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   Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs

What you don’t know about your home air could be hurting you... and your family

More and more, the importance of maintaining good indoor air quality is as much a priority as having regular check-ups by the doctor – for the sake of our physical health and well being. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air quality poses a greater health hazard than outdoor air pollution, with pollutant levels averaging two to five times higher, and sometimes 100 times higher, than outside air. And with Americans now spending about 90% of their time indoors, the exposure to these air pollutants has never been more significant. It’s not just what you can see that is dangerous to your health; it’s also what you can’t see.

What Causes Indoor Air Quality Problems?

Pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of poor air quality in homes. These pollutants can quickly build up inside homes to levels that are much higher than those typically found outdoors due to inadequate ventilation and lack of air purification methods. Due to better home construction and energy efficiency, today’s homes are kept tightly closed up for most of the year. In addition, most homes do not have air purification methods, so fresh air is prevented from being circulated in the house to dilute emissions from indoor pollutant sources, or from being exhausted to the outdoors. Buildings lacking proper amounts of fresh air usually contain airborne contaminants at levels that can cause adverse health effects. The Journal of the American Medical Association stated that the risk of respiratory infection is 45% higher among occupants of energy efficient buildings.

High temperature and humidity levels can also increase the concentration of some indoor pollutants.

What Are the Sources of these Indoor Pollutants?

There are many sources of air pollutants in the home, including combustion sources such as oil, gas, coal, wood, and tobacco products; building materials and furniture; new carpeting and vinyl flooring; cleaning products; personal care products; glues and adhesives; paints and varnishes; and pesticides. These types of products contain organic chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – volatile because they “off-gas” into the air.

Other pollutants in the home can come from biological sources, released into the air through air conditioning and heating systems, humidifiers, leaking pipes, leaking roofs and wet carpets. Biological, or micro-organism, pollutants include: molds, dusts, pollens, insects, bacteria, and viruses.

Some sources, such as building materials, furnishings, air fresheners, and micro-organisms (molds) release pollutants continuously. Other sources, like cleaning solvents, paints and paint strippers, and pesticides release pollutants intermittently. The EPA's Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies indicate that while people are using products containing VOCs, they can be exposed to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can remain in the air long after the activities are completed.

Click here to read “AROUND THE HOUSE: Indoor air pollution - Home is where the hazard is: Indoor toxins may be worse for you than outdoor smog,” Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 2004.

Who Is Affected by Indoor Air Pollution?

Everyone who breathes contaminated air can experience effects ranging from mild to very serious soon after exposure or even years later. Children, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses are particularly susceptible to harmful effects of indoor air pollutants because they are home the most. In addition, children have underdeveloped immune systems that make it difficult to resist air contaminants, they breathe faster and inhale more air per unit of body weight than adults, and they stand closer to the ground where there is a higher concentration of contaminants. Pregnant women should also be wary of poor indoor air quality as some pollutants can be harmful to the development of unborn babies.

What Are Some of the Effects of Exposure to Indoor Air Pollution?

Many times we just can’t understand why we feel sick and tired on a daily basis, and why we develop symptoms that worsen over time. For instance, those who are living in homes contaminated by mold may not be able to smell any odor and may be unaware that a problem exists. The sudden onset of food allergies and digestive problems can go undiagnosed, or even misdiagnosed. And long after you’ve finished using a product containing VOCs, you could be feeling its effects. If you or a loved one has unexplained allergic reactions or illnesses occurring on a continual basis, the source of the problem could be indoor air pollutants.

Below are some of the health effects you may experience when exposed to indoor air pollution:

Acute:
Headaches
Fatigue
Eye, nose & throat irritation
Sinus congestion
Itchy skin
Nausea
Dizziness
Shortness of breath
Wheezing & coughing
Digestive problems
Confusion
Loss of coordination
Severe allergic reactions
Asthma exacerbation

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