Monday, November 8, 2010

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Many people are much more focused on outdoor air and water pollution as potentially harmful to their health, but indoor air pollution is a daily risk in our homes that gets little attention.  Indoor air pollutants are particular damaging because they become trapped inside a home, thus pose health risks for longer periods of time than those to which we are typically exposed.  For example, if we swim in polluted water, we are exposed to harmful contaminants for the length of the swim; but if we live in a home with sources of indoor air pollution, we spend hours and hours breathing in the pollutants, without any awareness that we may be posing great health risks to our bodies.  Known sources of harmful indoor air pollutants are:

  • dry cleaned clothing
  • household cleansers
  • paints and paint strippers
  • wood preservatives
  • aerosol sprays
  • moth repellants
  • air fresheners
  • car fuels and products
  • hobby supplies
  • pesticides and hydrocarbons tracked in by shoes
  • formaldehyde / pressed wood products
  • smoke and tobacco products
  • stoves, heaters, fireplaces and chimneys
All of these products should be used with caution inside your home, and eliminated if possible.  The United States EPA recommends that we bring only products that will be quickly used up into your home; keep pollutant sources away from children; take extra measures to ventilate areas exposed to indoor air pollutants; and establish effective ventilation through hvac systems and fans to ensure that pollutants spend little time inside your home.  In some cases, you can eliminate the use of harmful products from your home (switching to green cleaners and household products).  In other cases, you can take very effective steps to drastically reduce exposure.  For example, taking the bags off dry cleaning and allowing them to aerate outside your home before taking them inside will significantly cut your exposure to those chemicals, and adopting a “no shoe” rule will drastically reduce the amount of pesticides and hydrocarbons that enter your home. 

Many times, home owners are so focused on making their homes efficient by installing airtight windows and doors and installing high-efficiency insulation, that they forget to ensure that pollutants can find their way out.  Check to ensure that your home is properly ventilated – through open windows, fans, and an hvac system that regularly flushes out old air and injects new air. For more on indoor air pollution sources and solutions, please see

Carol Jones

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