
For years scientists have warned us of the strong connection between children’s exposure to poor air quality and negative health/cognitive performance.
- Scientists also predict increased cognitive risks because of CO2 levels indoors and specify the classroom impact in terms of potential cognitive impairment in particular: if CO2 emissions are left unmitigated, we may see a ~25% reduction in indoor basic decision-making ability by the year 2100.
- The EPA warns PM10 and PM2.5 pollution can make children more likely to develop asthma and require hospitalization, and a 2021 study report says poor air quality exposure could put children at a greater risk of heart disease later in life and may cause DNA alterations that can be passed down to future generations.
- Studies have also found higher pollen levels can mean children with allergy sensitivities perform worse in tests.
Is Indoor Air Monitoring Enough?
Environmental monitoring is a fairly new idea for many schools and most of the solutions that exist today are geared towards monitoring the indoor environment alone through the use of sensors.
As we’ve seen, poor indoor air quality exposure can present several health risks, and monitoring indoor spaces is one way to manage this.
However indoor air monitoring alone can fail to acknowledge the outdoor impact on the indoors, which can quickly leave building residents vulnerable to outdoor threats. For example, sudden environmental changes like wildfires, sudden dust storms, and high pollen days can dramatically worsen the conditions of classroom environments.
WHAT IS RADON?
Radon can’t be touched, seen, or smelled. The only way to know if it’s in your home is to test for it. Testing is essential because unsafe radon levels are the second leading cause of lung cancer outside of cigarette smoking. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soil, rock, and even water as uranium breaks down. When uranium breaks down, it’s released into the air and can get into your house and build up to unsafe levels, causing long-term health effects. Exceptionally high radon concentrations may occur in homes built on natural soil with natural uranium deposits.
However, radon can be found in any house in any part of the country. Estimations show that one in every fifteen homes in the United States has elevated levels of radon gas. Radon enters your home through cracks in floors, walls, and even construction joints or gaps around service pipes, electrical wires, and pits. When you breathe in these radioactive particles, it exposes your lung cells to small amounts of radiation. Thankfully, outdoor radon levels are typically low and harmless. However, persistent exposure can damage the cells of the lining of the lungs. This prolonged exposure increases your risk of lung cancer. Regrettably, you can’t entirely prevent Radon poisoning since it’s naturally present in the air. But there are steps to take to lower your risk of exposure.
WHY IS RADON DANGEROUS?
As we mentioned earlier, the effects of radon poisoning can be catastrophic. Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. With lung cancer having the lowest survival rate among cancers, estimations show radon-induced lung cancer deaths top 21,000 every year. The radon health risk is hard to control because the levels of radon can change daily. Seasonal variations and changes in the weather are a couple of variables that can impact your indoor radon levels.
That’s why long-term radon testing provides more accurate results, as opposed to a short-term radon test. Long-term testing can provide averages stretched across extended periods. It will take into account how radon fluctuates over the seasons. Once you’ve breathed in radon and it’s made its way into your lungs, the radioactive decay of atoms continues, and particles of alpha radiation are ejected with speed and force. The delicate cell nuclei and DNA structure that gets in the way of ejected alpha particles can be severely damaged. These damages can cause mutations and other malfunctions in reproduction, sometimes resulting in cancer.
Unfortunately, there are no immediate symptoms that indicate radon poisoning. Most people don’t know they’ve been exposed to it until they’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer. And since lung cancer is monoclonal, it can originate from damage to just a single cell. The only way to know for sure if exposed to high radon levels is to hire a radon mitigation professional to test your home.
TESTING YOUR HOME FOR RADON
You’ll be pleased to know that testing your home for radon is simple and inexpensive. You can buy radon test kits at hardware stores, home improvement stores, big box stores, and online, but most people prefer to work with radon professionals.
Radon tests will vary, but to test your home, you open the test and leave it sitting for a few days in the lowest level of your house and then send it off to a lab for testing. Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Indoors, the average radon level in the United States is right around 1.3 pCi/L. Outdoors is about 0.4 pCi/L.
The action level for radon gas is at or above 4 pCi/L, but there is no safe level of radon besides 0. If your home has radon gas levels exceeding this action level, you need to undergo mitigation efforts to reduce your exposure and lower your lung cancer risk. While any level of radon can harm your health, the EPA says readings below 2 pCi/L only carry a small increased risk of lung cancer. It’s possible but challenging to reduce radon gas below these levels.
MYTH 1: Scientists are not sure that radon really is a problem.
While no one is quite sure how many deaths are caused by radon exposure each year, the Center of Disease Control, American Medical Association and American Lung Association all say the exact same thing: Radon causes many preventable deaths from lung cancer each year. For smokers, the risk is much higher.
MYTH 2: Radon testing is difficult, time-consuming and expensive
It is actually very easy to perform these tests. This can either be done by a qualified radon testing company or by the homeowners themselves. Either way the test is easy to perform and not very costly or time-consuming.
MYTH 3: Homes with radon problems can’t be fixed.
There are many situations to this potentially serious problem. Problems with radon can be addressed just like any other home repair. But you will probably want to get the advice from professional radon mitigation contractors before you begin.
MYTH 4: Only Certain Kinds of Homes are at Risk for Radon Contamination
Radon issues can occur in all types of homes. New homes, old homes, insulated homes, and drafty homes. The main conditions that determine a threat to the home include construction materials as well as the local geology, along with a few others.
MYTH 5: Radon is only a problem in some parts of the country
While radon issue is more serious in some areas, high levels of radon have been found in all parts of the country. The only way to determine the threat level in your home is with proper testing.
MYTH 6: The Neighbor’s test can be an indication of your property’s threat levels.
Radon levels vary greatly from location to location. The only way to rule out this problem in your home is through proper testing.
MYTH 7: Everyone should test their water for radon
It is true that radon can get into the home through the water supply. But it will be far more important to check the levels of radon in the air. If your water supply comes from groundwater sources, it will be important to call the water company supplying your home’s water.
Call Titan today at 913-432-5500 to get answers to all your questions or schedule testing. Let Titan’s team of restoration professionals return your indoor space to a healthy and happy place!