Hidden air pollution in our home – the importance of ventilation

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Hidden air pollution in our home – the importance of ventilation

Outdoor air has been regulated for years, but what about the indoor air pollutants that have been hiding in our homes for decades? Apart from the bathrooms, even the kitchens have been proved to contain these harmful particles. Cooking, cleaning and other household activities are generating significant levels of particulate chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOC) inside the home, while hindering the indoor air quality. Frying food on the stove, using a toaster, mopping a floor or even breathing indoors can lead to a major rise in the levels of indoor pollution. According to Environmental Protection Agency, the air we breathe indoors can be five times as polluted as the outdoor air – and that is simply because enclosed areas tend to build up more pollutants than an open space.

In a recent project at Harvard Data Science Initiative, researchers cooked a thanksgiving dinner in a 1,200-sq.-ft. manufactured home, to find out the possible pollutants and particulate matters in the indoor air. They discovered that the levels of fine particulate matter in the home had reached about 285 micrograms per cubic metre. Other research found that these regular indoor activities may give rise to the substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and fine particulate matter that end up harming the indoor air.

Among of the appliances that require proper ventilation are gas stoves, as they significant contributors to air pollution in kitchens. They emit nitrogen dioxide when the fuel is burned at a very high temperature. When mixed with the air, they produce toxic organic nitrates and nitric acid that can largely cause irritation in the lungs, while lowering the resistance to respiratory disorders such as influenza. According to research by Environmental Protection Agency, frequent exposure to high concentrations of these particles may cause respiratory diseases in children.

Hence, it is of utmost importance that the kitchen is well-ventilated at all times – mainly, during the cooking process and as well as afterward. And just in case if the food gets burned during cooking, it further leads to harmful emissions such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide that may be extremely toxic for the residents to breathe. It may be quite surprising to know that even the basic tasks such as boiling water on the stovetop flame can end up producing high levels of gaseous air pollutants and suspended particulates indoors. Thus, it is crucial to install a high-quality ventilation fan and a chimney or a range hood, or otherwise open the windows wide open during cooking to let out these harmful particles as much as possible.

A 2001 report published by California Air Resources Board (CARB) stated that cooking fried chicken on a gas stove can produce an average of 400 parts per billion of nitrogen dioxide. And this level is significantly higher as compared to the standards that measure around 250 parts per billion. On the other hand, ovens – whether gas or electric – have the equal potential to produce pollutants such as formaldehyde and particulate matter during regular use. A few activities that cause the most indoor air pollution are the deep frying and browning of food products. Mainly, heating ingredients at a high temperature with oil or fat concentration may emit polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAC) and particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10) that majorly cause eye and respiratory irritation.

Do you smell that pleasing aroma from the foods when they’re getting grilled or simply toasted? Well, yes! That is when the compounds such as brown carbon (particulate matter) and VOCs are being released. Moreover, even multi-tasking in the kitchen may seem obviously efficient and time-consuming – but the fact is that this combination may exponentially decrease the potential air quality of your kitchen. For instance, cooking with teriyaki sauce and simultaneously cleaning with bleach may produce toxins such as chloramines that are known to cause respiratory inflammation. Or also cleaning with bleach while using a gas burner simultaneously may produce nitryl chloride that causes coastal smog formation. Some of the common VOCs present in the kitchen indoor air are benzene, xylene, tetrachloroethylene, methylene chloride, ethylene glycol and toluene.

It is crucial to maintaining the air quality of the kitchen, since there is considerable time spent there. So, step by step, no matter how small, make the effort to improve the quality of your kitchen’s air. First and foremost, gas combustion produces PM2.5 which is almost double what an electric stove produces (PM2.5 is one of the deadliest air pollutants). Another major gas found is CO that is caused by gas stoves in kitchens that are poorly ventilated. This gas has been proved to cause cardiovascular diseases amongst the vulnerable populations that have existing coronary heart diseases. To annul this issue, it is important to prioritize ventilation primarily in the kitchens.

Firstly, it is important to use exhaust hoods and fans. Secondly, it is notable to check whether the existing hood doesn’t end up recirculating air rather than completely venting outside. And thirdly, checking the performance for hoods is noteworthy. It should mainly expel almost 98 per cent of the harmful emissions existing in the air. Another way to increase ventilation is by simply running the entire HVAC system while cooking in the kitchen. Hence, it is definitely a given that human health and wellness are primary. And keeping in mind the fact that homeowners tend to spend a lot of their time cooking, it further becomes primary. To prioritize ventilation and efficiently optimizing the use of kitchen equipment is necessary to propagate a healthy indoor environment.

Since 2009, Linda has been a valuable and trusted resource for the residential interior design/build industry. She is an advocate for inclusive age-free design (universal design) and is one of Canada’s leading experts on living in place, accessibility and wellness design for the home. As an accredited WELL AP, Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP) and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), Linda offers an unparalleled understanding for creating “forever” homes with wellness features for clients of all ages and abilities.


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