Health x Wellness

Poor indoor air quality can affect our overall health

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Air pollution can impact everyone. Many people can spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, and this impacts the individual’s total daily exposure to air pollutants within their indoor environment.

According to the EPA, indoor air can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Some of our common activities such as cooking, playing with our pets and caring for our plants could be potential sources of air pollutants.

Those most at risk of suffering or triggering a negative incident are pregnant women, children, older people and those with chronic respiratory conditions, for example, asthma. In Singapore, 24 percent of the population suffers from some form of allergic rhinitis and 1 in 5 children have asthma.

It is important for us to pay attention to the air that we are breathing, especially when air pollution might not be visible.

We discussed this challenge of poor indoor air quality and the impact on health with Ms. Ipek Akinci, Country Manager, Singapore, Malaysia, and Emerging Markets, Philips Domestic Appliances.

the Active Age (AA): What is the state of air pollution in Singapore, and where does the situation intersect with our lives in homes, and offices?

Ms. Ipek Akinci (IA): According to the Department of Statistics Singapore, the air quality in 2021 was in the ‘Good’ and ‘Moderate’ range for 99.5 percent of the year. While that is a promising statistic for Singapore, a study done by the World Health Organization (WHO) within that same year revealed that not a single country managed to meet WHO’s air quality standard in 2021, signifying the urgent need to address air quality in Singapore and globally.

Air pollution from outside can seep through windows and doors, hence its impact on our lives in homes and offices is profound.

In our recently published Clean Air White Paper, we’ve found that people spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors – that, together with the fact that most of the air pollution that we are exposed to occurs in the indoor environment, makes it even more vital for us to pay attention to our indoor air quality.

AA: Is there a common definition of clean air, either indoors or outdoors, that should be used as a standard for HCPs and the public?

IA: While there is no consensus on the definition of clean air, the WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines (AQG) are an internationally recognized and rigorous set of guidelines that are backed by scientific findings and health studies.

According to the WHO, air pollution is the contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that affects the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) in Singapore also uses the WHO’s AQG guidelines as a benchmark for its air quality targets and has proposed working towards achieving the WHO AQGs for all air pollutants in the long term.

AA: Why do we measure total daily exposure to air pollutants, and not the one-time high/spike exposure (for e.g., with the haze issue from past years)?

IA: One-time high exposure to air pollutants, such as the haze in Singapore, are seasonal changes to air pollution. The Ministry of Health also reported that routine haze events can have minimal impact on air quality in Singapore, therefore it is not a good indication of the country’s day-to-day air pollution levels.

Instead, measuring the total daily exposure to air pollutants allows us to better assess the level of pollution in relation to the ambient and indoor air quality standards, giving us a more accurate picture of air quality overall. This is especially important in places like Singapore, where air pollution is not visible.

AA: Can you share your opinion about an individual being exposed to air pollutants at home, and how does that differ from the common understanding from the public?

IA: Most individuals are not aware that indoor air can in fact be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, which raises concerns over the lack of measures that individuals are taking to protect their health and wellness at home and placing importance on clean indoor air.

AA: How do air purifiers work to reduce the impact of air pollutants indoors?

IA: Air purifiers with HEPA filters have been shown to improve indoor air quality and the ability to effectively reduce air pollutant levels in the home and other indoor spaces. From our Clean Air White Paper, it was found that air purifiers with HEPA filters were able to reduce levels of airborne allergens in homes by as much as 60 percent, as well as improving the allergic symptoms of adults and children who suffered from allergic rhinitis and/or conjunctivitis. Using air purifiers with HEPA filters as the primary mechanism of air cleaning also offers several advantages over other air cleaning methods, such as vacuuming.

Our Philips Air Purifiers (depending on the models) have a unique three-layer HEPA filter system that removes 99.97 percent of ultrafine particles as small as 0.003 microns, protecting our consumers from bacteria, pollen, dust, pet hair and flakes, gas and other pollutants. The NanoProtect HEPA filters capture aerosols including those which may contain respiratory viruses. It has been tested independently by airmid health-group to remove up to 99.9% of viruses and aerosols from the air and has also been tested for coronavirus.

indoor air quality
3000i Series Air Purifier for XL Rooms

We have also built-in innovative technologies into the devices, including a smart sensor that scans the air to detect ultrafine particles, reporting air quality in real time and intelligently choosing the right purifying speed. Thanks to its energy efficient design, the air purifier runs at maximum 55 W power. This is equivalent to one standard light bulb. These are our efforts in providing our consumers with easy solutions to ensure a happier and healthier home.  

AA: Where is the gap in understanding the impact of air pollutants with HCPs, and in your opinion, what can be done to bridge it?

IA: From the Philips Clean Air White Paper roundtable meeting that was conducted by Philips Domestic Appliances, it was found that there was a lack of awareness of the impact of air pollutants among HCPs, especially in areas where air pollution is not visible. According to the WHO, even at relatively low concentrations, the burden of air pollution on health is significant. Thus, effective management of air quality is vital to reduce health risks.

While research is critical in boosting our knowledge and understanding of the subject, I believe that to bridge the gap with HCPs, more discussions and sharing sessions must be conducted so that the HCP community is aware of the impacts of air pollutants on public health.

And that is our goal here at Philips Domestic Appliances and the reason why we’ve engaged subject experts and developed the Clean Air White Paper. We strive to not just create awareness but also educate HCPs and the public on the importance of good and clean indoor air quality, what contributes to indoor air pollution, as well as the steps they can take to ensure that they are breathing healthy air. And all these efforts tie back to our mission of ensuring a healthy home for all.

Pictures attributed to Philips Domestic Appliances and Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash