It Is Time We Know What We Breathe All Day

07/06/2011 04:51 EDT | Updated 09/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Stop people on the street and ask them if the air quality in their home matters to them. I bet they would say "yes" across the board -- yet, I'm willing to bet that most of us know more about the fuel efficiency of our cars, or the price of the houses in our neighborhood, or the cost of a haircut than we do than about the quality of air in our children's schools. Strange, isn't it? Is it that we don't really care?

It is safe to say we should measure what we care about -- so why don't we? According to Health Canada, the average Canadian spends 90 per cent of their time indoors. We know poor air quality can cause sickness -- think of mould, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), flame retardants on our furniture, etc.

What if I told you your house had 10 times the VOCs that are found in your neighbors' houses? What if the boardroom on the fourth floor in your office was 20 times worse than the one on the third floor? Guess where you would hold meetings! And guess how long it would take before the fourth floor boardroom would be fixed.

Or, imagine your son's school with air quality much worse than your daughter's. It wouldn't be long before you would be lobbying for a change.

Poor air quality shortens life expectancy in all Canadians. Health Canada estimates that the government spends several billions of dollars a year dealing with the negative human, financial, and social impacts of outdoor air quality. Outdoor air quality is linked to respiratory problems, lost workdays, increased hospital visits, and even premature death for thousands of Canadians. Poor outdoor air quality also significantly increases the rate of asthma in our children, a costly sickness since it leads to many emergency room visits.

Before buying my own home I once did an air quality test for urea-formaldehyde levels because the home had been insulated with urea-formaldehyde. The net result was great and so I bought the house. Not everyone has this choice, but they can read the Environmental Protection Agency's introduction to indoor air quality to see how to reduce VOC exposure.

So, I propose that we monitor the air in our homes, schools, and offices in addition to our neighbourhoods so that we can see how we stack up with respect to our neighbours and peers. It will save us large amounts of money in the long run. It is technologically feasible and it could make a large dent on the government's bill for health care, something that is getting out of hand.