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What Is Indoor Ambient Air Pollution and How Do You Avoid It?

When you think about air pollution, what typically comes to mind? Do you think of giant industrial smokestack emissions, the burning of fossil fuels, or a sea of vehicles in gridlock traffic spewing carbon monoxide? Perhaps you visualize the thick, smoggy haze that blankets big cities? Or maybe you imagine the effects of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide in the form of acid rain?

Whatever comes to mind when thinking about air pollution levels, chances are you think about it being outside and away from you, right?

Well, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the air quality in your home can be two to five times worse than outdoor air quality. It’s a detriment to human health — on the inside.

Let’s talk about ambient air pollution and what you can do to get a breath of fresh air.

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What Is Ambient Air?

Simply put, ambient air is the air in our outdoor environment. It’s what humans and animals breathe. But that’s not all — plants and other organisms need it for survival too.

More often than not, ambient air is about 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, with the extra one percent composed of a combination of:

  • Helium
  • Carbon
  • Methane
  • Hydrogen
  • Argon

That said, the closer the air is to sea level, the greater the concentrations of oxygen. Sometimes, humans get in the way of these percentages. Human environmental interaction often causes significant and lasting changes to the quality of the air, which contributes to the negative health effects that come with that air quality change.

Manufacturing processes and the burning of fossil fuels have directly impacted ambient air quality by releasing high levels of industrial chemical pollutants into the atmosphere. Although manufacturing companies undergo air quality monitoring, safety standards vary by location and industry.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, released the Clean Air Act guidelines for ambient air back in 1980. In 2015, the EPA changed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone, but it wasn’t necessarily a step forward.

The content and quality of air are directly affected by the day-to-day activities of humans, and in turn, ambient air quality has a direct effect on both public health and the welfare of the Earth’s many ecosystems.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, poor ambient air pollution is no small thing. It’s a general public health crisis behind roughly 6 percent of lung cancer deaths, 19 percent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths, and 32 percent of ischaemic heart disease and stroke, according to WHO data.

The bottom line is that ambient air quality is a public health concern.

The problem doesn’t only lie in the air you breathe outside. It’s mostly the air you breathe indoors.

What Affects Indoor Ambient Air Quality?

Believe it or not, indoor air pollution is one of the world’s largest environmental problems.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the levels of indoor air pollutants are often up to five times higher than outdoor levels. In some cases, these levels can exceed more than 100 times that of outdoor levels of the same pollutants.

In simpler terms, the air inside your home can be much more harmful than the air outside. As you may have guessed, this can cause many potential health problems.

So, what affects indoor ambient air quality, you ask? Here are some of the top culprits.

Manufacturing and Construction

Due to popular construction methods, outdoor air pollution can become trapped inside our homes. In a way, we almost “seal in” the bad outdoor air.

What’s more, standard building materials, such as paint, varnishes, adhesives, sealants, upholstery, and flooring, are known to produce harmful gasses called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Once these chemicals are in our homes, they are released into the air we constantly breathe. This isn’t good by any means, as breathing in low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase the risk of certain health problems such as asthma and even different types of cancer.

That’s why Neoplants target harmful VOCs. Neoplants are bioengineered to remove toxins like Benzene, Toluene, Xylene, and Formaldehyde from the air so that you can breathe a little easier.

Natural Disasters

Not every cause of ambient air is human-caused. When a natural disaster strikes, such as a hurricane, wildfire, or flash flood, the particle pollution it produces has the potential to get inside your home.

These particles can increase the levels of indoor particulate matter in the air. Breathing in large amounts of this harmful substance is extremely irritating to the lungs. It can even cause long-term damage over time.

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How Can You Improve Indoor Ambient Air Quality?

Considering the average human being spends somewhere around 90 percent of their time indoors, it almost goes without saying that the quality of indoor air is important.

You may not be able to control the manufacturing processes or natural weather conditions occurring around you, but you can make a difference in your own home.

We have a few tips to help you improve the indoor ambient air quality of your home.

