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Outdoor and indoor pollution during confinement

During the confinement linked to the covid-19 epidemic, road traffic decreases, many businesses are at a standstill, and many of us are forced to stay at home. However, do we breathe better air for our health? Focus on outdoor pollution and indoor pollution during the confinement period.

Containment:less polluted outdoor air?

In China, confinement has radically reduced outdoor air pollution , in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2). This country, whose economy favors the rapid development of the production industry, had to shut down most of its highly polluting factories. In France, the improvement in air quality following containment measures is less obvious.

The waltz of pollutants during confinement

The pollution measurements recorded by the Approved Air Quality Monitoring Associations (AASQA) show a positive impact on air quality:certain pollutants are decreasing, such as those from transport. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) , a polluting gas emitted by the exhaust of vehicles, are decreasing around the main roads by 30 to 60%. Certain concentrations of fine particles, whose diameter is less than 10 micrometers (PM10 ), can decrease by up to -30%.

However, outside road traffic areas, the AASQAs do not note a significant decrease in outdoor air pollution. These approved associations explain this phenomenon in several points:

  • The concentration of pollutants in the air is highly dependent on weather conditions . The significant sunshine of recent weeks and the increase in temperatures are responsible for the formation of fine particles from gas and nitrogen oxide. Weak winds lead to stagnation of polluting particles. We are dealing with a spring pollution episode despite the decrease in road traffic.
  • Pollution due to wood heating increased during the month of March in certain regions with confinement, despite the average rise in temperatures, especially in the evening.
  • In some regions, AASQAs note an increase in agricultural pollutants due to spreading, in particular ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) and ammonia (NH3).

Pollution, a health risk

Exposure to a high level of pollution is a real danger to everyone's health.

The risks of pollution for the respiratory tract

polluting particles cause irritation and inflammation of the respiratory tissues and weaken them. The respiratory mucous membranes no longer play their barrier effect and allow more pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi to pass through. Pollution is also considered to be a factor of aggravation of the impacts during the contagion of covid-19 .

A 2003 study published in the journal Environmental Health looked at China. Chinese people living in highly polluted areas had an 84% higher risk of dying from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) compared to people living in low-polluted areas of China.

Did you know that respiratory allergies caused by allergens are aggravated by chemical and physical pollutants? For more information, read our article:Indoor and outdoor pollution:the differences and the risks.

In the longer term, pollution can promote the appearance of pathologies such as asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

Other health risks of pollution

Polluting particles also penetrate the body more easily and affect blood vessels and heart function in the longer term. They also promote many chronic pathologies such as diabetes or high blood pressure. The International Agency for Research against Cancer (IARC) has even classified outdoor pollution as a whole as "certain carcinogen" because it promotes the occurrence and development of certain cancers.

Containment, exposure to indoor pollution

At home or at work, we spend 80% of our time indoors. In times of confinement, this percentage increases further. Our interiors are polluted by many substances that are concentrated more than outside.

Different indoor pollutants

Our homes concentrate many pollutants. We find in particular:

  • Tobacco is the first pollutant present in homes. It contains more than 4000 chemical substances and more than 50 potentially carcinogenic substances according to Tabac-info-service. The smoker is not the only one to be subjected to the pollution of the tobacco:all his close relations undergo passive smoking when smoking indoors. Tobacco pollutants diffuse for a long time in the premises because they permeate all the fabrics. According to INPES, 5,000 people die each year from passive smoking!
  • The burning of incense , scented candles , or spraying deodorizing sprays are sometimes identified as sources of polluting gases and polluting particles. After a study on exposure to pollutants emitted by incense and scented candles, the ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency) recommends moderate consumption of incense and scented candles, as well as the systematic ventilation of the premises after combustion. INPES even recommends avoiding them. Body deodorant sprays and lacquer sprays also emit gaseous pollution.
  • Radon is an odorless radioactive gas that comes from underground and accumulates in homes. It is particularly present in areas at risk:Auvergne, Limousin, Franche-Comté and Corsica are the regions most subject to the accumulation of radon in homes. However, the whole territory is exposed to different intensities! Consult the page of the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety to find out the radon potential of your municipality.
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas resulting from combustion in poorly maintained boilers in particular. It is responsible for serious or even fatal poisoning by replacing oxygen in the body once inspired. According to INPES, France has 5,000 carbon monoxide poisonings each year.
  • Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) from the combustion of coal and fuel oil.
  • Solvents , in particular formaldehyde, emanate from paints, parquet floors, or even chipboard furniture...
  • Phthalates plastics and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
  • The household products release many volatile substances.
  • The allergens are microscopic particles capable of causing allergies. They come from pets but also from insects such as cockroaches that can colonize our interiors, or dust mites that inhabit our bedding, carpets, dust... and pollen plants, considered as biological pollutants. For more information, read our article on respiratory allergy.
  • Mold take advantage of a certain degree of humidity to develop (on the walls in the event of a thermal bridge for example, or in a bathroom, a kitchen, or an insufficiently ventilated room).

Outdoor and indoor pollution during confinement

Fight indoor pollution to preserve your health

The Sars-Cov-2 virus, responsible for the covid-19 epidemic , is transmitted by droplets emitted by an infected individual when he coughs or sneezes. It could even be transmitted during a simple conversation with an infected person, if social distancing measures are not respected. However, you cannot catch covid-19 by bringing outside air inside your home.

During confinement, the recommendations for combating indoor pollution remain unchanged:

  • Do not block the vents provided in your accommodation, and do not block the controlled mechanical ventilation (VMC).
  • Ventilate your home at least 20 minutes windows wide open, if possible morning and evening. This advice is valid even in the event of a pollution peak because indoor pollution is always more concentrated than outdoors. Certain pollutants, present both outside and inside, are found on average 15 times more concentrated in our homes! Ideal early in the morning or after dark to reduce the entry of pollen. Supervise children when windows are open.
  • Do not smoke inside your home. The ideal would be to stop smoking, a risk factor for many pathologies. Tobacco is an aggravating factor for respiratory symptoms in people affected by covid-19. Watch the video "I quit smoking" from Tabac-info-service.
  • Perform a regular cleaning with a damp cloth to trap large particles, and with a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum cleaners equipped with HEPA filters are more efficient:they filter particles whose diameter is less than 0.3 micrometers. To reduce the fumes of detergents, you can replace them with the use of a steam cleaner that is just as effective thanks to moist heat. Be careful, however, to ventilate the premises after use. Also prefer white vinegar, baking soda or black soap for example. These natural products have proven themselves and cause much less pollution than synthetic detergents (especially in the presence of a pregnant or breastfeeding woman).
  • Wash bed linen regularly at 60°C . It is best to dry indoors during this pollen season, as with clothes, so that pollen does not settle on textiles. The drying room should be well ventilated. Using a dehumidifier is an interesting option.
  • Rinse your hair with water or shampoo before going to bed to get rid of pollen.

Confinement sometimes seems long, but it is also an opportunity to rethink your habits and adopt good reflexes to preserve your health by fighting indoor pollution.