Two striking facts perfectly illustrate why we need to place air quality at the top of the environmental and human health agenda. First, the quality of the air we breathe has a significant impact on our health and wellbeing; globally, air pollution is the leading environmental cause of shortened life, contributing to the equivalent of 5% of all deaths worldwide. Second, each of us inhales more than 25 million particles with every breath we take; the more contaminants we ingest, the greater the chance of sickness and ill-health. That’s why we have launched the ‘People Matter 1st’ campaign to highlight the dangers (and solutions) relating to poor air quality within our buildings, focusing on some of the smallest and most harmful particulates – PM1.
The particles with the greatest capacity for reaching the outermost areas of our respiratory system are very small, approximately 0.01–1 μm in size – PM1. The ability of different particles to form deposits (the degree to which they can become trapped in the body) depends on their size and whether they can pass through the walls of our airways, for example.
The function of the lungs depends on clean air even in the outermost of the seven million air sacs (alveoli) where the gas exchange with the capillaries takes place. The blood flows through the capillaries and gives off the carbon dioxide (CO2) that has formed during the metabolic process. At the same time, it takes in oxygen (O2) via the alveoli. The oxygen is transported from the alveoli to the muscles and other organs. The carbon dioxide and other impurities leave our bodies when we breathe out. Nanoparticles, which are no larger than a virus, can become deposited (trapped) in the cell membranes (walls) of the alveoli. These have a total surface area of around 750 sq. ft. and are highly sensitive to particles and harmful substances. If these substances remain in the respiratory system, they can contribute to the development of emphysema, edema, and other serious illnesses, as well as premature deaths.
The basic idea behind ventilation is to replace indoor air with outdoor air. Because the outdoor air is so polluted these days, as a result of different types of combustion processes and diesel exhaust gases among other things, stages of air filtration/purification are needed. If the air coming from outside is not cleaned, there is a risk that the indoor air will contain a very large quantity of harmful particulates which will find their way into people’s respiratory tracts and circulation systems.
Effective air filters in the ventilation system can prevent the majority of particles contained within outside air from entering the building; however, indoor pollution can be much more hazardous than the outdoor variety. This is because when particles and other substances pass into indoor air they combine in new ways with the substances and particles already present inside buildings.
The combinations that can occur may be much more aggressive and, therefore, more harmful to us. In modern indoor environments, the air is polluted not only by particles from out-side which enter through the doors and windows and, but also by emissions produced by different materials inside the building. These emissions consist of particles and substances from furniture, paint, cosmetics, building materials, cleaning products, etc. Emissions are also generated by cooking, log fires, and candles. Ozone can also be present indoors. It is a gas considered to be an air pollutant at ground level and can lead to irritation in the respiratory system.
Making clean air ‘law.’ At Camfil, we believe breathing clean air should be a human right. Momentum is gathering around the world in regard to the damaging effects of polluted air.