Reduce Indoor Allergens

Rugs, carpets, and cozy linens do more than increase the comfort of your home — they act as their own air filters, trapping dust and other particles in their many fibers. Over time, these fabrics can cause a problem for anyone with allergies or sensitivities to things like animal dander or dust.

Clean your rugs, carpets, linens, and bedding regularly. Vacuum or dry clean the linens in your home often to help improve your air quality overall.

Improve Air Ventilation

Ventilation draws in fresh air from outside to help improve air circulation and dilute the number of harmful particles in the home. Opening windows is a great idea if the weather allows it.

You can also place fans in windows to blow potentially contaminated air out and pull new fresh air in.

Purify Your Indoor Air

Dust and pollen particles can be microscopic, making them nearly impossible to clean. Fortunately, we have air purifiers. These air purifying machines aim to trap and remove almost 100 percent of pollutants. They pull in dirty air, filter it, and release it back out into the room. It’s cleaner and fresher. Sort of.

Air purifiers have a catch. You need to swap out filters on a regular basis. While they can help take out particulate matter, VOCs are far too small to filter out. No air filter has ever been scientifically shown to reduce VOCs in real life conditions. What’s more, air purifiers can actually contribute to indoor air pollution due to their constant “on” state and partial reactions producing toxic byproducts.

While it’s difficult to control the outdoor environment, taking steps to reduce your contact with allergens inside your home is a simple and effective way to help potentially reduce asthma attacks or alleviate allergy symptoms.

Removing airborne particles, such as pollen, dust, and pet dander, may help reduce the risk of an allergy flare-up, so an air purifier can be a useful tool in your battle against allergens and, ultimately, ambient air pollution indoors.

We understand that you might not want to add a bulky, noisy, outdated air purifying machine to your interior space. This is why we started Neoplants, the first generation of bioengineered plants that fight air pollution. Neoplants are science-backed and proven to clean your home’s air (which is more than can be said for plug-in air purifiers).

The Future of Indoor Air Quality

When it comes to maintaining quality ambient air, what solutions do you have?

You can live with your windows open all year long, which, let’s be honest, might not be the most convenient.

You can buy an air purifier to catch particulate matter, although a lot of air purifiers have been proven to pollute more air than they purify.

You can also buy houseplants, but you’d need a ton of them to have any impact, which is a good idea if you want to turn your bedroom into a greenhouse (though again, not very practical otherwise!)

Regular houseplants are fantastic, beautiful organisms, but they are too slow at capturing pollutants. In most cases, they don’t know what to do with those pollutants, which makes them pretty much useless in a normal home setting. (sorry to break the myth!).

At Neoplants, we have combined 35+ years of postdoctoral experience in many fields of biology to develop the first generation of plants bioengineered to capture and eliminate VOCs with unprecedented efficiency.

That way, instead of adding another machine to your home, you can just enjoy a kick-ass plant: beautiful and useful.

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to believe that the air quality outside is far worse than the air quality inside. After all, we can see the effects of acid rain, smell exhaust, and might even hold our breath when we pass a semi-truck spewing thick clouds of black smoke ahead of us in traffic.

Yet, indoor quality is even worse. According to experts, the levels of indoor air pollutants are up to five times greater than outdoor levels. Our current ways of improving air quality aren’t all that great. Since we spend most of our time inside, it makes sense to improve our indoor air situation, using nature as technology and a source of innovation.

Using synthetic biology to develop the first indoor plant that can effectively purify the ambient air in your home,

If you too believe it’s about time we start working with nature instead of consuming it, and if you want to join us on our mission, click here to stay in the loop about all things Neoplants as we bring to life this radically new way of breathing fresher air.

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Ambient Air - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics

What is Ambient Air? | All The Science

What is Welfare? | Historical Index

Air pollution | WHO

Indoor Air Pollution | Our World in Data

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in Your Home | EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Study: Indoor air cleaners fall short on removing volatile organic compounds | MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Which houseplants should you buy to purify air? None of them | National Geographic