Indoor air quality versus healthy indoor air: Do you know their meaning and difference?

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, November 2022, Volume 5, #136

[Cite as: Fadeyi MO (2022). Indoor air quality versus healthy indoor air: Do you know their meaning and difference? Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, November 2022, Volume 5, #136.]

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Many years ago, the lack of awareness of the meaning of indoor air quality and unhealthy indoor air and the difference between them led to a deficiency in indoor air management and threatened human health and lives. The rise in the cancer incidence rate and its associated death due to unhealthy indoor air could not be significantly reduced because of the lack of a solution that could provide real-time awareness of unhealthy indoor air occurrence more conveniently and comfortably. A personal tragedy experienced by a young girl led her on a journey of solving the problem of the increased incidence rate of cancer and its associated death. The journey of the young girl and the impact she made on her life, indoor air management practice, and society is the subject of this short fiction story.

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On a sunny Saturday afternoon one faithful day, I was watching television with my mum in the living room when we suddenly heard a loud noise from the kitchen. My heart jumped! I looked at my mum, and she looked shocked, like me. We regained consciousness in a few seconds and rushed to the kitchen. We knew something was wrong with daddy when we called him, but he did not answer. My father had just left the living room to go to the kitchen to drink water.

We saw him lying down on the floor motionless with a broken glass cup and water on the kitchen floor. “Call the ambulance, Monica!” My mum instructed me loudly while she tried to attend to my father. I ran straight to the living room to take my phone. I called the ambulance, and within a few minutes, the ambulance arrived. Ambulance services in the country worked efficiently. My father was rushed to the nearby government general hospital.  

After several tests, we received news that gave us the greatest shock of our lives. The attending doctor said my father, who was still unconscious, had a malignant tumor, i.e., cancer, in one of his lungs. Lung cancer! My mother shouted suddenly upon receiving the terrible news. The doctor said they had to operate on him immediately as he would die if they did not do the operation immediately. The attending doctor requested my mum’s consent to proceed with the operation.

While still confused, my mum had no choice but to consent for the operation to proceed. In the true sense, the only option available to us was the operation, as not doing the operation was not an option as he would die within a few hours. The tumor had been growing in his lung without anyone knowing. Surprisingly, there was no sign of something wrong with his lung. My father was not sick at all. He had just completed a half marathon two weeks before he slumped. Furthermore, my father was not a smoker. He was not a smoker and had never tasted alcohol.   

After more than 12 grueling hours for all parties involved, the surgery was successfully done. However, my father was still heavily sedated. Doctors wanted to monitor his condition and did not want anyone to disturb him. Doctors asked my mother questions to understand my father’s medical history and lifestyle with the hope of understanding contributing factors to his lung cancer.

The doctors were exploring a sustainable medical solution for my father. Unfortunately, they did not have my father’s medical history, as we had just moved to the country five months before the day my father slumped in the kitchen due to an unknown malignant tumor in one of his lungs.

We moved to the country for my father to resume his position as a full professor of environmental engineering at Maxwell University. My father woke up two days after his surgery. My mum and I were able to talk to my father. The attending doctor allowed us to talk to him briefly. He communicated with us very well and even made jokes. We said goodbye around 8 pm and promised to see him the following day. My mum and I were relieved. My mother was relieved she would not be losing her husband, and I was relieved my hero would be alive to guide me in life.

Our house phone rang around 2 am, about six hours after we left the hospital. My mom went to take the phone, wondering who could be calling at such an odd hour. I slept in my parents’ bedroom that night. I wanted to stay close to my mother. The hospital had tried to call my mother’s phone, but they could not reach her as her phone was off. My mother forgot to charge her phone as she had so many things on her mind after we came back from the hospital.

The phone call was from the hospital. My mother was told to come to the hospital immediately. My father had been rushed to the operating room due to complications resulting from his lung cancer. My mother and I rushed straight to the hospital. The operation was still going on when we got to the hospital. One of the doctors came out of the operating room about thirty minutes after we got to the hospital. “He did not make it. He died!” Those were the only statements I heard from the doctor’s statements to my mother, and me. My mother and I were devastated!

