There is good news and bad news about indoor air. The bad news is that indoor air often contains higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air. The good news is that everyone can reduce indoor air pollution.
How do our Homes Become Polluted?
Over the years, buildings have been made more air-tight to conserve energy. Keeping hot or cool air from escaping a home involves:
- Installing storm windows
- Densely packing insulation
- Wrapping the home during construction
- Applying caulk and weatherstripping to seal cracks and other openings
While these techniques can save money and energy, they can also trap pollutants in the home, and sometimes even generate more pollutants.
We are an Indoor Species
Most people spend about
90% of their time indoors. And, those most susceptible to indoor air pollution are the ones who are home the most: children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. Children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults do, and EPA studies found pollutant levels indoors can be two to five times higher than outdoors – and in some instances even 100 times higher than outdoors.
There are many sources of pollutants in the home. Obvious ones are cigarette smoke, chemicals, lead, cleaning products, mold, radon, carbon monoxide and pesticides. Less obvious sources are
volatile organic compounds,
formaldehyde and other chemicals present in fabrics, building materials, coated surfaces and more.
Everyone can take steps to reduce the potential for indoor air pollution and improve the quality of the air they breathe:
Indoor Pollution can go Undetected
Often, it is difficult to determine which pollutant or pollutants are the sources of a person's ill health. Many indoor air pollutants cannot be detected by our senses, and the symptoms they produce can be vague, making it hard to attribute them to a specific cause.
Some symptoms may not show up until years later, making it even harder to discover the cause. Common symptoms of exposure to indoor air pollutants include:
- Itchy nose and scratchy throat
More serious effects are breathing disorders and cancer.
Children are Most at Risk
Children may be more susceptible to environmental exposures than adults, and because of their developing systems, particularly vulnerable to their effects.
24 million people in the United States – 7.4% of adults and 8.6% of children – are affected by asthma. A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concluded that many of the asthma cases among elementary school-age children could be prevented by controlling exposure to indoor allergens and tobacco smoke. By controlling biological contaminants, like dust mites and cat allergens, asthma cases could be reduced even further.