• Tech Tech

Experts warn of indoor threat that poses serious health risks to children, the elderly: ‘A source of health inequities’

“We already have effective mitigation tools available … we just need to use them.”

"We already have effective mitigation tools available to reduce fine particulate matter exposure indoors — we just need to use them."

Photo Credit: iStock

“The call is coming from inside the house!” It’s a classic horror movie trope that still sends chills down your spine, even if the concept has become a bit outdated. However, the idea of a serious threat inside your home will always be terrifying. 

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine highlights one particular indoor threat — fine particulate matter. The report calls on public health officials and other agencies to take measures to mitigate exposure, especially among more vulnerable populations like kids, older adults, and people with preexisting conditions.  

What is fine particulate matter? 

Particulate matter (PM) is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) has a diameter of 2.5 microns (<0.0001 inch) or less — at least 30 times smaller than a human hair, per a news release from the National Academies. 

PM is made up of chemicals, dust, and biological materials that come from numerous sources. Nearby industrial facilities, exhaust from gas-powered vehicles, and wildfires are some of the biggest producers of outdoor PM. 

Combustion sources like gas stoves, water heaters, and fireplaces all produce a significant amount of indoor PM2.5.

Why is PM2.5 pollution concerning? 

Exposure to indoor PM2.5 has been implicated in respiratory issues like asthma and COPD, cardiovascular problems, cancer, reproductive complications, and neurological effects such as dementia. Another study estimates that PM2.5 is responsible for 8.9 million premature deaths per year. 

The National Academies report specifically recommends reduced exposure in schools. Children exposed to higher PM levels at school have experienced diminished cognitive growth. However, the report suggests that more research needs to be done. 

Exposure to PM2.5 is significantly higher in economically disadvantaged and marginalized communities, per the report. Proximity to high-polluting sources like industrial facilities and major highways is a big factor in the level of exposure to PM2.5, while people in those communities typically live in older homes with outdated appliances. 

“Differences in fine particulate matter exposure are a source of health inequities across communities,” National Academy of Engineering President John Anderson explained.

What can be done about PM2.5 pollution? 

“We already have effective mitigation tools available to reduce fine particulate matter exposure indoors — we just need to use them,” said Richard L. Corsi, dean of engineering of the University of California, Davis, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

The report outlines four general forms of mitigation: source control, ventilation, filtration and air cleaning, and personal protective equipment. 

What do some of those forms look like in your personal life? Switching to an induction cooktop instead of a gas stove is an excellent way to limit the amount of PM2.5 produced in your home, and buying a HEPA filter would go a long way in removing the pollution. 

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