What could have caused my father to have lung cancer? I found it hard to believe that a person who had never smoked had lung cancer. To the best of my knowledge, cigarette smoking was the number one leading cause of lung cancer at that time.

A year after my father’s death, I gained admission to the same department where my father was a professor before his death. I developed an interest in studying environmental engineering at the university due to several discussions my father had with me. Of course, my interest in studying environmental engineering grew strongly after my father’s death. I wanted to honour him, continue his legacy, and feel attached to him through professional discipline. I also planned to study up to the Ph.D. level and hopefully be an environmental engineering professor with specialisation in water research, like my father. Interestingly, I was one of the three females out of about sixty students in my cohort.

I worked hard to excel in my studies and graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree in environmental engineering. I graduated with a first-class and a CGPA of 4.98 out of 5. The highest CGPA in the history of my department. I also graduated with a minor in applied computer science and engineering.

By the time I was completing my BEng degree, I had developed a strong interest in indoor air quality. My interest switched from water research to indoor air research. I had come to realise the importance of air pollution to the risk of humans suffering from lung cancer and wished to research to develop new knowledge and a better understanding of the relationship. I applied for a position in the Ph.D. programme at the same university.

My decision to pursue this research interest was partly due to the lung cancer that killed my father and the rate at which lung cancer and death associated with it were increasing in many countries around the world. I was offered a place in the Ph.D. programme a few months before I completed my undergraduate studies at the same university.

I learnt during the research for my undergraduate dissertation that lifestyle, environmental exposures, and family history were the leading causes (risk factors) of lung cancer. However, the contributions of each risk factor were not clear. On a personal level, I wanted to understand what could have caused someone like my father, who was not a smoker and did not like to be around smokers or smoking activities, to develop a malignant tumor in the lung (lung cancer) that killed him. My father was also a vegetarian and exercised regularly.

It was difficult to understand what risk factors, why the risk factors, and how the risk factors could lead to lung cancer the way research was done at that time. The difficulty was largely due to the methodology for obtaining objective data in real life. The methodology adopted at that time left room for many confounders that hindered the ability to answer these three fundamental questions. At that time, many people died from cancer without knowing exactly with high confidence level the hazard (a harmful thing) that caused it.

Basically, inadequate provision of awareness, in real-time, on the existence of a tumor in the human body, the chances of it occurring, and potential hazards causing it and their sources made it difficult to mitigate the problem – the increasing risk of cancer and its associated death. The discomfort and inconvenience resulting from the current methodology of providing the required awareness about cancer in the human body were other causes of the problem.      

I reasoned that if I were to be the one to solve this methodology problem, I must do things differently. I must provide a solution that can be used to eliminate the causes (discomfort, inconvenience, and lack of awareness) of the problem. I wanted to create value delivery for stakeholders, i.e., the patient, doctors, and family involved. I decided to use technology to my advantage. I decided to leverage my applied computer science and engineering knowledge and understanding. I deepened my computer science and engineering knowledge and understanding through self-learning.

I read several books, and research articles and watched videos related to the development of artificial intelligence to solve problems that were thought to be impossible in real-life. I also engaged in several hands-on activities to apply the knowledge and understanding gained to enhance my self-learning.

As part of my Ph.D. studies, I developed a non-intrusive AI solution that can be placed on any part of the human body, like a wound plaster, to provide real-time information. The AI solution can provide information on the changes in physiological and psychological body function and identify possible sources of hazards, either from outside or inside the human body, contributing to the changes with a very high accuracy of about 99%.

The innovation idea which started from our house garage was revolutionary. I was proud of myself. Before my innovation, my AI solution would have been thought to be something that could only happen in a science fiction movie and not real life.

I reflected and thought critically about data gathered from published peer-reviewed scientific evidence from reliable scientific journals and events surrounding my father’s death. I reasoned and hypothesised that indoor exposures to air pollutants of outdoor and indoor origins could be a major risk factor for lung cancer occurrence in non-smoking people and people with no considerable exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke. 

