It is hard not to be concerned about air quality these days, with wildfires across the globe drawing increasing attention and subsequently alerting us to the dangerous levels of pollutants in the air. Unfortunately, air quality conditions are not isolated to wildfires.
According to the World Health Organization “In 2019, 99% of the world’s population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met,” and “The combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually.”
While outdoor air pollution can seem more detrimental because we can see it and smell it, indoor air pollution is equally as harmful.
According to NEEF (National Environmental Education Foundation) “indoor air pollution is consistently ranked by [the] EPA as among the top five environmental risks to public health....” and since, on average, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors this is an alarming point to consider.
Beyond that, typical concentrations of pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors, according to the EPA.
The ways poor indoor air quality negatively affects health are numerous and symptoms can be anything from irritated nose or eyes to dizziness or fatigue to lung disease, and even death due to exposure to carbon monoxide which is impossible to detect without alarms installed throughout a home or facility.
Other life-threatening ways our health may be affected by poor indoor air quality are heart attacks, heart disease, long-term respiratory illness, lung disease, or legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia caused by legionella bacterium which is caused by poorly maintained air conditioning and furnace units.
Improper ventilation can happen when air conditioning units or any appliance that vents outdoors are not cleaned or working efficiently. Ventilation systems are designed to cycle through air and move indoor air outside. When the ventilation systems are not cleaned regularly, toxins can be filtered back indoors as the system works.
According to Forbes, citing the EPA, “Inadequate ventilation can also contribute to indoor air pollution by trapping the allergens and pollutants inside and keeping the outdoor air from diluting emissions caused by the pollutants...”
Additionally, global warming increasingly plays a role in poor indoor air quality as areas impacted by longer periods of wet or dry seasons contribute to excessive mold or mildew growing indoors. If ventilation systems are not working properly, mold and mildew can grow and contribute to poor indoor air quality.
In addition, a substantial percentage of built environments have cracks or places outdoor air leaks indoors. Seams around doors and windows, cracks in the structure, or any place where there is an opening that leads in or out of a building can be a potential hazard.
Depending on location and time of year, these pain points can significantly impact indoor air quality. For example, suppose a building is in a densely populated area. In that case, it becomes more important to address structural air leaks since exposure to higher concentrations of vehicle exhaust, manufacturing or industrial pollution are more likely.
For the built environment, making changes that include air filtration systems that help circulate clean air in and polluted air out is important since indoor air can hold in toxins.
Indoor irritants are naturally occurring or synthetic and come in a wide variety of forms from radon, that can leach in through basement walls, to carbon monoxide from furnaces, as well as things like pet dander, insect particles, and smoke from cigarettes or fireplaces. The list is long and the EPA lists harmful irritants in further detail on their website.
VOCs are chemical compounds that evaporate at room temperature and can mix into the air we breathe causing irritation and harmful side effects. They are found in everyday household and personal products; from paint to household cleaning products to personal care products such as hair spray, VOCs contribute to poor indoor air quality.
Routine floor cleaning can have a significant impact on creating a healthier indoor space and since flooring is the largest horizontal surface in a building, it needs to be part of the routine cleaning plan.
According to the EPA: “...when people enter buildings, they can inadvertently bring in soil and dust on their shoes and clothing from the outdoors, along with pollutants that adhere to those particles.”
These pollutants can be tracked through a building and kicked up into the air contributing to poor indoor air quality.
According to Pegasus, a cleaning service provider, reporting on research from ISSA, “companies must understand that the floor is a repository for numerous contaminants, which can impact indoor air quality and overall health.”
They go on to note, “Mold likes environments that are warm, hot, and humid. Luxury vinyl plank flooring, floor tile, wood, and even sheet vinyl all have individual cracks and crevices of various sizes. Even the carpet can be a spot where mold can grow.”
Routine floor cleaning can have a significant impact on indoor environments and contributes directly to better indoor air quality.
