For clean air indoors
There are two terminologies that are going hand in hand in the world of urban indoors today – air conditioning (AC) and indoor air quality (IAQ). The first refers to a great technological achievement on our part where we can control the natural indoor air to any temperature, humidity, ventilation or speed of flow that we desire. In total contrast, the second refers to a human failure in understanding what is a healthy indoor and ensuring it.
Construction chemicals are among the top offenders in interiors, mainly in paints, plasticizers, adhesives and varied kinds of plastic-based products, which slowly release toxic vapours into the air. These volatile compound-based pollutants result in adverse effects on the health of the occupants. Problems like headache, respiratory infections, allergies and nausea are routinely reported, though they may not sound like a major disease. Natural materials have been so dominantly replaced by artificial options today, even indoor experts are struggling to find newer ways of ensuring IAQ. Often people believe air conditioning is the solution, but possibly it is among the problems.
Among the senior consultants of air conditioning technology in India, Surendra Shah once comically said that air conditioning ensures 100 per cent cold air and 0 per cent fresh air. Quoting this line here is not to negate the idea of air conditioning which has become part of our lives even in villages now, but to realise what evils have we created in our pursuit of comforts and luxury. We may have to continue to promote it, but need to realise its negative implications and resolve them at the earliest.
The fact is air conditioning collects the heat from the warm stale air, cools it through systems of condensing and compressing to re-cool the air again. Fresh air does not come in like in a room with windows. The refrigeration system does not eliminate harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide. As such, if ventilation is ineffective, air quality also goes down. Majority of conditioned interiors, unfortunately, lack effective air change systems, breeding unhealthy chemical and microbial contaminations.
How does one identify the unhealthy conditions on interiors? We cannot be running lab tests on the air every week, but there could be symptoms like odour, signs of moisture, discolouring, fungus, molds, dirt accumulation or dusty surfaces that would shelter microbes. Carbon dioxide levels can be checked by simple equipment and detailed investigations can be undertaken if IAQ appears to going down.
Unfortunately, we do not have stringent standards for indoor air quality in India and no institutional systems to assess them. Even if we introduce them all, finally it is people who will have to comply with them. May be we can arrive at them and people will comply with Indoor Air Quality, but still better would be to increasingly live with nature, eliminating the root problem.