Indoor Air Quality, Worse than You Think and Harming Our Kids

Commonly thought of as a safe haven, our indoor residencies are not as safe as we think. People in developed countries spend up to 90% of their time indoors, which does not include the time we spend inside our cars (Fromme 2016). This can be a hazard for many reasons but unsuspecting of the public are the dangers of indoor pollutants that the Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly more concerned about than outdoor air pollution (Elkins 2019). Based on cancer risk alone, federal scientists have ranked indoor air pollution as one of the most important environmental problems in the United States (Group…). The indoor air and surroundings are riddled with multiple kinds of pollutants such as flame retardants, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and many others. Health effects of these chemicals are seen from irritants causing headaches all the way to cancer and neurological dysfunctions.

People are exposed through to flame retardants as it gets into the air, water, and soil during manufacture however, in the home chemicals can leak from products into dust and into the air. Persistent and bio accumulative flame retardants have shown in humans and animals endocrine and thyroid affects, immune system influences, reproductive toxicity, cancer, adverse effects on fetal and child development, and neurological function (National…).

It is especially dangerous for babies and kids as dust can get on hands and food and then into the mouth as many children have hand to mouth behaviors and their closer proximity to the floor. In fact, research shows that children have been found to have higher levels of flame retardants in their systems compared to adults (National…). Not only are children exposed to flame retardants in their own homes but also in their schools and daycares as well. Children were found to have a lesser amount of flame retardants and other chemicals in East Australia and Africa possibly because they spent less time indoors. It was also determined that dust ingestion was the dominant exposure pathway for most studied brominated flame retardants compared to indoor air inhalation and dermal contact, especially for infants and toddlers who have higher exposures than older children (Malliari & Kalantzi 2017).

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However, in a more urban environment, Californian preschools were found to have levels of TCEP and TDCIPP, types of flame retardants, in dust that were significantly higher in facilities with napping equipment made from foam (Bradman 2014). Not only are children exposed to these chemicals at a place there they are supposed to be kept safe, but a controlled experiment showed that PBDEs in children’s daycare environments determined that said chemicals are correlated with motor performance, attention, visual perception, and behavior while the same results were found for OH-PCBs. It was recommended by these scientists that alternatives to the chemicals be found and children are very vulnerable in their early development stages (Roze et. al 2009). Further research on the role of air pollutants in childhood lymphohematopoietic cancer as census tracts from the EPA’s 1999 modeled estimates of benzene and other air pollutants sadly showed an association between childhood leukemia and hazardous air pollution (Whitworth et.al 2008). Not only are children at risk inside the infrastructure we put them in, they are also at risk when they are on their way to school.

Children are at risk to toxic effects from vehicular emitted ultrafine particles due to immature respiratory systems and faster breathing rates. This article looks to see what kind of particle exposure is in a school bus driving on its normal route in South Texas. These particles can be trapped inside the school buses and it was found that higher in-cabin air pollutant concentrations were observed when there were more students on board (Zhang & Zhu 2010). If people want to protect their children from inhaling pollutants and particulate matter then something needs to be done about pollutants within indoor environment, including vehicles. It is not only emotionally compelling to want to make a change and protect our children but improving the air quality indoors would be an investment in the future productivity and potential of our future generations and achieving these results can happen with a few simple changes in our ventilation systems and products used in buildings.

So much of the education budget goes into improving test scores for students by decreasing the classroom size per teacher in school. However, a simple solution can be implemented in all schools without the expense of more educators or new infrastructure. For example, in 87 classrooms, ventilation rates were less than the 7.1 L/s (15 cfm) per student minimum ventilation requirement before the improvements. In these classrooms, performance in both math and reading tests increased with increased ventilation rate. The percentage of students passing the standardized math test increased by 2.9%, the percentage of students passing the standardized reading test increased by 2.7% with the accounted socioeconomic status of the students and the number of students transferring into and out of the schools (Scientific Findings…). In conclusion, it is cost effective to invest in the health of not only our children but all buildings to improve cognitive abilities and performance. By improving the ventilation indoors and taking care to have a toxic free environment, the amounts of formaldehyde, flame retardants, and Volatile Organic Compounds can be significantly decreased in children.

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References

Bradman, A., Castorina, R., Gaspar, F., Nishioka, M., Colón, M., Weathers, W., … McKone, T. E. (2014). Flame retardant exposures in California early childhood education environments. Chemosphere, 116, 61–66. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.02.072

Elkins, Jules (2019). Indoor Air Pollution Lecture. University of Texas at Austin.

Fromme, H., Becher, G., Hilger, B., & Völkel, W. (2016). Brominated flame retardants — Exposure and risk assessment for the general population. International Journal of Hygiene & Environmental Health, 219(1), 1–23. https://doiorg.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/10.1016/j.ijheh.2015.08.004

Group, B. D. (n.d.). Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution. Retrieved from https://www.bluepointenvironmental.com/indoor-air-quality-health-effects/

National Institute of Environment and Health Sciences. Flame Retardants. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/flame_retardants/index.cfm

Malliari, E., & Kalantzi, O.-I. (2017). Children’s exposure to brominated flame retardants in indoor environments — A review. Environment International, 108, 146–169. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/10.1016/j.envint.2017.08.011

Roze, E., Meijer, L., Bakker, A., Van Braeckel, K. N., Sauer, P. J., & Bos, A. F. (2009). Prenatal exposure to organohalogens, including brominated flame retardants, influences motor, cognitive, and behavioral performance at school age. Environmental health perspectives, 117(12), 1953–1958.

Sexton, K., & Repetto, R. (1982). Indoor air pollution and public policy. Environment International, 8(1–6), 5–10.

Whitworth, K. W., Symanski, E., & Coker, A. L. (2008). Childhood lymphohematopoietic cancer incidence and hazardous air pollutants in southeast Texas, 1995–2004. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(11), 1576–1580.

Zhang, Q., & Zhu, Y. (2010). Measurements of ultrafine particles and other vehicular pollutants inside school buses in South Texas. Atmospheric Environment, 44(2), 253–261.

Scientific Findings Resource Bank, B. (n.d.). Ventilation Rates and School Performance. Retrieved from https://iaqscience.lbl.gov/si/vent-school