Indoor Air Quality

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 airtight 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 weather-stripping 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

The National Center for Biotechnology Information says houseplants can be part of a comprehensive strategy to improve respiratory health.

Most Americans 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, cleaning products, 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:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • 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 the effects of indoor pollutants.

About 26 million people – 8.3% of Americans – have 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 such as dust mites, cockroaches, mice, mold and pet allergens, asthma cases could be reduced even further.