Indoor Air Quality & Pollution

Should you be concerned about indoor air quality and pollution?

First, it is now widely recognized that most people spend more than 90% of their time indoors. Because most of us spend so much time inside, indoor air pollution concentrations, even if they are uniformly lower than outdoor levels, make a significant contribution to our average exposure over a day, week, month, or year.

Second, modern indoor environments contain a complex array of potential sources of air pollution, including synthetic building materials, consumer products, and dust mites. Airborne emissions also occur because of the people, pets, and plants that inhabit these spaces. Efforts to lower energy costs by reducing ventilation rates have increased the likelihood that pollutants generated indoors will accumulate.

Third, monitoring studies inside buildings and vehicles have consistently found that concentrations of many air pollutants tend to be higher indoors than out. Indoor air has been shown to be a complex mixture of chemical, biological, and physical agents.

Fourth, complaints about inadequate indoor air quality and associated discomfort and illness are a burgeoning problem in our society. Reports of illness outbreaks among building occupants, particularly office workers, with no secondary spread of illness to others outside the building with whom affected individuals come into contact have become commonplace. EPA classifies these reports into two general categories: building related illnesses and sick-building syndrome.

Fifth, exposures to many indoor air pollutants are known or suspected to occur at levels sufficient to cause illness or injury. Scientific evidence suggests that respiratory disease, allergy, mucous membrane irritation, nervous system effects, cardiovascular effects, reproductive effects, and lung cancer may be linked to exposures to indoor air pollutants.

Studies have shown that the air in our homes can be even more polluted than the outdoor air in big cities. Because we spend so much time indoors, the quality of our indoor air can affect our health. Infants, young children, and the elderly are groups shown to be more susceptible to pollutants. Those who suffer from chronic respiratory or cardiovascular illness or immune system diseases are also more susceptible to pollutants.

Many factors determine whether pollutants in your home will affect your health. They include the presence, use, and condition of pollutant sources, the level of pollutants both indoors and out, the amount of ventilation in your home, and your overall health.

Most homes have more than one source of indoor air pollution. For example, pollutants come from tobacco smoke, building materials, decorating products, home furnishings, and activities such as cooking, heating, cooling, and cleaning. Living in areas with high outdoor levels of pollutants usually results in high indoor levels. Combustion pollutants are another category of indoor air pollutants.

What are combustion pollutants?

Combustion pollutants are gases or particles that come from burning materials such as fuels in appliances. Common fuels burned in appliances are natural or LP gas, fuel oil, kerosene, wood, or coal. The types and amounts of pollutants produced depend upon the type of appliance, how well the appliance is installed, maintained, and vented, and the kind of fuel it uses. Some of the common pollutants produced from burning these fuels are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles, and sulfur dioxide. Particles can have hazardous chemicals attached to them. Other pollutants that can be produced by some appliances are unburned hydrocarbons and aldehydes.

Combustion always produces water vapor. Water vapor is not usually considered a pollutant, although it can act as one. Water can result in high humidity and wet surfaces, which encourages or feeds the growth of biological pollutants such as house dust mites, molds, and bacteria.

Where do combustion pollutants come from?

Combustion pollutants found indoors include outdoor air, tobacco smoke, exhaust from car and lawn mower internal combustion engines, and some hobby activities such as welding, wood burning, and soldering. Combustion pollutants can also come from vented or un-vented combustion appliances. These appliances include space heaters, gas ranges and ovens, furnaces, gas water heaters, gas clothes dryers, wood or coal-burning stoves, and fireplaces.

Source: EPA

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Scientists consistently rank indoor air pollution at or near the top of environmental health risks in the United States.

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