Water and Air: two essential elements that human life depends on. While we have been — and continue to be — focused on the purity of the water we drink, there are few guidelines established to enforce indoor air quality. This is a major problem, as poor IAQ is creating a breeding environment for chronic illnesses across the country. So why standards for water and not air?
How Drinking Water Standards Gained Mainstream Acceptance
When we choose drinking water for ourselves and families, we are generally reluctant to drink anything that is not filtered. We frown on our children drinking from a garden hose for fear of contaminants such as lead, antimony, bromine, organotin, phthalates, BPA, mold bacteria, and possibly the unexpected frog or two!
We have advanced water purity to the point that even our refrigerators offer a form of water filtration. We purchase filters for our faucets and reusable bottles — and let’s not forget the 15 BILLION dollars in plastic bottled water sales. This alone should sum up the story of how important the water we drink is to us. But it wasn’t always like this.
The focus on water quality came about through government regulation (and for good reason). When public health issues threaten the security of citizens, it falls on the appropriate government agency to enact laws for their protection.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), was enacted in 1974 to protect our drinking water by setting legal limits on Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs). These limits apply to over 100 contaminants, and the limits are updated every 6 years. When the EPA determines that a contaminant warrants regulation, the SDWA directs the EPA to propose a “national primary drinking water regulation” and request public comment within 24 months. Within 18 months of the proposal, the EPA is required to promulgate a final rule. As a part of the proposal, the EPA is required to establish a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG). This is the level at which no known or anticipated adverse health effects occur, allowing for an adequate margin of safety.
Pure Air and Water are Essential Now and for Future Generations
While lack of clean water is a source of outrage for people across the country, many people don’t understand that drinking contaminated water is no less dangerous than breathing contaminated air. Here is the issue. The inside air we breathe is not monitored with any regulation or recommendations, so it is imperative to understand the impact our current air can have on our health.
Just like water, the impact includes both short and long-term health problems. However, unlike the Safe Drinking Water Act, there are currently no set guidelines or enforceable standards for our indoor air quality (IAQ). In fact, there are barely recommendations of what is considered clean air for us to breathe and those “recommendations” that are in place are in most cases impossible, or unsustainable for most facilities to achieve or implement.
Most People Spend More Time Indoors Than Outside
We spend 90% of our time indoors breathing in more than 2,000 gallons, or 8,000 liters of air, per day, so you might think that there would have to be some enforceable action to quantify “quality indoor air.” Sadly, there isn’t — even though poor IAQ is one of the many reasons we have seen continuous spread of disease, increased cardiovascular issues, and respiratory illness, the true issue just isn’t being appropriately addressed.
So, if the air we breathe is not being treated how are we to address indoor contaminants? Why does it seem the air quality is continuously ignored? It may be a lack of understanding or, an incomprehensive ignorance regarding a very concerning and increasing national health problem. Or, could it be the lack of guidance, regulations and standards for us to follow? Whatever the right answer is, it must be addressed.
If only we could see the invisible pollution that we breathe every day, then perhaps there would be a public demand for enforceable IAQ standards on par with the demand for clean water. But, since we are fighting an invisible enemy it is hard to quantify the pollution we are exposed to.
We are continually promoting measures to address outdoor air pollution due to human activity and global warming, which the “Clean Air Act” was meant to address. The act has unfortunately, been diluted for political advantages over the years.
According to the UN, “the number of premature deaths resulting from ambient air pollution is estimated to be on track to increase by more than 50 percent by 2050.”
Even if we started today, our outdoor air cleanup would take decades to accomplish despite the fact that we have EPA legislation that is supposed to guide us. Additionally with a clear lack of vision, the Clean Air Act never included the regulation of indoor air quality.
Solutions to Put IAQ at the Forefront Now
In addition to air pollution concerns that have been voiced aggressively since the 1970s (with little effect), one would think that we have learned enough over the last 20 months regarding the importance of IAQ. Was the shutdown of the entire country — and world — not enough to reinforce that our biggest contributor to airborne disease is poor air quality?
To add fuel to the fire, include the emergency evacuations that occurred recently due to the increase of wildfire smoke, as well as the increased absenteeism in our school system due to respiratory illness.
All the warning signs of unacceptable IAQ are there and have been for a long time. What is being done today? What are the solutions?
CDC Offers Advice, Not Concrete Solutions
We know from the CDC and other advising organizations that the rational answer is to upgrade ventilation systems in order to increase air changes for adequate dilution — but this is challenging and costly, and at times it’s less effective than one would think. So what is the best solution?
The simplest answer is tried and true commercial HEPA air filtration used in coordination with proper air directionality, processed air flow, and proven efficacy of performance in real-world settings.
Beware imposters. To date, there are no emerging technologies on the market that can replace this tried-and-true system. Most newcomer air filtration products have been proven ineffective. In fact, there are many studies proving more harm than good caused by non-proven, unscientific claims. What has, however, been constantly proven is the effectiveness of a legitimate air filtration system that cleans the air by ridding it of any contaminants, trapping the pollutants in a non-woven material and dispersing purified air back into the room.
Not All Systems Are Created Equal
All systems are not created equal, and it is extremely important to do your research and know that residential systems were never intended to meet the load demand seen in a commercial setting. Though inexpensive and very easy to put in place, these systems will not address the airborne pollution appropriately. Yes, they’ll filter allergens, large particles, and dust, but that is the limit of their effectiveness and a warning to all reviewing these systems as they may not capture some of the biggest threats floating in the air we breathe and in fact may contribute to a more turbulent environment increasing potential exposure risks.
The greatest risk are the tiny, aerosolized particles in the 0.1 – 5 micron range. These tiny particles are associated with both short and long-term health effects, and any air filtration system must be equipped to capture them. The key factors to achieving a capture efficiency and actual load concentration reduction is proper air flow, placement, and the right filtration size and rating.
Realizing the Inevitable and Going Forward
Now is the time to demand the implementation of regulations to ensure that the air we breathe meets the same (if not higher) standards than the water we drink.
As we reviewed with the conflicts involving the SWDA and the Clean Air Act, there will always be opposition to beneficial legislation for the good of the general public by industrial business lobbyists, politicians, and others that will impede the progress, so desperately needed, of clean air initiatives. While we wait for others to take action, commercial enterprise leads the way with verified, available solutions for IAQ TODAY.