Indoor air quality may not be something you think about until you have a problem with it. The air you breathe indoors is as important to good health as outdoor air quality. Think about how much time you and your family spend inside your home, workplace or school. Poor air quality can lead to various symptoms and can have a real impact on your health. The good news is there are steps you can take to improve indoor air quality.
What Affects Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air quality is affected by two primary factors: air pollutants and the amount of ventilation inside. When you think of air pollution, outdoor air pollutants, such as smog may first come to mind, but there are also many different chemicals and sources of indoor air pollution.
One source of indoor air pollution is building materials. For example, some types of insulation used in the past contained asbestos. Although insulation with asbestos is no longer manufactured, older homes and businesses may still contain asbestos.
Related: Health Risks Of Asbestos Exposure
Another possible indoor pollutant is formaldehyde, which is often present in pressed wood products used to make shelving, flooring and cabinets. Formaldehyde may also be present in adhesives, such as glue and certain types of foam insulation.
Additional pollutants that impact indoor air quality include mold, carbon monoxide, pesticides used to kill insects, radon and smoke from cigarettes. Carbon monoxide may be released due to leaking chimneys, wood stoves and kerosene heaters, which are poorly ventilated causing carbon monoxide poisoning. Radon is released into the air from the breakdown of soil and rocks.
How Indoor Air Quality Impacts Health
Poor indoor air quality can affect your health in several ways. For example, asbestos exposure has been determined to increase the risk of lung disease. Long term exposure to radon can also lead lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
In addition to the link between some types of indoor air pollutants and cancer, poor indoor air quality can also lead to an increase in asthma symptoms and allergies. According to the United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, other common symptoms of poor indoor air quality include itchy eyes, headaches, fatigue and problems concentrating.
The exact concentrations or length of exposure that leads to health problems is not clearly understood, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. What is known is health effects can be felt immediately after exposure to indoor air pollutants or even months or years later.
Are You At Risk?
With all the possible effects indoor air pollutants can have on your health, it makes sense to determine if you are at risk. If you live or work in an older home, of if your home often seems damp or smells musty you may be at risk for pollutants, such as lead, asbestos or mold.
If any of your neighbors have had problems with radon, your home may also be affected. Since radon is odorless, it is difficult to determine if levels inside are high. As recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General, all homes should be tested to determine radon levels. Do-it-yourself radon test kits are available and should be labeled “Meets EPA Requirements.”
You may also be at risk for poor indoor air quality if you do not have proper ventilation. Once chemicals are in your home if air is not circulating efficiently, air pollution becomes worse. Consider how many windows your home has and whether it has bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans.
If you feel your home is at risk for air pollutants or you or family members have unexplained health issues, it is a good idea to have your home evaluated. A home inspector experienced with air quality testing is a good place to start.
How To Improve Indoor Air Quality
Although it may be impossible to eliminate everything which contributes to poor air quality, there are several things you can do to improve the quality of the air you breathe indoors:
- Don’t smoke indoors: Cigarette smoke contains over 200 chemicals that are considered poisonous, many of which are known to cause cancer, according to The Clean Air Council.
- Check the labels of cleaners: Avoid using cleaners which contain volatile organic compounds, which are unhealthy to breathe in. Instead, clean with natural products, such as baking soda, vinegar and lemons.
- Watch for and reduce mold: There are several things you can do to prevent mold buildup in your home, such as fixing leaking pipes, running an exhaust fan during and after you shower. In addition, increase air flow in your home, by opening windows and closet doors to allow more air to circulate.
- Change air filters as needed: Check furnace and air filters every few months. Replace or clean filters as needed.
There is clear evidence poor indoor air quality can have negative health effects just as much if not more than outdoor air pollution. Taking steps to determine your risk and making changes as needed can improve indoor air quality and possibly improve your health now and in the future.