Air quality and the different forms of pollution

Air quality and the different forms of pollution

Indoor air quality is a topic that has been gaining momentum in recent years. Up until recently, we associated more importance to the quality of the air outdoors which seemed to be more polluted than the air indoors. This has turned out not to be true.

A survey carried out by the Indoor Air Quality Observatory in 2004 found that indoor air had many sources of pollution. In fact, out of more than 560 homes tested and 1,600 people interviewed, several alarming findings were noted.

  • Many pollutants are present in most homes (such as formaldehyde, which is found almost everywhere)
  • Indoor air is 5 to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air.
  • There is a real inequality in indoor pollution, which means that some homes are multi-polluted since there are significant concentrations of several pollutants.

We spend 80-90% of our time in closed environments such as homes, workplaces, forms of transportation, and more. This is why, today, the quality of the interior is of increasing concern to populations and has become a major public health issue.

I. What are the different sources of indoor air pollution? 

Indoor pollution can come from different sources. It can be generated by the occupant and his or her activities, by the equipment present within the accommodation, or directly by the accommodation itself (construction, decoration, furnishings, etc.).

As shown in this illustration produced by ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency), many pollutants can be present in our homes and they are present in our everyday objects.

Indoor pollution can be classified into three forms:

  • 1) Particulate pollutants (or fine particles)

While a ray of sunlight reveals the dust in the air, the finer particles remain invisible to our eyes, and yet we inhale them all day long. They are made up of various contaminants such as smoke, carbon black, pollens, and other allergens such as dust, hair, dandruff, etc. Certain activities in particular (DIY projects, cooking, cleaning, tobacco, candles) generate large quantities of it and promote their suspension in the air.

There are also fibres. These are elongated particles of plant origin (cellulose, hemp, sisal, jute, etc.) or of mineral origin (asbestos, glass wool and rock wool) which can be allergenic.

There are also, of course, the emissions linked to heating with wood or the combustion of fossil fuels (and in particular exhaust gases).

  • 2) Chemical pollutants

These are very abundant and very common in indoor air. Some examples are: 

Carbon monoxide or CO. It is a colourless, odourless and deadly gas in high concentrations. It is released in large quantities when heating or hot water combustion devices are poorly maintained and/or are operated in a confined, poorly ventilated, and oxygen-depleted atmosphere. (This is why ventilation is so important!)

Volatile organic compounds or VOCs. They are emitted by the products we use every day: paints, solvents, furniture, decorations, and DIY work, as well as interior fragrances or sanitising sprays. We often want to use products that smell good, but we can't imagine that they emit a lot of VOCs and pollute the indoor air. A new piece of furniture or fabric that you buy can release formaldehyde for one to two years. New car smell is often cited as a source of VOCs.

There are hundreds of different VOCs, but the most notable are: formaldehyde (the most worrying in indoor air), organic solvents, glycol ethers, and hydrocarbons including benzene. Among them, some are even carcinogenic.

Semi-volatile organic compounds or VOSCs. They include phthalates, PAHs, bisphenols, musks, organophosphates as well as pyrethroids. They are mainly found in coatings, plasticisers, wood treatment products, biocides, flame retardants, etc. 

Finally, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and pesticides (insecticides and fungicides) are also very dangerous chemical pollutants.

  • 3) Biological pollutants:

Derived from living organisms (animals, plants, moulds, etc.), we can distinguish three types: 

Infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, toxins) which come from the inhabitants of the dwelling or which develop in certain equipment (hot water production, poorly maintained ventilation, air conditioning). The spores that emerge from moulds can cause infections.

Allergens are emitted by moulds, animals, plants, insects or dust mites.

Moisture is also a source of pollution since it promotes the proliferation of moulds. There are many sources of humidity in the house: cooking, washing dishes, drying clothes, washing, but also human breathing. Poorly ventilated, damp rooms (bathrooms, etc.) are the first to be affected by the appearance of mould. Care must be taken as their spores can invade the entire home.

II. Why should we, and how can we fight against indoor air pollution?

We can now ask ourselves what the concrete effects of poor air quality are on our health.

First of all, it is important to understand that indoor pollutants are directly absorbed through our breathing and our skin. In addition, since we spend so much of our time indoors, we are almost always exposed to these pollutants. We therefore have repeated and long-term exposure with “cross-pollutions” (and therefore, potentially, the famous cocktail effect).

  • What are the short-term effects?

Exposure or inhalation of large enough doses of pollutants is characterised primarily by general discomfort: irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, etc. It is also possible that the gases generate bad odours, which can be annoying.

Some of the more severe symptoms that may appear are also headache, nausea, cough, asthma attacks, and skin and mucous membrane irritation (which are also short-term effects). These can be red flags pointing towards the degradation of the air quality in the room (presence of VOCs, biocontaminants, faulty ventilation, etc.).

For example: 1 in 3 asthma cases and 1 in 10 cases of allergies are in hairdressing, a profession highly exposed to chemical pollutants (sprays, hairsprays, etc.).

  • What are the long-term effects?

Being exposed repeatedly, even to very low doses of pollutants, can have serious consequences on our health. It can indeed be the cause of so-called chronic pathologies or serious illnesses.

