by Katrin Scholz-Barth, President, SustainableQATAR
The saying goes: We are what we eat. That’s very true and extends to everything we consume – from food we put into our mouths to the clothes we put on our skin and the air we breathe. Our bodies absorb what’s in our surrounding environments. Our health, energy levels, and mental capacity, the speed at which we process information and our cognitive development, all depend on what we feed our bodies and brains.
From a young age we are told to spend time outside to get fresh air, to play and exercise, to be and stay healthy. The fact is, whether here in Qatar or elsewhere, we spend a lot of time inside. A lot more than we think! On average, we spend more than 90% of our time indoors. Clean and healthy air should therefore be a top priority for all of us. Yet, indoor air is often 2 to 5 times more polluted than outside air. Dust, chemicals from cleaning products or pest control, smells of formaldehyde from furniture, carpets, paints, glues – are all air-borne pollutants we are exposed to and breathe in while inside.
Why is indoor air quality so important? Because an adult inhales and exhales 12-20 times per minute – every minute – breathing in 7 to 8 liters of air per minute. That’s a total volume of about 11,000 liters of air per day or about as much as in a Concrete Mixer Truck!
Imagine this amount of air full of toxins going unfiltered into our lungs and bodies and brains!
Another saying goes: My home is my castle. In other words, our homes are our safe spaces. But are they really?
Do we actually know what we expose ourselves to indoors? How do our homes, offices, and public spaces like malls and restaurants measure up to our requirements for healthy indoor air quality? Are our homes as safe as we believe them to be or are our homes and indoor spaces sources of hidden airborne pollutants and toxins?
Do you pay enough attention to the air you breathe, the home products you consume? When you buy furniture, cleaning products, personal care items, toys, or even cough syrup – do you think about hidden pollutants and toxins and check the labels? Do you know what to look for?
During the month of December our climate-action turns home. We explore Healthy Homes and examine our homes room by room, from kitchen to bathroom, living room, bedroom, and children’s rooms to offer easy step-by-step suggestions to create truly safe spaces and healthy homes and eliminate hidden pollutants and toxins.
Before we dive deep and examine every room in greater detail about possible opportunities to eliminate hidden pollutants and toxins, we want to address our living spaces as a whole.
Making our homes healthy and cozy is not that difficult. Access to sunlight, good air ventilation and a few selective low-maintenance houseplants can do wonders and help keep homes pest-free. Because we spend over 90% of our time indoors, it is important to know and understand what contributes to our well-being and what does not.
Common symptoms that may indicate poor indoor air quality include coughing, sneezing, wheezing, watery eyes, scratchy throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. These short-term health effects can cause more severe long-term respiratory illness like asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that with a few quick fixes and proactive steps including preventative maintenance we can easily improve the indoor air quality in our homes. That’s a double bonus for climate action because these measures also improve energy efficiency and thereby reduce our carbon footprint at home.
Here is a short list of things to look out for and to do:
Reduce dust to relieve allergies: Living in a country under construction is a challenge for anyone, especially with dust allergies.
Easy ways to reduce dust are:
- Check windows for air leaks and seal them with airtight tape (available at Daiso) to reduce dust and fine particles from outside.
- Seal gaps underneath doors with weather stips to reduce dust from outside.
- Clean air conditioning filters every 3 months to reduce dust circulation.
- Vacuum window curtains to prevent dust accumulation.
- Wash bed linen every 1-2 weeks to reduce dust and dust mites.
Reduce chemicals to prevent cancer: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals that easily evaporate into the air, referred to as off-gassing from cleaning products, furniture, carpets, paints, air fresheners. VOCs are carcinogenic when inhaled. Phthalates is another group of chemicals to eliminate from our homes. Phthalates are in plastics, vinyl, toys, and personal care and beauty products and are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they disrupt our hormone levels and function and have been linked to thyroid and breast cancer. Naphthalene, a component in mothballs, insecticides and other pest repellent, is also harmful.
Easy ways to reduce chemicals are:
- Check product labels for low VOCs including paints and cleaning products.
- Keep living spaces well ventilated for ample oxygen supply and to air out carbon dioxide.
- Use natural air fresheners like rosewater, lemongrass, lavender, or spices like cinnamon and cloves.
- Avoid smoking indoors.
Add houseplants to filter toxins: Plants are natural lungs. Learn “How to Grow Fresh Air. 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office” based on NASA research, which we will address in more detail in Challenge #42 – Living Room.
Stay tuned for the next five weeks as we explore opportunities to create truly healthy homes, uncovering common and not-so-common things to be aware of and to correct to protect our personal and environmental well-being.
Challenge #40 – Kitchen will address pots and pans, food container, cleaning products, and much more.
In Challenge #41 we will examine our bathrooms and share some insights into personal care products, cosmetics and medicines. We will also offer some bonus recipes for home-made natural products, in time to make as holiday gifts.
Challenge # 42, 43, and 44 are dedicated to our common living spaces, bedrooms and children’s rooms.
By eliminating hidden pollutants and toxins in our homes, we also reduce our carbon footprint through personal choices and actions. We will explain how, and why it matters, addressing SDGs #3 Good Health and Wellbeing; #6 Clean Water and Sanitation; #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth; #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; #12 Responsible Consumption and Production and #13 Climate Action.
Now that we know how to create healthy homes with healthy indoor air we can happily breathe a ‘cement-truck-full of air’ every day and be sure to:
“Remember that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away!”Vicki Corona
- EPA, Care for your air. A guide to indoor air quality, Accessed 27 Nov 2019
- The New Yorker, Hidden Air Pollution in our Homes, 8 Apr 2019
- Health Europa, Addressing the health effects of indoor air pollution, 8 Aug 2019
- Wolverton, Bill, How to Grow Fresh Air. 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office, 2008
- United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Accessed 29 Nov 2019