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April 28, 2014

Indoor air quality under investigation

Homes are a dangerous place to be because of poor indoor air quality, but a new gizmo from Europe could help track the problem.

Respiratory illness costs Europe €102 billion a year due to inefficiency and absenteeism from work. Bad air quality causes fatigue, headaches and more serious reactions.

Levels of indoor pollution may be ten times higher than those outdoors, the European Lung Foundation said.

indoor air quality

In America the Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollution in the top-five environmental risks to public health. In Australia the CSIRO estimates that the cost of poor indoor air quality to be as high as $12 billion per year.

Despite this there is little research on the quality of air in homes, schools, recreational buildings, restaurants, public buildings, offices, or inside cars, the Australian Department of the Environment said.

But the Europeans are being proactive.

The IAQSENSE project aims to develop new nanotechnology-based sensor systems that will measure the composition of the air for chemical and bio contaminants.

If all goes to plan the new system will be small, low cost and adapted to mass production. It could even be available as a smart-phone based application, the European Union’s Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) announced.

Poor air quality can be caused by a large variety of so-called ‘volatile organic compounds’ in low concentrations, Claude Iroulart, IAQSENSE coordinator said.

Chemical air freshners, cleaning products and laundry powders can all emit VOCs. Unflued gas cookers and heaters, carpets, cars idling in attached garages, particle-board furniture and burning candles can all add to the level of nasties released into a home’s atmosphere.

Air quality testing is currently done using heavy, expensive equipment, and mainly relies on laboratory testing facilities.

But the three-year IAQSENSE project, officially called ‘nanotechnology-base sensors for environmental monitoring’, aims to monitor and improve indoor air quality in a particularly innovative way, Iroulart said.

Low-cost sensing equipment will deliver real time information about the environment and volatile pollutants.

The equipment will be located at fixed places – in the home and office and also in vehicles – and connected to a network of wireless sensors.

The IAQSENSE initiative will work like a spectrometer and allow high sensitivity and fast multi-gas detection in a way never seen before, Iroulart said.

“The control of indoor air quality and the related comfort it provides should have a huge societal impact on health, presence at work and economic-related factors,” he said.

Funding for the project from the EU is set to run till 2016.

If you can’t wait that long there are some simple steps to improving the indoor air-quality of a home of office. These include: keeping the place dry to reduce mould, promoting airflow, growing indoor plants, and using chemical-free cleaners.

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