According to the EPA, up to 85% of our exposure to pesticides comes from indoor sources.
When you think about air pollution, what comes to mind? Smog? Brown Cloud? Cars? How about â€œhomeâ€? Recent studies by the EPA show that the air inside homes and buildings is on average two to five times more polluted than the air in even the most industrial cities (1). With North Americans spending an average of 90% of their time inside, indoor air pollution can pose a serious health risk.
So whatâ€™s causing this toxic indoor environment? The culprits run the gamut from mold to invisible gases to household cleaning products. Letâ€™s take a look at some common indoor air pollutants and how to eliminate them from your home.Biological Pollutants
Not only do household allergens like mold, mildew, animal dander, and dust mites cause common irritations like sneezing and headaches, these biological contaminants have also been estimated to lead to 200,000 emergency room visits per year by asthma patients (2).
Biological pollutants can be reduced through regular household cleaning, removing mold and mildew from damp areas, washing bedding and pillows, and changing humidifier water regularly.Radon
This colorless, odorless gas is actually the second leading cause of lung cancer, implicated in anywhere from 7,000-30,000 deaths every year (3). Radon gas naturally rises from the ground and dissipates into the air. The problem arises when structures such as homes are built over â€œhot spots,â€ thereby trapping the gas inside. When breathed in, radon reacts with lung tissue, causing damage that over time can lead to lung cancer.
The only way to know if your home has high levels of radon is to test for it. Radon test kits are now available for homeowners to check radon levels in the home.Carbon Monoxide
Thereâ€™s yet another colorless and odorless gas besides radon that may be lurking in your home, but this one could be far more dangerous. Carbon monoxide gas is a deadly indoor air pollutant and can be generated from the incomplete combustion of fuel in household devices like gas stoves, furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, and cars. Carbon monoxide inhibits the transport of oxygen through the body. At low levels of exposure, it may cause dizziness, vomiting, muscle aches, and general weakness. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to death.
The number-one way to protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning is to purchase a carbon monoxide detector. These units function like smoke detectors and go off when carbon monoxide levels get too high. In addition, itâ€™s wise to have a professional check all fuel burning devices in your home (the flames should be blue), never bring burning charcoal indoors, never leave cars running in an enclosed or attached garage, and always open the flue before starting a fire.Formaldehyde
Carpets, upholstery, drapery fabric, and plywood paneling may be releasing chemicals such as formaldehyde into your air. Formaldehyde is classified by the EPA as a possible carcinogen. Exposure to the chemical may cause headaches, eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness and coughing. To make matters worse, the adhesives in new carpeting may release a potentially dangerous gas, which is responsible for that â€œnew carpet smell.â€ New clothing is also typically preserved with formaldehyde.
To reduce risk, open windows and ventilate the area when new carpeting and furnishings are installed, and ask retailers for information on carpet and upholstery emissions. Also, wash new clothing before wearing it.Household Products and Pesticides
Finally, letâ€™s look at what is probably the most common source of indoor air pollution â€“ household products. The cleaners, disinfectants, paints, varnishes, and glues designed to make life easier also release many harmful chemicals into the air of our homes. Compounds from these products can pollute both while they are in use and while they are in storage.
Surprisingly, even personal care products can contribute to indoor pollution. Products like hairspray, hair dye, air fresheners, and nail polish removers contain chemicals that evaporate easily into the air and can lead to dizziness, headaches, and irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Take note that aerosol sprays release more chemicals into the air because they disperse the product in tiny, airborne droplets.
What may come as a surprise to you is that many pesticides are also found inside homes. Pesticides are used to kill or repel, and according to the American Lung Association even a disinfectant is a pesticide. Carpets act as reservoirs for the pesticides we track in from outdoors, retaining these chemicals for years even though they would break down within days outside. In fact, 85% of our exposure to pesticides comes from indoor sources (4).
The chemicals in household products and pesticides found indoors can cause dizziness, headaches, irritation to eyes, nose, and throat, nausea and even cancer. An estimated 3,000 cases of cancer each year in the U.S. are thought to be caused by long-term use of household products and pesticides (5). This health risk can be reduced by using natural, non-toxic methods of cleaning and pest control, and reading the label warnings before using toxic products.
Simple daily adjustments can greatly reduce your risk of living in a polluted home. Remember to read labels, keep toxic product lids tight, ventilate your home, get detectors, and avoid the use of toxic products whenever possible. Also, spread the word about indoor air pollution, because once folks have a better understanding of what may be making the air in their homes unhealthy, they will be better armed to make choices to protect their health and the health of the Earth. For more useful information on indoor air quality, check out www.epa.gov/iaq/
Signs of Possible Indoor Air Pollution:
â€¢ Stale or stuffy air; unusual odors
â€¢ A tightly constructed home (especially new homes)
â€¢ Noticeable health reactions from remodeling, redecorating, installing new carpet, or moving to a new home
â€¢ Feeling noticeably better outdoorsâ€”Healthy Indoor Air for Americaâ€™s Homes, EPA
Testing for air quality, and further information:
IAQ INFO is an easily accessible, central source of information on indoor air quality, created and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As concern about air pollution indoors has grown, so has the amount of information on this subject but getting current, useful information can be a challenging task. The purpose of IAQ INFO is to help you locate information to answer your questions about indoor air pollution.
Consumers may call the toll-free number 1-800-438-4318 to speak to an information specialist, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time.