Did you know about pollution in the indoor air?

My best friend Nina’s family is full of doctors. Of course do not tell her but I often wont wonder how did she turn out to be so daft, haha! No, but she is a sweetheart, and she is very artistic so now she practices interior designing with clients across the country! Okay, all the gushing aside, the great thing about being childhood friends with Nina has been that I have got the opportunity to learn about a lot of things that I would never have otherwise. Now incidentally, she is married (and has a kid!) and lives in Kolkata so I do not see her as often as I would like to, but whenever she is in Delhi again we make it a point to meet hell or high water. The other day I was invited to her baby boy’s first birthday and I met the wonderful family all over again. Here's my chilled out Ninu with the little prince:

It was a gorgeous evening with fun, laughter and nostalgia for me and Nina; and it was wonderful to see her with the baby essaying this new role so well. Proud of you Ninu! After the function, aunty and uncle insisted that I come back with all of them to their place and spend the night with all of them. Since Nina and I anyway had so much to catch up on, I agreed. We reached their place by almost midnight. Nina’s husband Dr. Pranjal Bhatia, who is a doctor too, was putting the baby to bed, while Nina and I settled down to a night of long chatting. Soon aunty and uncle joined us too.

Me: So, fairy princess, how does it feel to be back to Delhi?
Nina: If I have to tell you honestly, it feels polluted!
Me: huh, what?
Nina: Yeah, the air pollution makes me nauseous! I mean Kolkata is polluted too, actually, and so are all the other big cities. So there is no escaping it anywhere.
Me: That’s true, and I don't think this is restricted to just the big cities, this is a problem is towns as well nowadays.
Nina’s dad, Dr. Pritam Bhalla (referred to as Dr. Pritam now): It is more than you what you girls may think.
Nina and me: Really?
Nina’s mom, Dr. Asha Bhalla (referred to as Dr. Asha now): Yep! 

Pranjal, referred so because he’s my age and we’re buddies so I know he won’t mind when he reads this post ;) , had joined us by now too in the conversation.

Nina: What do you mean?
Pranjal: what they mean is that the pollution is not just in the air outside. Visible or not, indoor air contaminants are more dangerous and have a tremendous effect on health, productivity, and comfort.
Dr. Asha: It is shocking how hardly anybody knows about this dangerous situation in India. We are immersed in an ocean of air every minute of the day, wherever we are, here or outer space! Abroad people are quite aware of indoor air pollution and there are many studies around it. But I have to tell it is not that the air is clean abroad - they have good PR that gives their countries a far better image than ours. This problem is pretty universal, but accentuated in developing countries like ours. There are a lot of studies around it too.

Nina: What kind of studies?
Pranjal: Well, I remember one of my professors once telling us in class that The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that almost 3% of the global burden of disease is due to indoor air pollution. We spend as much as 90% of our lives indoors nowadays and researchers are investigating our exposure to indoor pollutants as contributing causes to rising incidence of autism, allergies and toxin load.
Me: Wow, who would have thought that!
Pranjal: Yes, apparently our indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment, and in some cases, the air measurements indoors have been found to be 100 times more polluted.

Nina: Dad, but we keeps our doors and windows closed mostly. We clean our houses, kitchens, bathrooms, even sewage systems. How can the air inside be so polluted! I’m just unable to wrap my head around this! What causes this pollution!
Pranjal: Yeah, now ask your dad. Don’t believe your husband.
Me: Hahaha!
Nina: Shut up baby!
Dr. Pritam: Well, sources include gases from cooking and heating, chemicals from candles and household cleansers, mold and mildew and a host of toxins from building materials. Inadequate ventilation is by far the largest cause of indoor air pollution, accounting for more than half of the problem.
Me: Really?!
Dr. Asha: Yes, technically some of main indoor sources of pollution are Radon, tobacco, mold, cooking / heating, household products, air fresheners and building materials, but this is just a very quick list to tell you. 
Nina: What are these things? And how can cooking be in this list?!
Pranjal: Radon is a noxious gas that arises from the soil and bedrock beneath homes and may be in building materials. It may contain radium or uranium.Tobacco smoke contains 200 known poisons and 43 compounds proven to cause cancer. Mold, mildew and viruses thrive indoors. The average home contains about 10 gallons of synthetic chemical products.
Indoor use of pesticides, cleansers, paints and varnishes and air fresheners (including candles and incense) distribute toxins throughout the ho-
Me: Whoa! I am petrified!
Nina: Yeah! Hold on, and cooking?

