- Why should I be concerned about the air quality in my home?
- What are indoor air pollutants and where do they come from?
- How can these pollutants affect my health?
- How can I reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants at home?
- Air Quality Testing Firms
Why should I be concerned about the air quality in my home?
According to a number of national organizations, including the American Lung Association, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency, studies have shown that air pollution in our homes can be more of a health concern than air pollution outside. Indoor pollutant levels may, in fact, be two to five or more times higher than outdoor levels. There are three main reasons why indoor air quality is becoming more of a health concern.
- Compared to many years ago, we spend more time indoors. In the United States, it is estimated that people today spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors.
- There has been a large increase in the use of manmade building materials and furnishings, as well as household cleaning, personal care, and pesticide products that contain chemicals.
- Over the past few decades, homes and other buildings have been made “tighter” to save on energy use and costs.
What are indoor air pollutants and where do they come from?
An indoor air pollutant is a substance in the air that may affect the health of home occupants. Pollutants could come from outside of the home, for example an idling car engine in an attached garage, backyard trash burning, or radon entering the house from the ground below.
An air pollutant could also come from inside the home. Some examples of indoor sources might be a faulty furnace, a freshly painted room or mold growing on damp or wet carpeting.
Examples of indoor air pollutants include:
- carbon monoxide
- nitrogen dioxide
- other combustion pollutants, including secondary tobacco smoke.
Bacteria and viruses, mold, pet dander, insect parts (dust mites or roaches), and chemicals found in some hobby and household cleaning, or personal care products are all potential indoor air pollutants.
How can these pollutants affect my health?
Breathing air pollutants can lead to allergic and asthmatic reactions, infections, and other health problems that involve the lungs, nose and throat. For example, pet cats, caged birds and rodents, and dogs can produce dander and other particles that can trigger allergic reactions or asthmatic symptoms in some people.
Exposure to other indoor air pollutants, such as high enough levels of carbon monoxide, can result in headaches, nausea, vomiting, brain damage, and even death. Exposure to radon may increase the risk of lung cancer. Exposure to VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) may affect the lungs, brain, and nervous systems.
The possible health effects depend on the amount of pollutant inhaled, the length of time the person is exposed, family history, and age and general health of the person. Infants and young children may be especially sensitive, in part, because their organs and immune systems are not fully developed. Senior citizens may also be more sensitive to certain pollutants.
How can I reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants at home?
To decrease the risk of exposure and health effects, a number of actions can be taken. In general, decrease or remove the source of pollution, stop or reduce the pathways that pollutants may take and increase ventilation (fresh air).
- Install a carbon monoxide detector that meets UL rating 2034 and be aware of possible sources of carbon monoxide pollution in your home.
- Have your furnace, boiler, and gas stove checked and serviced once a year, or more if necessary.
- Have stove pipe and chimneys checked and cleaned as often as needed, especially if you burn wood.
- Don’t idle your car’s engine in an attached garage.
- Don’t operate a space heater (kerosene, etc.) unless it’s vented to the outside.
- Don’t smoke in the house. (See Fact Sheet on Carbon Monoxide)
- Test your home for radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer. (See Fact Sheet on Radon)
- Increase ventilation. In some cases, this can be done by opening the windows and doors to provide fresh air from the outside. Installing exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens and properly maintaining air filter systems will also help air quality.
- Keep your home in good repair:
- Prevent or repair roof, pipe, and basement leaks.
- Prevent or reduce mold growth and the spread of mold spores by venting the clothes dryer, the bathroom, and the area by the kitchen stove to the outside of the house.
- Limit the use of humidifiers and maintain and clean them regularly and frequently. Using a dehumidifier in high moisture areas such as the basement can help. Discard water damaged porous items (sheetrock, paneling, carpets, furniture, etc.) especially if repeatedly dampened or wet for more than 24 hours.
- Regularly clean the drip pan under your refrigerator.
- Keep your home warm enough to prevent moisture buildup or condensation (and mold growth), especially in poorly insulated areas.
- Properly insulate and correctly install a vapor barrier in wall and ceiling areas. In winter, do not allow the indoor relative humidity to go over 50 percent. (See Fact Sheet on Mold)
- Limit the use of carpeting, an easy gathering and possible growing place for biological pollutants like mold, dust mites, and bacteria. Do not use carpeting directly on cement floors or in damp areas like the basement. (See Fact Sheet on Carpet) Consider limiting where pets, (dogs, cats, etc.) can travel in your house or not allowing pets to occupy carpeted areas of the house.
- Care for carpeting:
- Use a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtering vacuum cleaner daily. Leave shoes by the entry door.
- Do not saturate your carpeting if wet-cleaning it.
- Use 140°F water with an extractor to reduce the amount of water remaining in the carpeting.
- Limit or do not use high solvent cleaners when cleaning the carpet.
- Use fans and a dehumidifier in the carpeted room in order to dry it within 24 hours.
- Reduce your use of household chemicals. When you have a choice between two products that produce the same cleaning results, choose the least toxic. Look at ingredients on the label, or obtain an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) from the company. Under “Health Hazard Rating,” which gives a rating between 0 and 4, consider choosing the one with the lowest number. Consider alternate hobbies, or alternate hobby-related products, if the hobby could expose you to harmful fumes or vapors.
- Store chemicals properly in an area not normally occupied by people, such as a garage or shed, and safely out of reach of children. Buy only the amount you need and store in original container so that safety information is not lost.
- Read and follow directions for use on the label. Do not mix any cleaning products unless directed on the product label. When instructions read “use with adequate ventilation,” strongly consider using the product outside the building. If the product is used inside the building, increase ventilation by opening a window and using exhaust fans.