Thanks to years of news
coverage, you probably already know that outdoor air pollution (like
smog) can damage your health. But did you know that indoor air pollution
can be even more toxic?
Over the past several years, ongoing
research has shown that the air inside our homes can be significantly
more polluted than the air outside, even when compared with large,
polluted cities. Most people spend the majority of their time indoors
each day. In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), "indoor levels of pollutants may be 2-5 times,
and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels.
These levels of indoor air pollutants may be of particular concern
because most people spend about 90% of their time indoors."
What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?
There are a variety of sources of indoor air pollution. However, the
primary cause is the indoor release of toxic gases and particles into
the air. Some sources include the following:
fuels (gas, wood, kerosene, coal, oil)
household products (for cleaning, maintenance, personal care, or hobbies)
toxins in building materials and furnishings (asbestos, carpeting,
some pressed wood products)
central heating and cooling systems
outdoor toxins (such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution)
Ironically, our own efficiency and ingenuity are another cause of
indoor air pollution. Homes have become increasingly
weather-tight and energy efficient. As a result, in many homes there
is often inadequate ventilation, and the pollution level of indoor
air can become more concentrated, especially during the winter. But
even well-ventilated homes are at risk. High temperature and humidity
levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.
Air pollution can affect our health in many ways, and different people
react differently. The effects may be short term (eye, nose, and throat
irritation, headaches, nausea, coughing, rashes, dizziness, or fatigue)
or long term (including some respiratory illnesses, heart disease,
According to the American Lung Association's Indoor
Air Pollution Fact Sheet, the following are possible health risks
from indoor air pollution:
Poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute
to the development of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma
and hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
Biological pollutants, including molds, bacteria, viruses, pollen,
dust mites, and animal dander, promote poor indoor air quality and
may be a major cause of days lost from work and school.
An estimated 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has radon
levels above... the U.S. EPA-recommended
Secondhand smoke contains about 4,000 chemicals... [and] causes an
estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 35,000 to 50,000 heart disease
deaths in non-smokers, as well as 150,000 to 300,000 cases of lower
respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months of age each
Some people - especially children, the elderly, those with heart and
lung diseases, asthmatics, and people with chemical
hypersensitivities - may be more susceptible to the negative effects
of indoor air pollution than others. Unfortunately,
these are often the people who spend the most time indoors.
What You Can Do about Indoor Air Pollution.
The most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to prevent
or minimize the release of pollutants indoors in the first place.
Eliminate the use of toxic household products
and always follow directions carefully. Use cleaning products that
won't produce toxic fumes
Eliminate smoking from your home and avoid secondhand smoke wherever
Fix or eliminate potential sources of pollution in your home.
Use gas appliances, wood stoves, and fireplaces only as intended.
Carefully choose building materials, furniture (especially pressed
wood and particle board), and carpet.
Adequately ventilate your home. During the winter, open a window in
every room of your house for a few minutes once a week.