Md. Aynul Bari, assistant professor in the department of environmental and sustainable engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Albany, digs into this question.
Md. Aynul Bari joined the Department of Environmental & Sustainable Engineering (ESE) at the University at Albany as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2018. Bari has been involved in assessing emerging air quality issues in urban and industrial areas in order to explore the need for addressing clean air strategies to support initiatives of achieving sustainable air quality. His current research focuses on understanding ambient levels and sources of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), influence of energy development on air quality and atmospheric deposition, long-term trend analysis, source characterization and apportionment and low-cost air pollution sensors. Other research interests include residential wood burning, particulate air pollution, indoor and outdoor behavior of air pollutants and air toxics, and public health risk assessment.
Air Pollution in the Home
We all know that poor air quality can be linked to health problems including asthma, allergy and respiratory diseases. When we are outdoors, we are exposed to several air pollutants coming from different sources like traffic, industry and wood burning smoke. Much attention has been given by government and regulatory agencies to tackle urban air pollution. However, there has been a growing awareness as well as public health concerns about the quality of air we breathe inside of our homes.
As we know from time-activity patterns, American adults typically spend more than 60 percent of their time inside their home. Different daily activities and sources within the home contribute to our exposure to air pollutants, such as particles and volatile organic compounds (or VOCs).
To understand the levels and potential sources, we undertook a study in Canada in the capital city of Alberta and measured 24-hour indoor samples in 74 homes during the winter and summer of 2010.
From this study, we found outdoor-generated sources were important contributors to indoor particles. Some sources for this include the oil and gas industries, soil dust and wood burning smoke. On the other hand, carpet dust, cleaning activities and a number of pets were important indoor sources. If we look for VOCs, we found more than 70 percent of indoor VOCs came from sources within homes. These included household products, combustion processes (cooking) and off-gassing of building materials.
The take-home message is this: if we know the important sources of air pollutants in our homes, we can take actions to change our daily activities and minimize our exposure to sources, as well as improve the quality of indoor air and our health.