When certain air pollutants from particles and gases contaminate indoor air, it can escalate into indoor air pollution. The following are the most significant causes of indoor air pollution..
Asbestos is found in various materials used in home construction such as coatings, paints, building materials, and ceiling and floor tiles. Since 1989 asbestos has been partially banned partially in the U.S., so it’s much less of a threat in houses built since then. However, in homes built before 1989, the risk of asbestos is substantial.
2. Formaldehyde/Pressed wood products
Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products such as paints, sealants, and pressed wood products. In 2018, it became illegal to manufacture or import composite wood products in the United States if they contain excessive amounts of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is also a by-product of combustion, such as cigarette smoke and cooking. Formaldehyde tends to be omnipresent, indoors and outdoors, at low levels. In higher concentrations and sustained exposure, formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat as well as cause some types of cancers.
Did you know?
Formaldehyde is actually naturally occurring in our environment—and our bodies. It’s found in trace amounts in every living system, including fruits and vegetables. According to the American Chemistry Council, “Humans produce about 1.5 ounces of formaldehyde a day as a normal part of our metabolism”.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can be found underneath your home in various types of bedrock and other building materials. When trapped inside buildings, it can be a cause of indoor air pollution. Radon can get into the walls of your home and can significantly increase your chances of developing lung cancer.
4. Tobacco smoke/secondhand smoke
Tobacco smoke is one of the most toxic indoor air pollutants. Secondhand smoke, also called environmental tobacco smoke or passive smoking, is a mixture of the smoke given off by the tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars or pipes along with the smoke exhaled by smokers. Tobacco smoke is considered one of the most deadly carcinogens— it contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of them toxic. Exposure to secondhand smoke is much more dangerous when it occurs indoors, particularly in homes and cars.
5. Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless and toxic gas, can kill you in high enough doses. Wood stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces, all emit carbon monoxide as well as nitrogen dioxide. Leaking chimneys and furnaces, generators, and gas stoves are also common sources of carbon monoxide in the home. The problem with carbon monoxide poisoning is that its symptoms are very similar to the flu—headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion—so people often don’t realize they’ve been poisoned.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include a huge gamut of potentially harmful chemicals that worsen indoor air pollution and can even lead to cancer. In addition, they can react with other gases and form other air pollutants after they are in the air. Paints, varnishes, wax, adhesives, caulks, and sealants all contain organic solvents that can impact breathing. Many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products also increase your home’s pollution load. Fuels, such as gas and kerosene, are made up of VOCs as well.
Did you know?
Products containing VOCs release organic compounds while you are using them, but did you know many of them continue to release VOCs even when they are simply being stored? As volatile compounds, by definition, they are unstable, which means unused chemicals stored in the home can sometimes “leak” and release VOCs into the air.
7. Biological contaminants
Biological contaminants refer to microorganisms that infiltrate our indoor environments, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. In our home, these kinds of contaminants manifest as animal dander and cat saliva, house dust mites, cockroaches, insects, pollen, mold, and mildew. Standing water, water-damaged materials or wet surfaces are the biggest culprits responsible for bacteria of all kinds: The moisture serves as a breeding ground for molds, mildews, bacteria, mites, and insects. Prolonged exposure to biological pollutants can cause sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fevers.
Inherently toxic, pesticides are chemicals that are used to kill or control pests. They include disinfectants, insecticides, fungicides, and rodent and termite poison. Sold as sprays, liquids, sticks, powders, crystals, balls, and foggers, chronic exposure to some pesticides can damage your liver, kidneys, and endocrine and nervous systems.
Did you know?
According to a study published in Pediatrics, in 2008, pesticides were the ninth most common substance reported to poison control centers, and approximately 45 percent of all reports of pesticide poisoning were regarding children.
9. Household cleaning and personal care products
Cleaning supplies can be an underestimated source of VOCs in your home. For example, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology found when bleach combines with a common citrus ingredient called limonene, it creates higher concentrations of toxic emissions. Then there are the ubiquitous air fresheners, which emanate their own potent bouquet of toxins.
One study found they emit over 100 different chemicals that react to each other and form new combos of pollutants. Personal care products, particularly perfume and nail polish, are largely unregulated. They are responsible for a great deal more air pollution than many realize. A recent study found that domestic VOCs present in lotions, paints, and other household products contribute about as much to air pollution as motor vehicle emissions. These VOCs cause serious eye and nose irritation, and can possibly stimulate as asthma attack. In the long-term, VOC exposure can cause liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, and cancer.
The effect of indoor air pollution on your healthHealth effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced immediately upon exposure or potentially years later. The immediate effects, often short-lived, can include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Sometimes the solution is simply to eliminate exposure to the pollutant in question if you can determine the source. But many chronic exposures can result in more long-term effects, such as respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. Asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier fever, a viral lung inflammation triggered by humidifier-bred bacteria, can be caused—or worsened—by some indoor air pollutants.
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