Charity begins at home but not in North Pole
Posted on February 19th, 2011

Dr Hector Perera

They say charity begins at home, before one worries about global warming due to air pollution, it’s worth checking the air quality within your home environment. With or without our knowledge, we pollute the air inside our homes by so many ways that affects the health. Everybody is worried about global warming, temperature rising, ice cap mountains dissolving and cuddly polar bears well being at North Pole but forgetting the air quality inside your own home.

Where do we start?

In hot climatic countries such as in Sri Lanka the air distribution within houses are generally the same because the houses are usually ventilated with open doors, windows and grills all over the houses. In Western Countries these cannot be kept open all the time due to generally cold climatic conditions.

Immaterial of the country, sometimes we pollute the air inside the house voluntarily then accept its norm to do so. How many kinds of these so called air fresheners and disinfectants are sprayed inside the sitting room and sometimes in other parts of the house? Have you noticed the lovely aroma of spices inside the home? Have you tried to get rid of the smell by air fresheners?

Air fresheners or pollutants?

These air fresheners are nothing but organic compounds dissolved in volatile organic solvents. Actually, there is hardly anything healthy about them. Many air fresheners can be toxic, cancerogenic, or with totally unclear long term health effects. Besides, a typical freshener works by masking the odour and paralyzing your nose sensitivity, rather than by removing the odour. The actual odour problem stays. And even if your nose does not sense it, it is still what you are breathing. The bad odour still gets into your blood stream and poisons you.

Do you expect the air quality to improve by air fresheners? Yet, health researchers often find that it actually reduces your home or car air quality. This conclusion comes, for example, from tracing various human health reactions, such as headache, irritated eyes and nose and other allergic reactions, to the presence of the air freshener and it’s certain chemical components. A common harmful ingredient of air fresheners is limonene.

What does this affect?

Limonene irritates eyes, mouth and skin. It can also cause in coordination and dizziness. Also, don’t forget that you may also be breathing petroleum distillates, which can irritate or damage your lungs, may feel fatigue and confusion when your air freshener contains toluene, a benzene based organic compound. Some air freshener chemicals show themselves more in long term, like cancerogenic benzene compounds, or phthalates interfering with hormone production. You can also find such toxic chemicals such as methylformamide, terpinolene, methoxybenzaldehyde, and butanoic acid.

Pollutents from the kitchen

Sometimes the houses get polluted with gases emitted from the LPG [liquid petroleum gas] gas or kerosene cookers or from firewood stoves. Chemically, kerosene is a mixture of hydrocarbons; the chemical composition depends on its source, but it usually consists of about 10 different hydrocarbons, each containing 10 to 16 carbon atoms per molecule; the constituents include n-dodecane, alkyl benzenes, and naphthalene and its derivatives. When you get kerosene smell, you will notice the number of different chemicals as stated and would you call this is healthy to breathe? Many years ago in Sri Lanka, kerosene lamps were the only source of light to many rural areas because electricity was limited to urban areas only. Even in Western countries still there are kerosene or paraffin heaters.

Other poisonous gases

Carbon dioxide is produced when fuels which contain carbon are burned but if Hydrogen is burnt, the by-products have no carbon dioxide.

The main source of carbon dioxide production in urban areas is from the motor vehicles then Industries, especially power generation then respiring animals, including people. In other words if a place is heavily populated then the place is considered as polluted than less populated rural areas. I think one of the main reasons why people seek holiday in upcountry in Sri Lanka is for the fresh air.

The most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is Carbon dioxide (CO2) which is a colourless & odourless gas. When you burn a piece of paper or firewood it gives a cloudy smoky flame so you may assume that carbon dioxide has a cloudy colour. In that case when you open a bottle of fizzy drinks, did you see any cloudy smoke or when you burp, did you give out clouds of smoke as a Chinese dragon does? When there is less oxygen for complete combustion to give out carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and tiny carbon particles as soot that gives a cloudy appearance. We say carbon dioxide is responsible for global warming as it traps heat that is less carbon dioxide means less global warming.

Bad effects of carbon monoxide:

Carbon monoxide binds to haemoglobin in the blood, which takes the place of oxygen. This stops oxygen from being transported around the body. When you work in the kitchen for a while did you experience these symptons? Small amounts cause dizziness, headaches, fatigue and slowed reaction times. It weakens the contractions of the heart in a healthy person and reduces their ability to do exercise. Foetuses, infants and pregnant women, are more susceptible to the effects. Large amounts are fatal.

The use of firewood for cooking, heating, and other household needs, emits carbon dioxide, monoxide and many other health-damaging pollutants, at concentrations several fold higher than common health guidelines, especially when used in open or poorly enclosed and ventilated stoves. What about Sunday BBQ?

Problems: from acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, asthma, lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, and blindness can be attributed to solid fuel use in developing countries including Sri Lanka. You still need to cook by firewood not LPG?

ƒÆ’‚£ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¡‚¬Reactive organic compounds (ROCs)

Most of these volatile organic compounds are invisible; often have a very noticeable smell, for example, the smell of a pine tree. This chemical is a component of photochemical smog. These are naturally released from trees such as pines, eucalypts and citrus.

Some of these gases may be toxic, some may cause cancer.

Half of the ROCs are produced by motor vehicles. In Western countries during winter the levels of ROCs increase as people use wood burning stoves to keep warm, in hot countries such as in Sri Lanka one cannot easily notice smog but these gases are present in the firewood kitchens then escape to pollute the home and outside atmosphere. The effects of ROCs do not seem as immediate or menacing as those listed for other air pollutants such as nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide

Other pollutant gases such as nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide are produced in houses when fire comes into contact with atmospheric nitrogen by LPG gas cookers or kerosene cookers or heaters, open fire places and from cigarette smoke. It’s simple to understand that the more gas or firewood are burnt, more pollutant gases are produced. How often the people smoke inside the living room and in bedroom?

Effects of Nitrogen dioxide

Irritates the eyes, nose and throat when exposed to high levels. It can cause respiratory problems, especially in asthmatics then reduces respiratory defence mechanisms and increases infection rates. Long-term exposure may cause structural damage to the lungs.

Formaldehyde is from Cigarette smoke, Effects of formaldehyde:

Is an irritant to the eyes, sinus and skin? It can cause a runny nose, sore throat and sinus congestion (symptoms of a cold). It can cause difficulty in breathing, chest pain, wheezing and asthma. It’s simple, all these are from cigarette smoke, you still need to carry on smoking, you need more details?

Chronic and repeated exposure to cigarette smoke causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness, lethargy, irritability, disturbed sleep and skin irritation. May also cause menstrual and reproductive disorders. Repeated small level exposure may cause an allergic response also iscarcinogenic (cancer-causing). You still need a fag or two after lunch?

Now, how clean is the air inside your house?

Considering all these pollutant gases and sources and the bad effects of pollutant gases it’s important to consider how to minimise the use of cooking gas or in other words must get the maximum efficiency than wasting of LPG gas and cut down the use of firewood in the kitchen. No wonder the doctors say, “walking is healthy” so how about a walk along a park or a beach for fresh air or want to be a couch potatoe?

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