Most people think of their home as a place of absolute safety, but indoor air quality issues may pose hidden dangers. The EPA estimates that indoor air is often two to five times more polluted than outdoor air and that poor indoor air quality contributes to many serious illnesses.
Identifying indoor air pollutants and taking steps to remove or mitigate their presence, such as employing air duct cleaning services, can improve your health and that of your family.
It’s estimated that most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. The large amount of time we spend inside makes ensuring that the air in our homes and businesses is clean and pure important to our health and that of our loved ones. There are dozens of potential pollutants that can affect the air quality of your home, including household chemicals, building materials, dust, mold, etc. Some of the most common indoor air pollutants include:
- Carbon monoxide – Carbon monoxide, also referred to as CO, poses a mortal danger to humans, as it can cause damage to the central nervous system. Odorless and colorless, many people who have fallen victim to CO poisoning never knew something was amiss until it was too late.
Carbon monoxide can be produced in the home by heaters, stoves, chimneys, and furnaces. Low-level exposure to the gas can make people feel sluggish or nauseous. Exposure at high levels can result in death. Carbon monoxide detectors can identify dangerous levels of CO in the home.
- Nitrogen dioxide – NO2 derives from many of the same sources as carbon monoxide. Nitrogen dioxide has a reddish color and a noticeable smell, making it far easier to detect than carbon monoxide. NO2 poses some severe health risks to humans, including the risk of death if they are exposed to high levels.
- Radon – This incredibly dangerous gas can contribute to several very serious illnesses, including lung cancer. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that radon contributes to between 7,000 and 30,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Radon elevates the risk of cancer for smokers, as the gas can bond with cigarette smoke and settle in the lungs.
Radon is a radioactive gas that infiltrates the home through the ground under the structure or well water. Building materials used to construct your home may also contain radon.
Odorless and tasteless, humans have no immediate means of detecting the presence of radon.Homeowners and renters can use inexpensive testing kits to determine whether dangerous levels of radon are present in their homes.
- Pet dander – It’s an unfortunate fact that our pets may be making us ill. Tiny microscopic skin cells shed by cats, dogs, and other pets can cause allergic reactions among many people. The more concentrated the pet dander is in the home, the more severe the reaction from sensitive individuals may be. Proteins found in pet saliva, urine, and feces that become airborne may also contribute to indoor air quality issues.
Pet dander is a widespread indoor air quality problem, as cats are kept in more than a quarter of U.S. homes while dogs are present in nearly a third. The best defense against pet dander accumulating in the home is regular vacuuming and cleaning. Air duct cleaning services may help remove years of accumulated pet dander from your HVAC system, too.
- Mold – Mold that grows indoors poses a serious health threat to men, women, and children alike. Mold consists of fungi that grow into multi-cellular structures. Mold thrives in moist areas and commonly grows in damp, dark areas of the home. Mold comes in a variety of colors and is typically accompanied by a musty smell.
Mold releases spores into the air. In the outdoors, this is not problematic, as these spores typically disperse into the air and dissipate into harmlessness. In today’s tightly sealed buildings, mold can be a huge problem, as the spores are kept concentrated in a small area. Regular inhalation of mold spores can cause a number of health issues, particularly among vulnerable people such as those with allergies, existing respiratory problems, or weakened immune systems.
Mold is not to be taken lightly. Some variants of mold can cause health problems so severe that property owners will rip out walls and perform extensive renovations rather than run the risk of getting sick themselves or having a tenant fall ill.
- Secondhand smoke – As smoking has become less socially accepted indoors, and is banned outright in any businesses, secondhand smoke has diminished as an indoor air quality issue. However, some people still smoke inside their homes, putting themselves and other people present at elevated risk of lung illnesses and other ailments.
Secondhand smoke has more than 4,700 chemical ingredients, many of them dangerous to human health. Exposure to smoke can contribute to a number of health conditions, such as pneumonia, wheezing, asthma, bronchitis, and lung cancer. It can also elevate risks for developing cardiovascular disease or having a stroke.
Banning tobacco use from your home will help you and your loved ones avoid the perils of secondhand smoke.
- Volatile organic compounds – VOCs are organic chemicals that have a low boiling point and which evaporate easily into the air. VOCs come from a variety of sources, such as paint, cleaning supplies, fragrances, glue, building materials, pesticides, and even carpet. Many VOCs are harmless, but some are dangerous to human health.
- exposure to VOCs indoors can result in serious illnesses, and studies indicate VOCs may contribute to cancer. Complaints such as eye, nose, and throat irritation are common where VOCs are present. People exposed to VOCs over a long period can also experience dizziness, vomiting, headache, fatigue, and a host of other symptoms.
Homeowners and renters can reduce their exposure to VOCs by searching for products labeled as having low VOC content. Products that use natural ingredients rather than chemicals typically have less VOC content.
- Particulate matter – Fireplaces, kerosene heaters, and wood stoves often create tiny bits of matter that humans can easily inhale. Over time, inhaling these small bits of matter can cause damage to the lungs, as well as other health problems. Also referred to as respirable particles, particulate matter can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses. Good ventilation can help mitigate this problem.
- Asbestos – Homebuilders once commonly used asbestos as insulation, as the fiber was resistant to fire and good at keeping rooms sealed from heat and cold. Unfortunately, long-term exposure to asbestos has been determined to contribute to abdominal cancer, mesothelioma, lung cancer, and scarring of the lungs referred to as asbestosis. As a result, many forms of asbestos are banned and even unbanned forms of the fiber are seldom used.
Many homes have been remediated to remove asbestos or seal it off, but there are still a large number of older homes with asbestos insulation. Homeowners concerned about whether their homes have dangerous levels of asbestos particles in the air should consult with an environmental specialist.
Investing in remediation efforts to remove sources of pollution such as asbestos and radon gas can greatly improve indoor air quality and reduce threats to human health.