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Educational Material - Indoor Air Quality

Most of our time is spent indoors where there are many types of air pollution: consumer products, appliances, building materials, cigarette smoke, and furniture can all contribute to the problem.

The Environmental Protection Agency ranked indoor air pollution fourth in cancer risk among 13 top environmental problems analyzed. Indoor radon gas was at the top of this list. A lot relates to the problem of indoor air quality problems.
Because many pollutants are found indoors we all inhale them everyday. Secondly, indoor air pollution is often higher than those outdoors. The EPA has said indoor levels of pollutants, such as formaldehyde, chloroform, and styrene, range from 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. Exposure to pollutants such as cigarette smoke is usually indoors.

Indoor air pollution consists of toxic gases or particles that can harm your health. These pollutants can build up rapidly indoors to levels much higher than those usually found outdoors. This is especially true if large amounts of a pollutant are released indoors. Additionally, the better construction in newer homes can prevent pollutants from escaping to the outdoors.

Sources and Potential Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollutants



Major Indoor Sources

Potential Health Effects*

Environmental Tobacco Smoke Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes Respiratory irritation, bronchitis and pneumonia in children, emphysema, lung cancer, and heart disease
Carbon Monoxide Unvented or malfunctioning
gas appliances, wood stoves, and tobacco smoke
Headache; nausea; angina; impaired vision and mental functioning; fatal at high concentrations
Nitrogen Oxides Unvented or malfunctioning
gas appliances
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; increased respiratory infections in children
Organic Chemicals Aerosol sprays, solvents, glues, cleaning agents, pesticides, paints, moth repellents, air fresheners, drycleaned clothing, and treated water Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; damage to liver, kidney and brain; various types of cancer
Formaldehyde Pressed wood products such as plywood and particleboard; furnishings; wallpaper; durable press fabrics Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headache; allergic reactions; cancer
Respairable Particles Cigarettes, wood stoves, fireplaces, aerosol sprays, and house dust Eye, nose and throat irritation; increased susceptibility to respiratory infections and bronchitis; lung cancer
Biological Agents (Bacteria, Viruses, Fungi, Animal Dander, Mites) House dust; pets; bedding; poorly maintained air conditioners, humidifiers and dehumidifiers; wet or moist structures; furnishings Allergic reactions; asthma; eye, nose, and throat irritation; humidifier fever, influenza, and other infectious diseases
Asbestos Damaged or deteriorating insulation, fireproofing, and acoustical materials Asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers
Lead Sanding or open-flame burning of lead paint; house dust Nerve and brain damage, particularly in children; anemia; kidney damage; growth retardation
Radon Soil under buildings, some earth-derived construction materials, and groundwater Lung cancer
* Depends on factors such as the amount of pollutant inhaled, the duration of exposure and susceptibility of the individual exposed.

Health Effects

The effects of indoor air pollutants vary. Exposure to high levels of some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, can even result in immediate death. Some indoor pollutants can magnify the effects of other indoor pollutants. Based on cancer risk alone, scientists have ranked indoor air pollution as one of the most important environmental problems in America.

Many of us are susceptible to the health effects of indoor pollutants. These include infants and the elderly, those with heart and lung diseases, people with asthma, and individuals who have developed extreme sensitivity to chemicals.

The economic impact of indoor pollution - including health care costs, lost productivity, legal costs, and human welfare impacts - have been estimated at billions of dollars each year.

What Can You Do About Indoor Air Pollution?

The most effective way to protect your family and yourself from indoor air pollution is to prevent or minimize the release of pollutants indoors in the first place.

Use Products Safely

Products such as cleaning agents, paints, and glues should be used outdoors whenever possible. Directions on the label should be followed carefully. If the product must be used indoors, lots of ventilation should be provided. Also, it may be possible to use safer consumer products, such as baking soda instead of harsher cleaners, or products in solid or liquid form rather than aerosol sprays.

Restrict Smoking

Restricting cigarette smoking to outdoor areas is especially important because cigarette smoke contains many toxic pollutants. It is harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers.

Use Appliances Properly

Use gas appliances, wood stoves, and fireplaces only as intended. Gas stoves should never be used to heat the house since high pollutant levels can result. Wood stoves and fireplaces should only be used to burn properly sized and aged wood, since other types of fuel may emit toxic compounds.

These combustion devices pollute less when properly maintained. Annual inspections and cleaning by your gas company's service personnel or by other qualified individuals will help reduce pollution and save energy.

Select Building Materials and Furniture Carefully

Many products, including some types of plywood and particleboard, emit significant amounts of formaldehyde or other gaseous pollutants. Try to avoid those products if possible.

You might request that new carpets or furniture be aired out by the manufacturer or distributor prior to delivery. Otherwise, you may want to air them in your garage or yard before bringing them inside.

Practice Good Housekeeping

Proper storage of solvents and frequent housecleaning to remove dust and molds are necessary steps in maintaining good indoor air quality.

Provide Adequate Ventilation

Adequate ventilation is another easy and effective way to maintain good indoor air quality, although it may not completely remove all pollutants. Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors when the weather permits. This is particularly important when using products or engaging in activities that may generate pollutants. Kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans that are properly vented to the outdoors are very effective at removing pollutants generated during cooking and showering. For effective ventilation while conserving energy during extreme weather, consider installing a heat recovery ventilator. When the home is closed up use CaluTech UV lights in the ventilation system to remove living organisms from the air, and use a photocatalytic oxidation system, like the OxyCat formula, to remove volatile organic compounds.

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