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Indoor air quality in nursing homes: pollutant emissions and health effects

15 November 2022
Article by Teresa Mata, researcher in the area of environment and sustainability, and Gabriela Ventura, researcher in the area of air quality

Indoor air quality is recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the main public health problems, and having a special weight on the respiratory health of the elderly, particularly those over 80 years old. These are more likely to have health problems even with moderate levels of indoor air pollutants [5,14].

The vulnerability of the elderly is the natural consequence of the deterioration of their biological functions and immunological defenses, often aggravated by precarious health conditions, such as respiratory or circulatory diseases [5]. In addition to natural aging, the elderly have exposure to pollution and other environmental conditions accumulated throughout their lives [6]. On the other hand, due to their reduced mobility, they spend most of their time inside buildings (95% on average) [7], usually in bedrooms and living rooms, corresponding to around 19 to 20 h/day [8], which potentially puts them at greater risk of exposure to indoor air pollutants [9].

Indoor air accumulates various types of pollutants, usually associated with specific compounds from the various domestic products used, such as cleaning, disinfection, hygiene and health activities, and also emitted by construction materials and furniture [2]. Cleaning solutions and detergents often used in nursing homes and healthcare facilities reduce the risk of infections, but increase the levels of total volatile organic compounds in the air [7]. Therefore, keeping the elderly population healthy is a challenge that requires a better understanding of the health consequences of exposure to air pollutants [6]. More studies are needed to objectively identify the impacts of poor indoor air quality on the health of the elderly.

How to reduce exposure to pollution

One of the possible ways to combat pollution and improve indoor air quality is to control pollutants at source [2]. Source control aims to avoid the problem at source, as INEGI has been doing within the scope of Indoor Air Quality services. It supports the industrial development of «clean» materials - through tests that make it possible to evaluate dozens of contaminants and determine their concentration in emissions - to encourage the creation of healthier building materials and furniture.

Another very effective strategy for reducing the concentration of pollutants is by the dilution effect - simply increasing the rate of air exchange, or ventilation, of the interior space [15]. To make this easier, INEGI's Indoor Air Quality Laboratory is also capable of evaluating dozens of contaminants, by determining the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and very volatile organic compounds (COMVs) and low molecular weight aldehydes (formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, among others) in air samples collected in service buildings and housing.


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