When industrial pollution seeps into the skies, governments everywhere have the responsibility, and the mandate, to clean it up. But when exposure to hazardous levels of air pollution occurs indoors, in the privacy of people's homes, the logistical, legal and practical challenges of controlling it are magnified.
These issues have come into stark relief with the publication of a study commissioned by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (Ead). Over an eight-month period researchers monitored the practice of incense burning inside Emirati homes. And as The National reported yesterday, what Ead found was shocking: of the nearly 1,600 people surveyed, roughly a third lived in houses with elevated levels of formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and other toxins.
As indoor pollution is difficult to measure or monitor, priority must be given to awareness of the dangers, which range from headaches to forgetfulness or worse. As we have seen before in cases of second-hand smoking, awareness of the dangers can help reduce the risks significantly. (Many families now assign space for smokers, for instance.)
But the issue of indoor air quality is not limited to incense use. Authorities - and householders - must also examine other factors that can lead to indoor air pollution and health risks. Air-conditioning filters, for example, which can quickly fill with dust and bacteria, are a major source of contamination if they are not cleaned regularly.
Now, with temperatures rising and windows being shuttered, potentially unhealthy air is being breathed in. Constant cleaning of these systems is critical to protect against Legionnaires' disease, for one.
Ventilation can prevent the accumulation of pollutants, but in the hot, dusty climate of the Arabian Peninsula, opening the window is not always an option. But serious questions remain about what are acceptable levels of pollutants, which federal and local agencies have monitoring authority, and what level of responsibility falls to building owners to keep the air clean. Government agencies can draft solutions to these problems. It is up to homeowners and residents, however, to invite the inspectors in.