How would you like a job that involves shopping at the grocery store with the company credit card and cooking dishes like stir-fry? This describes Tosh Hotchi’s job, but he isn’t a chef. He is part of a research team that studies how to build healthy, efficient homes, including how to improve the quality of air inside a home through better ventilation. Hotchi is helping to study a major source of indoor pollution: cooking.
When people think of air pollution, they usually picture a factory spewing a plume of toxic chemicals into the air. But indoor air pollution causes significant health effects such as respiratory illness, asthma attacks, cancer and premature death. Californians spend over 45 billion dollars each year on these health impacts, according to a study by the California Air Resources Board. This is in part because they spend about 90% of their time indoors, which is typical for people living in a developed country.
Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have identified which indoor air pollutants cause the greatest health consequences. In a paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives, they reported that fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 μm or less, formaldehyde and acrolein are the worst indoor contaminants for non-smoking households.
Fine particulates are found indoors mainly due to cooking, burning candles or incense, tobacco smoke and outdoor sources that leak inside. These fine particulates cause significant health problems – stroke, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and premature death.
Formaldehyde is mainly emitted by materials used in home construction and furniture, such as particle board, paneling and foam insulation. It also comes from cooking and tobacco smoke. Formaldehyde is a lung irritant that can trigger asthma attacks and it may cause cancer.