Dr. Pritam: Poorly ventilated or maladjusted coal, gas, kerosene, oil or wood sources of cooking and heating give off carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and many other chemicals and gases. Scientists once tested homes that cooked at least once a week especially using gas stoves, they found that over half were above the outdoor health limit for nitrogen dioxide. 
Nina: That is insane! if this happened outside, somebody would do something about it!
Pranjal: Yes, but nobody monitors indoor air quality, partly because it is almost impossible, and also because there is an entire privacy and personal aspect to it. While there are fairly clear standards for outdoor air quality, indoor air quality legislation and building codes lag behind and often specify only "the minimum air filtration efficiency and ventilation requirements.
Me: And what about the air fresheners that you were just talking about Pranjal?
Pranjal: Air fresheners emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) continuously, such as nitrogen dioxide. Some contain paradicholorbenzene, a toxin commonly found in mothballs.
Dr. Asha: Phthalates are an endocrine-disrupting chemical found in many plastics and cosmetics. They are linked to lowered sperm count and breast development in boys and premature sexual development in girls.
Dr. Pritam: And in the kitchen, Perfluorinated acids (PFAs) are chemicals that comprise non-stick and stain-resistant coatings in many things we commonly use. PFAs have been found to cause health disasters like birth defects, affect the thyroid and damage the liver in lab animals. Scientists suspect PFAs may even be linked to cancer.
Nina: We just built a new house in Kolkata! What all would that have emitted?
Pranjal: Well, Asbestos for one. It still lingers in the insulation, paints and floor tiles of many homes. Potentially Formaldehyde too, which is found in pressed wood that is used for shelving and furniture.
Me: How dangerous are these things?
Dr. Pritam: Often, the health effects of indoor air pollution are simply attributed to colds and flu but those are just immediate symptoms or problems, over a period of time they can build into asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and Legionnaire’s disease. Researchers have found that childhood diagnoses of allergies, autism, Asperger’s and Tourette’s syndrome are linked to indoor pollutants such as dust, phthalates, PVC flooring and second-hand smoke.
Dr. Asha: Don't forget that multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS is on the rise too. Symptoms of MCS include burning eyes, breathlessness, cough, dizziness, fatigue, digestive problems, memory problems, Muscle and joint pain etc.

Nina: Mom, this is a nightmare.
Pranjal: It is certainly.
Nina: How can you say it so casually? We have a baby growing up among these monstrous toxins! 
Me: Well, what can he say. Sounds like this an unavoidable evil that we all are forced against our wills to live with.
Dr. Pritam: Some of it may be unavoidable, but some can be tackled.
Dr. Asha: Yes, if awareness increases about these things then people may start doing something about it in their own homes.
Nina: What can be tackled? And this time you can tell me baby. See I am not asking my dad.
Pranjal: How sweet!
Me: Okay, love birds. Tell us what we can do! I am nervous as hell after getting all this information!
Pranjal: Individuals can take some steps themselves that can make a big difference. Well, to think off the top of my head about cooking tips, I can say these:
— Always turn your fan on
— Cook on the back burners
— Use highest fan setting
— Clean grease traps periodically
— If you don't have a hood, open windows
Me: (Took out a piece of paper and started noting them)
Dr. Pritam: Other general simpler steps involve replacing toxic cleaning products with natural alternatives, not letting your car motor run while not in use, and even just opening windows more often in your home.
Dr. Asha: Avoid plastic bottles and containers. 
Nina: Clean air conditioners regularly?
Pranjal: Perfect!
Me: Install exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens?
Dr. Pritam: Yes, right.
Dr. Asha: Eat organic food that has less chemicals. Baking soda and vinegar are natural cleaners. Wash bedding frequently in very hot water to kill bed bugs.
Nina: I love scented candles!
Pranjal: Go for beeswax or soy candles.
Me: What about things I can do in the kitchen?
Dr. Pritam: Adjust gas stoves and other cooking and heating appliances to decrease emissions.

Dr. Asha: But firstly, do not look so worried both of you.
Nina: It is scary!
Pranjal: Yes, but if you keep this things in mind, you can manage the situation.
Me: Hmmm…
Dr. Pritam: I will give you some more reading and reference material in the morning that you put on your beloved blog too.
Me: All of this is going on my blog for my readers!
Dr. Pritam: Great! Okay, it is 3 AM. Everybody needs to sleep now.
Dr. Asha: Not without a cup of tea and midnight Maggi?
Nina: My mother is the best!
Pranjal: I think my wife is the best!
Me: Oh gosh, you love birds!

(Source: Free images from Pixabay)


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