Many expats worry about outdoor air pollution, but indoor air quality is equally – if not more important – considering that most people’s first recourse is to stay home on smoggy days. Ensuring a low AQI at home isn’t the only priority; common indoor pollutants other than PM2.5 must be tested for and tackled differently.
When it comes to testing for indoor pollutants, one company comes up a lot: PureLiving. PureLiving works with companies, schools, relocation companies, and real estate managers to conduct tests and offer strategies for improving air and water quality, and reducing exposure to mold and lead. For more on securing clean drinking water, see p36 of the Home and Relocation Guide.
Factors that might affect the health and safety conditions of your home include the location, housing type, and age of the building. When you move in, ask your agent, landlord, or management office for a history of the home, including the year it was built, the date it was last renovated, and materials used to build the house; this will make the testing process much easier. Typically, after a home is tested for indoor pollutants, a full report is produced with the most pressing issues to be tackled and a list of recommendations.
Lead is a naturally occurring element that is toxic to humans and animals when ingested or inhaled. It’s particularly harmful to children, who are vulnerable to impairments in their neurological development. Common sources of lead include paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, toys, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics. Lead exposure is one of the foremost causes of child mortality in China. Kids are at a higher risk of absorbing lead, as they may touch objects containing lead; ingest foods or drinks containing lead; use plates or glasses containing lead; inhale dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil; or play with toys containing lead.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are a group of odorless, carbon-based chemicals that evaporate quickly at room temperature. Indoor environments usually count up to ten times higher levels of VOCs than outdoors. VOCs are given off by thousands of products, including paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning products, pesticides, building materials, furnishings, printers, corrector fluid, glues and adhesives, and permanent markers. This can cause long-term damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some VOCs are known carcinogens.
Formaldehyde is a type of VOC considered by the US National Toxicology Program to be a “known human carcinogen.” It can be found in building materials such as plywood, paneling, pressed-wood products, and urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), a type of resin used in adhesives, finishes, and medium-density fiberboard. UFFI was banned in the US and Canada in the mid 1980s due to concerns over formaldehyde vapor. In Beijing, however, some homes still contain UFFI and pose a serious health concern for families.
Particulate and Allergens
Air pollution is made up of various components; among them is particulate matter, which is commonly referred to as PM. Particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller can pass through the throat and nose then enter the lungs (find out more about air pollution on p32). PM can still be found indoors, as leaving windows and doors open over a prolonged period of time can lead to buildup. Dust mites, animal dander, and even cockroaches can trigger allergic reactions for sufferers of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases. If possible, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter; a regular vacuum cleaner is likely to spit particulate matter and allergens back out.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas occurring both naturally and as a result of human activities such as burning gasoline, coal, oil, and wood. Indoors, CO2 levels are dependent on the number of people in the house, how long an area has been occupied, the amount of fresh air circulating in the area from outdoors, the size of the room or area, and whether combustion by-products are contaminating indoor air (e.g. idling vehicles near air intakes, leaky furnaces, tobacco smoke). When there is too much CO2, the lack of oxygen can cause reduced organ function and permanent damage to the brain and heart.
Outdoors, molds play an important part in the natural cycle by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees. Indoors, however, mold growth is to be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through the air. Mold may begin growing indoors when spores land on moist surfaces, increasing the likelihood of respiratory diseases in both adults and children.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas found in nearly all soil types and that seeps in from underground. When inhaled, it gives off radioactive particles that can damage the cells lining the lung; in fact, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. It can be found in both old and new houses, well-insulated or drafty, with or without a basement. Radon can enter homes via pathways such as openings in floor caulking and sealants around pipes. Built-up air pressure between the foundation of the building and the soil can also cause radon to be drawn into the house.
There is also some concern over marble and granite, which are mined from the soil and contain trace amounts of radioactive elements called Naturally Occurring Radioactive Mineral (NORMs). The latter can emit measurable amounts of radiation and radon gas, but this depends on where the granite or marble was mined.
This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graphic courtesy of PureLiving