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How poor air quality impacts the environments we live and work in

Poor air quality is a serious health issue both indoors and outside with exposure to air pollution causing an estimated seven million premature deaths every year

As the song says, sometimes all we need is the air that we breathe. But not if that air is polluted.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, right up there alongside climate change.

Yet the problem is that we are so immersed in it, literally, that we don’t see dangers the air we breathe can contain – and not just because they are mostly invisible.

New WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) provide clear evidence of the damage air pollution causes to human health, and at even lower concentrations than previously known.


As if they weren’t harmful enough to our lungs, some of them also contribute to climate change.

In fact, exposure to air pollution causes an estimated seven million premature deaths every single year. You only have to compare that to the cumulative death toll of Covid-19 - at just under five million people in two years - to see how sobering that figure is.

Poor air quality risks

Poor air quality can lead to reduced lung growth and function in children, as well as respiratory infections and aggravated asthma.

In adults, ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature death attributable to outdoor air pollution. Evidence is also emerging of other effects such as diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions.

This puts air pollution on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking.

Among the worst offenders are classical pollutants such as particulate matter (PM), the kind generated by traffic fumes and the microscopic bits of rubber that fly off as car tyres wear down.

Other pollutants include nitrogen and sulfur dioxides, from things like traffic fumes, tobacco smoke or inadequately vented ovens, water heaters and fireplaces.

If Covid has taught us anything, it is the risk involved in breathing contaminated air

Carbon monoxide can be released by any fuel when it’s burning and, being colourless and odourless, can lead to loss of consciousness and death. Every year in Ireland six people die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Some particulates don’t just penetrate deep into the lungs but enter the bloodstream, affecting other organs. In fact particulate matter was classified as carcinogenic in 2013 by the WHO.

If Covid has taught us anything, it is the risk involved in breathing contaminated air. The use of masks has also taught us the importance of filtering out some of that danger.

More high-tech solutions can help too. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin’s Air Pollution Research Group are working with courier company DPD Ireland to monitor air quality in Dublin, using smart sensors on buildings and delivery vans.

The information gathered is shared with Dublin City Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Asthma Society of Ireland and the public, who can use it to check air quality in their street.

Indoor air quality

Given concerns over the level of outdoor pollution, it may surprise you to learn that a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that indoor air quality, in both our homes and commercial buildings, such as the offices many of us are now returning to, can be more seriously polluted than outdoor air, even in the largest and most industrialised cities.

The fact that we typically spend more than 90 per cent of our time indoors compounds the issue.

Indoors pollution sources are those that release gases or particulates into the air, exacerbated by inadequate ventilation. High temperatures or humidity levels can increase the concentrations of some pollutants too.

The solution is to eliminate or control the source of pollution, increase ventilation, and install air cleaning devices

Pet dander and dust, especially from carpets and soft furnishings, can cause problems. Mould, caused by condensation or damp, or by drying clothes in unventilated spaces, can lead to respiratory infections.

Household cleaning products, solvents, paint strippers and pesticides are common culprits whose use can leave high pollutant concentrations hanging in the air for extended periods. Scented candles can affect people with asthma and allergies.

In apartments and office buildings problems can arise as a result of contaminated ventilation systems, poorly placed outdoor air intakes, or faulty or ineffective equipment.

The solution is to eliminate or control the source of pollution, increase ventilation, and install air cleaning devices.

Given that a resting adult inhales and exhales around 13kg of air each day (compared with 5kg of food and drink) the quality of that air is vital to maintaining health and wellness.

The solutions

The good news is that there are steps that individuals, landlords and employers can all take to help.

Firstly, simply change the kind of cleaning products you use, and if possible, use them with the windows open. At home, use an extractor fan when having a bath or shower, keep appliances well serviced and get a carbon monoxide monitor.

Consider fitting a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system, which sucks out air from the most polluted rooms, such as kitchens and bathrooms, and supplies fresh clean air to the rooms we spend most time in, such as living rooms and bedrooms.

Mitsubishi Electric has launched a residential version of its Lossnay range of mechanical ventilation with heat recovery systems, to provide homes with clean and healthy air.

It is super-quiet, and designed to supply fresh air into any building while simultaneously extracting stale air. It also, importantly, recovers valuable heat energy for maximum efficiency.

For commercial buildings, Mitsubishi Electric’s Plasma Quad Technology is a purifying device that significantly improves indoor air quality in everything from offices to hotels and schools.

It works by neutralising key indoor pollutants such as viruses and bacteria, allergens, microscopic particles, dust and mould. It also inhibits 99.8 per cent of Sars Cov-2, providing peace of mind, and can be a cost effective bolt-on to both new and existing Mitsubishi Electric air conditioning systems.

Because Mitsubishi Electric’s products are among the most energy efficient solutions of their kind, designed to help reduce carbon emissions, that in turn helps improve outdoor air quality too – a virtuous circle.

Whatever steps we take as we see the return to office working, head back to school, or simply retreat to our homes for the long winter nights, the biggest risk is not to look at the air around us, just because it’s invisible.

Sure we are a species of unconscious breathers. But more than ever we know can’t take the air we breathe for granted.

To find out more about Mitsubishi Electric Ireland and its solutions to tackle indoor air quality visit youtube.com

*The effectiveness against inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 by 99.8 per cent is derived from and subject to test results, for and on behalf of Mitsubishi Electric, conducted at the Microbial Testing Laboratory, Japan Textile Quality and Technology Centre, Kobe, Japan.