Among the most prominent diseases are:

  • Respiratory diseases and allergies
  • Breathing disorders (bronchial hypersensitivity or decreased breathing capacity)
  • Eczema
  • Asthma
  • Balance disorders
  • Cancers*

*It can be difficult to draw direct connections between the appearance of cancer and repeated exposure to a source of pollution, but certain pollutants have been proven to be direct causes of cancer such as tobacco, formaldehyde, radon, particles and benzene.

Worldwide, this represents 3.8 million people annually who die prematurely from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution (27% pneumonia, 27% ischemic heart disease, 20% chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], 18% of stroke and 8% of lung cancer).

According to APQAI (Association for the Promotion of Indoor Air Quality), several studies have shown the relationship between mortality and chronic exposure to certain toxics or particles. Conversely, studies have shown an increase in life expectancy for people not subject to these pollutants.

III. Fight indoor air pollution with AIRVIA  

According to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the quality of the air requires the implementation of health and economic measures since the cost of poor indoor air quality is estimated at 19 billion euros per year. Solutions are therefore starting to be implemented directly in homes or in establishments such as schools.

The Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) action plan of the Grenelle II law in France, notably makes air quality monitoring compulsory in establishments catering to sensitive populations. This has applied to kindergartens and elementary schools since January 1, 2018, and to leisure centres, colleges, and high schools since January 1, 2020.

We are all concerned and all have our part to play in improving air quality. That being said, it is necessary for all people confronted with these pollutants throughout the day to act effectively with the appropriate tools. It starts with good habits:

  • Regularly ventilate your home and workspace (more so in the mornings and evenings when there is not too many outdoor allergens)
  • Avoid products that generate VOCs and other chemical pollutants at home, in the office, and in the garden
    • Choose ecological and natural products and/or products without or with low VOC emissions
    • Avoid room deodorants, insecticides, household bactericides, etc.
  • Reduce the use of thermal combustion cars
  • Keep your boiler or wood stove level and maintain a temperature of 18 to 20 degrees maximum

A complementary solution to these measures is to equip yourself with an air purifier. AIRVIA Medical, a French company specializing in air purification and purification, sells high-end air purifiers that allow you to reduce indoor air pollution by filtration and depollution. This powerful device will allow you to eliminate the three main sources of pollution seen above: particulate, chemical, and biological pollution.

Suitable for both individuals and professional settings such as hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, hairdressing salons, or even nail salons, the air purifier is the ideal solution to clean your indoor air.

How does an air purifier work?

A purifier draws in ambient air by means of a fan (driven by a motor). The air then passes through one or more filters and is exposed to one or more pollution control methods before being reinjected into the room. 

At AIRVIA, we offer an 8-step purification system. It all starts with a multilayer filter.

First, the pre-filter captures all particles larger than one micron (dust, hair, hair, etc.). 

Then, the remaining particles pass through a bamboo fibre filter (a naturally strong antibacterial material) which is soaked in lysozyme (antibacterial protein). 

The multilayer filter is then composed of a HEPA H13 filter. This filters all fine particles (up to PM0.01), allergens (pollen, mites), and germs (bacteria, viruses, moulds, spores). Our HEPA H13 filter (European standard EN 1822 and EN ISO 29463) therefore eliminates 99.97% of particles with a diameter greater than or equal to 0.01 μm!

The fifth filtration step consists of an activated carbon filter which is a material that has a porous structure. Many of us are familiar with this technology, one that is commonly used in water filters. It has a high property of fixing and retaining pollution particles while eliminating bad odours. Activated carbon is also used for cigarette filters, aquariums, or even atomic shelters, which testifies to its effectiveness.

The last layer of the filter, photocatalysis, produces depolluting molecules which react with the pollution particles present in the air in order to degrade them, all without any ozone emission. It is a very effective weapon against chemical pollution!

Then come two methods of depollution. First, the UV lamp. It is a sterilisation method that acts on all germs and microorganisms. Widely used in hospitals for their effectiveness and harmlessness to humans (and tested for COVID-19, SARS, MERS), UVCs are formidable in eliminating biological pollutants.

Finally, the last depollution step is ionisation. This involves the diffusion of negative ions in the ambient air in order to counter the pollution particles present (which are positively charged). This technique is very effective on fumes and fine particles. It is a proactive technique that takes place outside of the device.

The eight filtration stages present in AIRVIA Medical air purifiers have been designed to guarantee an improvement in the quality of the air in your room.

The product range of AIRVIA Medical:

AERO 100 : for surfaces of 100m2 maximum, ideal for individuals

PRO 150 : for surfaces of 150m2 maximum, designed for professionals 

CAR : for your car



  1. "Ministère de la Transition écologique : Qualité de l'air intérieur." source.
  2. "Atmo Nouvelle-Aquitaine : Quelles sont les sources de polluants de l'air intérieur ?" source.
  3. "Les cahiers du développement durable : Pollution de l'air intérieur. source.  
  4. "Anses : Qualité de l'air intérieur." source.
  5. "Ademe : Guide pratique - un air sain chez soi." source.
  6. "Apqai : Pollution intérieure - prenons-en conscience." source.
  7. "Ma maison éco-confort : Qualité d'air intérieur - la pollution intérieure est toujours plus forte qu'à l'extérieur." source.
  8. "OMS : Pollution de l'air à l'intérieur des habitations et santé." source.