Using autonomous solutions like Cobi 18, a compact autonomous floor scrubber by ICE Cobotics not only helps with routine cleaning, because the unit can be deployed by anyone and easily started with a few simple taps, but it is also an effective way to clean floors.
Traditional scrubbing methods, like mopping, typically result in soil and toxins being pushed around the floor and not actually cleaned off the surface.
Repeatedly dipping a mop into dirty water also counteracts the purpose of mopping, as dirty water is used repeatedly on the floor. This can spread toxins around the environment and contribute to poor indoor air quality. There are many reasons to stop using mops to clean floors.
With Cobi, the solutions tank is separate from the dirty water tank, so clean water is never contaminated by dirty water. The brushes on Cobi are designed with bristles that clean even into grout and cracks on hard flooring surfaces, and due to machine learning technology the cobot improves cleaning efficiency over time, resulting in cleaner floors the more the unit is deployed.
Beyond that, Cobi works alongside staff and takes on the repetitive work of floor cleaning so staff can focus on other high touch point areas of a building, increasing cleaning productivity.
Deploying autonomous solutions like Cobi also makes the job of cleaning easier for staff. Mopping and vacuuming are two repetitive tasks that can take up a lot of time, and depending on the equipment, can be attributed to RSI (repetitive stress injuries).
So, deploying units like Cobi contributes to cleaner indoor air quality and improves the well-being of cleaning staff.
Opening windows and allowing fresh air to move in and out of your space is a key step in improving air quality—remember to investigate your surroundings and be aware of the quality of outdoor air you are exposed to. Running fans, like bathroom or kitchen rangehood fans, that vent to the outdoors can also help circulate cleaner air.
Beyond that, according to the EPA, “...operating window or attic fans, when the weather permits, or running a window air conditioner with the vent control open increases the outdoor ventilation rate.”
On that note, it is important to clean and change all filters regularly including furnace filters (as typical HVAC systems do not use indoor/outdoor air filtration cycles), bathroom fan filters and vents, range hood filters, and dryer filters. Even regular cleaning of your air ducts can help to remove dust and dander that builds up over time.
Beyond improving air quality, increased ventilation and regular cleaning and replacement of filters can help stop the spread of germs—an all too important step in keeping employees and businesses up and running.
According to WebMD “Dust mites and mold love moisture. Keeping humidity around 30%-50% helps keep them and other allergens under control. A dehumidifier (and air conditioner during warmer months) helps reduce moisture in indoor air and effectively controls allergens...”
Controlling humidity and maintaining sources where water may be leaking, like plumbing or outdoor water sources, is vital to making sure mold does not start to grow in your building. Make sure to inspect for any water leaks or areas where water pools in or around your home or building and take care of those issues right away.
The less opportunity for mold to grow, the better the quality of indoor air.
On top of routine floor cleaning, improving ventilation systems and cleaning ducts, and controlling humidity levels, there are other simple ways to help keep your air clean.
Buy cleaning and personal products made from all-natural sources, and eliminate or cut back on the use of aerosol cans and products that use harsh or toxic chemicals. With increasing emphasis on more natural methods for cleaning, many products on the market do a good job and do not release toxins into the air.
Additionally, add plants to the environment. Plants are a natural filtration system, they clean toxins out of the air, helping to improve the cleanliness of indoor air. And they are a fun way to decorate and improve the appearance of an indoor space.
The importance of indoor air quality cannot be overstated. Our homes and workplaces should be places of comfort that support well-being, but without proper attention to the air we breathe, they can become breeding grounds for a variety of health issues. From respiratory problems to allergies and even long-term chronic conditions, poor indoor air quality poses a significant risk to our overall health.
Fortunately, awareness about indoor air quality is growing, and with it, the understanding that we have the power to make a positive change. By taking simple steps like improving ventilation, reducing indoor pollutants, and maintaining cleanliness, we can create healthier indoor environments.
ICE Cobotics is a cleaning technology and equipment company specializing in autonomous solutions and working to improve well-being of all. Speak to one of our automation experts about getting started with Cobi 18.
Note: this blog was originally published on January 26, 2021