HA NOI — “Most people can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a smoky hut,” said Eva Rehfuess, of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, “it’s ten times worse than the most polluted cities.”
Rehfuess said that even the WHO was surprised by the magnitude of the problem. First addressed in the 2002 World Health Report, indoor air pollution was ranked, after water and sanitation, as one of the biggest environmental health risks in the developing world.
According to the WHO, health problems caused by indoor air pollution kill 2 million children each year.
- Do not smoke or burn coal inside the house
- Ensure sufficient air circulation (this will help reduce humidity and reduce the effects of harmful household chemicals)
- Avoid excessive humidity, not more than 50 per cent RH (relative humidity) in summer and 30 per cent in winter
- Repair and dry out water damage caused by leaks and flooding and immediately clean mould
- Use water-based paint instead of oil-based paint
- Clean air filters frequently
- Keep plants inside the house to reduce pollution and provide oxygen
- Restrict the use of carpets, which collect dust and allergens.
The most harmful and widespread contaminant of indoor air is tobacco smoke, followed by coal smoke. Many Vietnamese families save energy and money by burning different kinds of household coal, which is extremely harmful to lungs. Other sources of indoor air pollution include improperly maintained or vented combustion devices, such as gas or propane cooking stoves, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces.
Mold, dust mites and fumes from domestic chemicals can also cause a number of health problems.
“Mold growing in your home can release mold spores, toxins and bad odours,” says Do Hoang Oanh of the HCM City Department of Natural Resources and Environment, “harmful chemicals can be released from synthetic fabrics, furnishings and household products.”
At the office
Nguyen Thanh Huong, an office worker, complained that she sometimes gets headaches, irritated eyes and has trouble concentrating at work. She would never attribute these symptoms to the electric lighting in the office, but according to the HCM City Department of Natural Resources and Environment, strong light can make people tired and increase anxiety.
Air-conditioners, which run all day but are seldom cleaned, are also a significant source of air pollution.
“Air-conditioners should be cleaned often,” Oanh suggests. “Periodically, they should be turned off for cleaning and filtering dust and windows should be opened to let in fresh air.”
When people are exposed to pollutants over a long period of time they may begin to experience allergies, tiredness and serious diseases like lung cancer, asthma and dermatitis, Oanh warns. —