I reasoned that a field study would be appropriate to test my hypothesis effectively. Before the field study, I conducted a series of laboratory tests to gain confidence in the effectiveness of my developed AI solution, known as non-intrusive artificial intelligence human body function monitor, to provide the required information in real-time.      

Over two years, more than 1,000 people in the community participated in the field study. The AI solution provided real-time information on changes in human physiological and psychological functions and the role of human exposures or life events to the changes. The AI solution also monitored in real-time the effects of human exposure on human stress levels, the motivation to work or perform any activities, and the cognitive ability needed for thinking and concentration.

Yes! The solution was that sophisticated! I was that brilliant and blessed. I did not blame people who thought my idea was unrealistic or impossible when I first pitched it. Some people could not comprehend or believe that a young girl, a migrant from a minority race, could be capable of coming out with such a solution, talk less of developing it. I was scrutinised left and right.      

The main conclusion from my Ph.D. research work was that during the seasons when outdoor air was polluted, human exposure to air pollution in the indoor environment significantly increased the risk of a tumor growing in human organs, including the lung. It is important to note that we also observed that some other hazards humans were exposed to in everyday activities significantly increased the risk of a tumor growing. We observed the higher the toxicity of air pollutants, the higher the risk of malignant tumor (cancer) occurrence and other health problems resulting from human organs’ sensitivity to toxic air pollutants.

The non-intrusive AI solution I developed was so portable that it could be used anywhere, even during swimming, because it was just like a water-resistant wound plaster. At the same time, it was so sophisticated that it could provide vital and rich information needed to reduce human health risks in any aspect of human lives. Furthermore, the generated information by the AI solution could easily be communicated and sent to any digital device. The security of information generated was another concern effectively addressed during the development of the AI solution.

Special thanks to my Ph.D. supervisor for his guidance and support in completing my Ph.D. study. I was lucky to have him as my supervisor. He was more than a supervisor to me. He was like a father to me but made me work very hard. He set a very high standard for me. My supervisor was my father’s colleague and friend. My supervisor was also responsible for securing the multimillion-dollar research grant that supported my Ph.D. study.    

I wished someone had already created my innovative AI solution and made the solution readily available in the market. The growth of the tumor in my father could have been prevented. Outdoor air quality in our home country was always very poor. Perhaps my father’s lungs were very sensitive to toxic air pollutants. We will never know because there was no solution like my AI solution to provide real-time and required information that could guide us in reducing the risk of his lung cancer occurrence.

My non-intrusive AI human body function monitor solution proved very popular in indoor environmental quality research, healthy building delivery practices, medical fields, construction sites, and other workplaces where human safety and health were prioritised.

An unfortunate situation happened many years after I finished my Ph.D. study. There was a global outbreak of the influenza virus. At that time, I was a full professor of healthy buildings. I was invited to lead a task force tasked by the Ministry of Sustainable Built Environment to review indoor air management practices in the country. The virus outbreak made people and government take indoor air management seriously.

One of the main findings by the task force was that the focus of many indoor air management companies was ensuring measured air pollutants concentrations were within the recommended indoor air quality standards. When air pollutants concentrations were within the standards, indoor air would be considered healthy, even when many occupants were still reporting or experiencing health problems and their work performance and productivity were being compromised due to the health problems.

The experience motivated me to help the industry in setting its purpose right. A purpose statement means stating the problem that needs to be solved to achieve the required goal. I led a campaign to create awareness of the meaning and the difference between indoor air quality and healthy indoor air. If people understand the meaning and the difference, they can appropriately set indoor air management’s purpose.

I defined indoor air quality as the degree of excellence to which the concentrations of pollutants in the air of an enclosed environment and other characteristics of the air are acceptable or meet the occupant’s expectation of the air. I defined healthy indoor air as the state in which indoor air supports the functioning of the body and activities of humans or animals exposed to the air. I made it known that the healthiness level depends on the extent to which the support takes place. I also made it known in my campaign that a higher healthiness level of indoor air means higher protection of humans or animals from harm, i.e., a higher safety level for humans or animals.

