“People think the outdoor air in cities is not that great, but usually the indoor air is worse” says Yifang Zhu, an air pollution researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.
This spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic led people to hunker down at home, outdoor air quality improved dramatically in many cities and countries. In the northeastern U.S., for instance, air pollution dropped by 30 percent. But the lockdowns might be having the opposite effect indoors. In March Airthings, an Oslo-based manufacturer of smart air-quality monitors, noticed conditions beginning to deteriorate in many customers’ homes that it tracks. Between early March and early May, levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) increased by 15 to 30 percent in more than 1,000 homes across several European countries, the company says.
The data do not constitute a rigorous analysis. But they fit with a growing body of research, including several recently published papers and reports, showing that the indoor environment is a significant source of our exposure to air pollutants.
Although federal regulations in the U.S. have spurred dramatic improvements in outdoor air quality, indoor air remains largely unregulated. Many pollutants are now more concentrated inside of our buildings than outside of them. “People think the outdoor air in cities is not that great,” says Yifang Zhu, an air pollution researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But usually the indoor air is worse.”
Spending more time in our home increases our exposure to chemicals emitted by building materials, furnishings, electronics and other consumer products. The pandemic also seems to be spurring many of us to cook and clean more. Those two activities are known to contaminate indoor air, says Delphine Farmer, an atmospheric chemist at Colorado State University.
By Emily Anthes on June 1, 2020 at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coronavirus-lockdowns-may-raise-exposure-to-indoor-air-pollution/
Photo by James Rhodes