Air Quality in Homes

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.

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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:

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.

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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.

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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).

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