The thought of “air pollution” conjures images of smog, smoke and thick, low clouds of car exhaust. None of these things are of particular concern here in the Cayman Islands, where the prevailing trade winds swoop any air pollution away from the small islands and out to sea.
However, residents of the Cayman Islands suffer from air pollution just like everyone else; it’s just not where they might expect.
“Many indoor environments are more polluted than outdoor environments. This is something many people don’t know,” said Richard Tyson, engineering technical officer for the Department of Environmental Health during a workshop on indoor air quality he and colleague Shavonnie Hislop presented to Dart Group employees on Sept. 5. The workshop was the first of a series to be presented by the Department of Environmental Health that has been planned by Dart’s Health & Safety Department for employees.
Tyson noted that since people on average spend 90 per cent of their lives indoors, it is important to have clean indoor air because a number of health issues, including lung cancer, heart disease and a variety of respiratory illnesses, have been directly linked to indoor air pollution. Those health ailments often lead to reduced work productivity.
Many indoor environments are more polluted than outdoor environments.Richard Tyson, Department of Environmental Health engineering officer
Some of the obvious kinds of indoor air pollution can include cigarette smoke and cooking stoves, but often the sources of indoor air pollution are not so apparent, Tyson said. Other forms of indoor air pollution include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, odours, mould and other volatile organic compounds, gases like nitrogen, ozone and radon, and particulates.
“Fifty per cent of pneumonia deaths in children under five are due to particulate matter inhaled from indoor air pollution,” said Tyson.
Although places at high risk of indoor air pollution — like industrial premises, healthcare centres, laboratories and cigar bars — have stringent guidelines for mitigating pollutants, people living or working in “normal” environments like households and offices often do not pay as close attention to the risks. Indoor air pollutants can come from seemingly innocuous sources like common dust, deodorisers, cleaning solvents, pest control chemicals, the gases released by some new carpeting and paints, microfibres and building fabrics, pollen, pet hair and dander, and even the occupants of an indoor space if they have a communicable disease.
Sometimes the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems themselves can cause disease if they’re not maintained properly, Tyson said, citing Legionnaires’ disease — which is caused by a bacteria that can contaminate air conditioners and ductwork — as an example.
Since long-term exposure to indoor air pollutants can cause serious health issues, Tyson said it is important to try and improve indoor air quality in homes and offices, even if symptoms are not noticeable.
“And it’s also important not to minimise the short-term effects of indoor air pollution.”
There are four key strategies for indoor air quality mitigation, Tyson said. Those include removal or isolation of the source; devices that clean the air; exposure control; and ventilation.
With regard to ventilation, sometimes it’s as easy as as opening the windows of your home.
“It’s important to let some fresh air into indoor spaces,” he said, noting that the effects of carbon dioxide, which include drowsiness and lethargy, can be felt when the air has as little as 2,000 parts per million.