How to recognize indoor air pollutants
While the majority of Americans recognize the dangers of outdoor pollution sources such as vehicle emissions, most people are unaware of the risks posed by indoor pollution. According to the American Lung Association, half of Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution... because Americans spend 90% of their time indoors --and up to 65% of that time at home-- it’s important to safeguard indoor air.
The Environmental Protection Agency stated, “Indoor air pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health. The problems they cause can be subtle and do not always produce easily recognized or immediate impacts on health.” Poor indoor air quality can cause both short-term and long-term health problems. Short-term problems include headaches, tiredness, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. These symptoms can usually be treated when the source of the pollution is removed from the home. Long-term symptoms are more severe and can include respiratory diseases, heart problems, and even cancer.
Indoor air quality problems stem from three main categories:
- Sources of Pollution
The most common pollution sources are particles or gases that are released into the air. Other pollution sources include dust particles from old furniture, mold, and toxic products used for household cleaning. Because most of these particles and gases are invisible, homeowners are usually unaware of an indoor air quality problem within their home. Individuals can hire professionals or buy a home air quality test kit in order to find out if they have any problems with their indoor air quality. Homeowners should also have a professional test their home for radon gas, since the colorless, odorless gas is the #2 cause of lung cancer in the United States. If there is an indoor air quality problem, remove the pollution sources. The Environmental Protection Agency states, “The most effective way to improve indoor air is to eliminate individual sources or reduce their emissions.” Removing pollution sources may range from banning indoor smoking to cleaning up mold to getting rid of toxic cleaning products.
- Inadequate Ventilation
According to the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, improper ventilation is another leading cause of indoor air quality problems. If outdoor air is not coming in to freshen old air and lower indoor pollutant levels, indoor air will quickly become filled with unhealthy pollutants. The American Lung Association suggests, “Make sure the ventilation system is working correctly and that air flow is not blocked.” The EPA adds the following steps: “When weather permits, open windows and doors, or run an air conditioner with the vent control open. Bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust to the outdoors also increase ventilation and help remove pollutants.” They also recommend changing air filters regularly to remove dust and other pollutants from the air.
- High Humidity Levels
High humidity is also a common cause of indoor air quality problems. High humidity makes the air moist, which increases the risk of mold. As a result, indoor humidity should be kept between 30-50%. Use a humidity gauge to make sure indoor air is at a healthy level. Decrease humidity by opening windows or turning on the air conditioner.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission wrote, “Indoor air pollution is one risk you can do something about.” Take proactive steps to remove pollution sources and maintain ventilation and humidity levels in order to protect the quality of indoor air.