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