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Indoor Air Quality

4. Are certain people more vulnerable than others to indoor air pollution?

    Some people are more vulnerable than others to indoor air
    Some people are more vulnerable than others to indoor air pollution

    Credit: Stephan Czuratis

    Certain groups are potentially more vulnerable than others to indoor air pollution. These include children, pregnant women, people over 65 years of age, and persons suffering from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases (e.g. asthma). Other factors that may render some people more vulnerable are genetic traits, lifestyle, nutrition and – for some pollutants – other health problems (e.g. immunodeficiency).

    Depending on their age and on the chemical substance to which they are exposed, children may be more vulnerable than adults to certain toxic substances. They are more vulnerable than adults to lead and tobacco smoke, and perhaps also to phosphorous-containing pesticides. Studies on outdoor air show that pollutants may disrupt the proper development of the lungs in foetuses and young children. This effect on child lung development has been observed at a level at which no adverse effects are seen in adults, which suggests that children are more vulnerable than adults. In addition, air pollutants may cause cough, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, and make asthma worse – though it is difficult to determine exactly which pollutants are responsible for a given effect. Particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone are likely to be important causes.

    Elderly people may be particularly vulnerable to air pollution because the ability to eliminate chemicals from the body decreases with age. However, they may also be less sensitive to some effects such as irritation of the eyes and nose.

    Persons suffering from cardiovascular diseases are more vulnerable to particles and those suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma are more vulnerable to several air pollutants.

    At present, several studies are investigating how pollutants affect different groups of people. This research should help identify vulnerable populations.

    It is recommended that science-based health risk assessments always take into account vulnerable groups and that each case be considered separately. More...

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