Humans are an indoor species. By 80 years of age, you will likely have spent at least 72 of those years inside. This is especially evident during the gruelling summer months when heat waves make being outside unbearable, and with air quality issues such as wildfires or localized air pollution.
After a hot long weekend in B.C., the province continues to forecast wildfires and poor air quality. Studies show that wildfire smoke can be just as harmful to our health while inside as it is outside.
We have government standards for regulating and monitoring outdoor air, but no standards for indoor air in B.C. or nationally across Canada. In reality, you may not be safer indoors as those spaces can be two-five times worse than outside, due to a country full of unregulated chemicals, poor ventilation maintenance, and a host of other reasons.
Indoor air quality has a measurable effect on a person’s health and overall wellbeing including instant effects such as fatigue, headaches and lack of focus and longer-term effects such as allergies and disease. Harvard studies suggest that a 15 per cent reduction in cognitive function results from moderately low levels of CO2 — an indoor air pollutant that humans create — making boardroom meetings and childhood classroom learning harder to complete with poor air quality.
Indoor spaces are especially challenging as there are 80,000 unregulated chemicals used in building materials and cleaning products. During the pandemic we ignored this and devoted extra time to sanitizing surfaces with substances that created high levels of tVOCs — total volatile organic compounds, which are the way that air sensors try to quantify as many chemicals as possible.
This is most problematic in schools and daycares. With our well-intended efforts to slow the spread of the Coronavirus (an airborne illness), cleaning teams went from daily dusting, vacuuming, and sweeping to “sanitizing” surfaces with high-chemical products multiple times daily. In Airsset’s monitoring of various North American facility types, we saw no spaces with higher chemical or formaldehyde levels than schools and daycares.
In a commercial building setting like an office, if I ask my property owner for the cleaning products used, and their safety data sheet information, I will likely have it within hours or days. When you inquire about the same with your child’s teacher, you will be referred first to the principal, and then to the Ministry of Education. My inquiry about what was producing such high chemical levels in my child’s B.C. elementary school remains unanswered.
When we return to work or school this September, we will likely be spending even more time indoors. It is important to see that ignorance is not bliss. There are few details more important than the air we breathe. In the words of Peter Drucker, “What gets measured, gets managed”.
In Quebec, they plan to roll out indoor air quality monitoring in every classroom. In B.C., we are not even told what’s being used during school cleanings.
It’s time for things to change as we face the realities of the air we breathe indoors and what this means for our health and wellness. Often solutions to poor indoor air quality can be addressed quickly and easily, but we cannot fix the problem without first recognizing that there may be one.
Michael Driedger is the founder and CEO of Airsset Technologies
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