The great indoor/outdoor toxic-air debate: Which one’s worse?

Certainly air inside can be more toxic than air outside.

Here is what I mean. In “Indoor air pollution far more problematic than previously suspected,” I referenced an Apr. 5, 2013 press release of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with the title: “World Health Day: Climate and Clean Air Coalition Targets Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution.”

I went on to write:

320px-Maple_syrup_evaporator_-_Beaver_Meadow_Audubon_Center[1]“The release opens up with information about air pollution health dangers and how large a problem polluted air is. When I say large what I really mean is the number of premature deaths attributed to unhealthy air there are.

“‘As one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental initiatives, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) renewed its call today for rapid action to reduce some of the greatest hazards to human health,’ noted the UNEP.

“‘According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the health dangers presented by air pollution are far larger than previously thought.’”

Then I cited some glaring WHO estimations: 3.5 million early deaths annually from household air-pollution-related causes and slightly fewer premature deaths per year attributed to pollution out of doors – 3.3 million.

That was followed a couple of paragraphs later by this: “‘Indoor air pollution alone is the leading risk factor for burden of disease (years of life lost combined with years lived at less than full health) in South Asia. It is ranked second in Eastern, Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa, and third in South East Asia.’”

There, it’s settled, right? No, not quite. It could just be that the concentration of polluted air inside the home in those cases where such resulted in premature death was higher, compared to situations where outdoor air pollution was the leading factor related to such early death. In other cases, it could be both indoor and outdoor air are to blame, perhaps the indoor air element being the stronger influence of the two.

Key determination: Before any definitive conclusions can be drawn on which air is more toxic, that question needs to be asked keeping things in their proper perspective.

Getting – and staying – with the ‘programs’

Just in case not everyone is aware, I live in one of the most air-polluted regions in the entire U.S. – California’s San Joaquin Valley. The area geography/topography and meteorology make the Valley conducive to forming and trapping toxic air pollution. The bottom land is surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides – the east, west and south. Warm temperature inversions hold ozone close to the ground in spring, summer and fall, and fine and ultra-fine particulates during colder climes. The toxic brew can stew for days, weeks and sometimes months at a time.

Now add to this that yesterday (Nov. 30, 2015) marked the beginning of the 21st annual Conference of the Parties (COP-21) climate summit in Paris, France. I was hungry for news related to conference progress.

So, beginning at 5 p.m. P.S.T. (Pacific Standard Time), I turned on the T.V. to catch whatever news there was regarding the climate summit. On one of the news broadcasts focusing primarily on local issues, about 10 minutes into the program, I listened and watched intently to a report having to do with the Paris summit. This would be one among several aired that evening.

Then, as expected, at 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the major national news broadcasts, COP-21 of course was a main news story on three – count ‘em – three different networks. These were followed by a second, additional local broadcast. No news source dropped the ball.

Related to and just ahead of the last local broadcast, perhaps as a climate-conference tie-in, there was a special segment whereby one area T.V. news personality was chatting one-on-one with an area home interior expert who was seemingly well-versed on inside-the-home air-quality matters. Not yet too deep into the discussion, the expert made the declaration that air inside the home is more toxic than the air outside. My first reaction, Really, I thought?! Why would air inside the home be more poisonous than what air outside the home would be? I could see where there is a carbon monoxide leak could definitely be a problem, but there are carbon monoxide detectors to monitor for that. Okay, what about the presence of radon gas? Could this possibly be at what the invited expert was hinting?

Okay. In getting back to the so-called “expert’s” use of the word “toxic,” that word to me is synonymous with the word “poisonous.” Upon hearing the particular declaration that air inside the home is more toxic than outdoor air, well, needless to say, it seems prudent, responsible that that should have been followed up with further explanation. What I remember hearing instead was a second declaration coming of how this need not be the case at all, of course not, the expert then going on to relate that by means of available consultative services, this person could assist the interested listener/viewer get assistance in terms of this inside-the-household issue getting addressed.

In reflecting back I recall reading a report once where information presented stressed that the air outside is 75 percent more polluted than that which is typically found in the home.

Fireplace_Burning[1]And right now I can’t help but think about all of those cold-weather days when fireplace and woodstove activity ramps up and in stepping outside and upon inhaling the wood-smoke-tainted air, my response is to then do an about-face and retreat to the indoors to escape the wafting smoke that my sense of smell tells me is indeed unhealthy to breathe and also as it has to do with this discussion, how interior air, hands-down, outside versus in, rules – there is simply no comparing the two!

In fact, when I am able to smell the air indoors, it is on account of cooking, cleaning, bathroom use … well, you get the idea.

Air that’s fresh and clean

Missouri_River_breaks[1]Honestly, if in living in a location where there is pristine air and even in cases where outdoor air is anything but up to snuff, what with circumstances being such that indoor air would become toxic, then, yes, I could definitely see interior air being “more” toxic than that which is external to the home.

That said, in more cases than not, outdoor air is worse.

And, where it is often anything but

Which, reminds me: In listening/viewing the news reports yesterday related to the summit going on in Paris, there were some related news items that dealt with China’s and India’s miasmic air condition right now those countries are wrestling with.

In the news article having to do with China’s toxic air, the correspondent regarding one of the reports remarked that if a person did not need to be outside in the mucked-up atmosphere, the recommendation was to remain indoors.

Bottom image above: Bureau of Land Management

– Alan Kandel