I shared that indoor air may not necessarily be healthy for humans or animals exposed to it when indoor air is considered good quality due to physiological or psychological vulnerabilities. I argued that typical standards focused mainly on the quality of indoor air, not healthy indoor air, as it is difficult to set standards for physiological and psychological vulnerabilities. However, I also shared that a higher indoor air quality level will increase the chances of achieving healthy indoor air.

I tried to convince people that the goal of indoor air management is to achieve healthy indoor air. I shared that healthy indoor air guarantees good indoor air quality, but good indoor air quality does not guarantee healthy indoor air. I said it is important to solve problems that will hinder the achievement of the goal.

I worked with some indoor air management companies to develop case studies on how my revolutionary non-intrusive AI human body function monitor solution could guide indoor air quality audits to solve problems that aid the achievement of air that will not disrupt the functioning of the body and activities of humans or animals exposed to the air, i.e., the healthy indoor air. The Ministry of Sustainable Built Environment funded the project. I was very grateful to the government for its commitment to ensuring the delivery of healthy indoor air.

One interesting thing from the case study research was that the AI solution also provided direction for holistic management of indoor environment quality and building performance, not just IAQ and healthy indoor air delivery. Many industry professionals and companies benefited from the case studies we developed. Many companies adopted my AI solution for their business. The adoption was not restricted to building industries. The focus of indoor air management companies shifted from just meeting IAQ to ensuring healthy indoor air.

Continuous improvement practice culture in the industry also improved significantly. The change in practice towards achieving healthy indoor air and environment necessitated continuous improvement efforts. My AI solution provided reliable real-time information, providing direction for what is expected to be done to achieve what is expected.

My AI solution also proved very effective when there was another global outbreak of the influenza virus outbreak. The AI solution provided information on human vulnerability, virus exposure status, and its impacts on human body function activities. Thus, with this information, appropriate engineering and medical solutions were adopted. Many health problems were averted, and many lives were saved. There was also lesser pressure on medical infrastructure and the government budget.

The impact of my AI solution was enormous, far beyond what I envisaged when I first developed the first version of the AI solution. On a personal note, I was glad that my AI solution helped to reduce the rate of cancer occurrence and its associated death. The existence and impending existence of a tumor were detected earlier, just before it could develop into a malignant tumor (cancer).

Environmental hazards that could cause cancers were detected, and appropriate policies were developed by governments across the globe to reduce their existence or at concentrations at which they could cause harm. My mother was glad my father could inspire me even after his death. My mother also had a tumor that was detected earlier with the aid of my AI solution. She was able to live longer to the age of 90 years old. She could have died before the age of 70. My greatest professional achievement was saving my mother’s life with my AI solution.

“Wow, Mum! You were a superhero to grandma and many people,” Benita said to her Mum, Professor Monica Strauss, who had been telling her the story. “You made a huge contribution to many people across the globe. You are a great change-maker!” Benita said to her mum. “I was already a good student. However, my father’s death made me take my studies seriously and test boundaries. The testing of boundaries contributed to my innovation. I also wanted to be independent and did not want to trouble my mother, as she was suffering from the sudden death of my father.” Professor Strauss responded to her daughter.   

“I am very inspired, mum! Although I have witnessed many of your achievements and was inspired by them, knowing the events that led to them really inspires me more, mum. I am glad we had time to sit together, and you shared the story with me a few months before I embarked on my medicine and surgery studies at Cambridge University.” Benita said to her mum.

“I am very motivated to excel with distinction. I will not disappoint you and dad.” Benita said to her mum with conviction. “I am glad you found the story useful,” Professor Strauss said to her daughter. “That was my intention,” Professor Strauss thought to herself and smiled while looking straight into her daughter’s eyes. “Oh! Your dad’s flight will be arriving soon.” Professor Strauss said to her daughter. They carried their handbags, left the coffee shop at the airport, and headed to the airport’s arrival hall. The End!

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