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Under the weather? Indoor pollution could be hurting you at home

Under the weather? Indoor pollution could be hurting you at home

Every so often — winter, Diwali — there’s talk of how smog and air pollution are hurting your lungs. But there’s a hidden danger to your health hiding in your home: indoor air pollution.

Within the glass confines of our office buildings and in poorly ventilated homes, you could be breathing in kitchen fumes, pest dander, even chemical traces from cleaning products.

“In a lot of homes, particularly in an urban jungle like Mumbai, the problem is worsened by lack of direct sunlight,” says architect Aravind Unni.

Call centre executive Rupali Gopal*, 25, for instance, has suffered repeated bouts of breathlessness, coughing and sniffling over the past six months.

“I never used to fall ill so frequently,” she says. Gopal and her colleagues eventually realised that their centrally air-conditioned workspace was to blame.

“There is hardly any ventilation and no openable windows,” says Nilesh Yevale*, 29. “As a result, we get no fresh air — and if one person falls ill, the virus keeps circulating.”

As the cost of commercial space skyrockets in Mumbai, companies tend to accommodate as many people as possible in a given area, says Pankaj Kapoor, director of realty consultancy Liases Foras. “Over the past 10 years, the average space per employee in Mumbai has dropped from 100 sq ft to between 40 and 65 sq ft,” Kapoor adds.

With few business districts in the city, many office buildings have been constructed in residential areas. “This brings large air-conditioning plants into the midsts of homes, and this is neither good for the local residents’ health nor is it sustainable ecologically,” says architect Unni.

Solutions must begin at the design and planning stages, at the macro and micro levels.

“Green building principles like keeping in mind direction of wind and sunlight to allow for natural lighting and ventilation are good starting points,” says Unni.