Gone are the days when air conditioners were a luxury. Long drawn and roasting hot weather have made them an essential item in almost every home and office. Thankfully, improved standards of living have made them affordable.
Air conditioners control the temperature and environment by controlling the quality of air. This they do by cooling and filtering pollutants such as dust and pollen to a large extent and by circulating this cooled, purified air indoors. This is what the textbook says. Air conditioning can refer to any form of technology that modifies the condition of air (heating, cooling, (de-)humidification, cleaning, ventilation, or air movement)
But what are air conditioners really doing to your health?
The Unclean Story
If air conditioners are not maintained properly and kept in optimal working condition, they can cause air pollution rather than control it.
Circulating ‘used’ poor quality air. Experts are warning that people with central air conditioning may be more exposed to air pollutants indoors than out because the system does not bring in fresh air but circulates ‘used’ air. Thus, mould, dander, dust or the pathogens that co-occupants carry when they are sick with fevers and ‘flus have a good chance of being carried around the building and spreading allergies and infections.
Leaking refrigerants and other chemicals: when sealants are not properly used, and there are leakages, the result is toxic vapours that are harmful when inhaled.
Moisture build-up in coils and ducts, and the resultant condensation when cool air passes through are breeding grounds for moulds and bacteria. When these microorganisms become airborne thanks to the air conditioner, exposed individuals will be at risk. Improper drainage can also cause moisture build-up.
The accumulation of pollutants and impurities that have been removed from inside the air conditioned area can re-circulate if the air filters in air conditioners are not cleaned and changed regularly.
Clean the conduits and ducts. The filters are not the only potential cause of pollution or ill-health. Ducts are home to mould, mildew, and fungi. They also house decomposing faeces and animal parts when animals like rats or birds have gained access and died there. Increased temperature and moisture in air conditioning and ventilation units assist the growth of bacteria and fungi. It also accelerates the decomposition of organic matter. All these allergens and pathogens will be circulated indoors when you turn the air conditioning on.
- All air conditioners come with air filters which filter outdoor pollutants as well as draw impurities from the air inside. Improperly cleaned air filters are the primary cause of infections and allergies. The buildup of allergens such as dust, fungi, pollen, and bacteria can trigger
- Coughing and wheezing
- Congestion & sore throat
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Asthma attacks
- Flu-like illnesses
Who is at risk?
Everybody stands being affected by air pollution. However, the WHO has clearly stated that children are more vulnerable than adults. This is because:
- Children are constantly growing and they breathe in more air in proportion to their weight.
- Their systems are still developing and exposure to pollutants can stunt development and cause irreversible damage.
- Children have little awareness of the risks that their environments can pose and can do little to protect their own health.
The WHO states “Indoor air pollution is responsible for 2 million deaths annually. Acute lower respiratory infections, in particular, pneumonia, continue to be the biggest killer of young children and this toll almost exclusively falls on children in developing countries.”
If you think that your air conditioner is protecting your child from heat, dust, and pollution, you must make sure that such is indeed the case.
Evaluate your air conditioner
- Ensure that your units are well sealed. This not only helps save on electricity bills as air conditioners work more effectively in the absence of leakages but ensures that outdoor pollutants are kept out of doors.
- What is the filter made of and what is the fibre shedding potential? Pay attention!
- Filters should be examined thoroughly and assessed for their capability to remove allergens from the air in the defined space.
The filtering function of the air conditioner is not designed to protect the user: it is designed to protect the unit from dust and debris so that it can enable the flow of air unhindered.
So what protects you and your precious child?
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), allergen filters can swing the balance in favour of maintaining indoor air quality by reducing dust and allergens that aggravate respiratory diseases. This is because allergen filters are woven more finely and are designed to protect the user.
3M has consistently come up with the best in design and innovation for its customers. The 3M Electrostatic AC Filter™ with 3-in-1 technology are designed to complement the existing filtering screen of your wall mounted air conditioners to enable it to remove PM2.5 and other MicroParticle pollutants from the air inside your home. Let your child breathe cleaner and fresher air.
Now, breathe a sigh of relief.