Air pollution has a negative impact on the health of millions of people worldwide. While outdoor air quality is often thought of when “pollution” is mentioned, contaminated indoor air actually takes a much greater toll on health and well-being. Not only can the air inside a home be up to five times more polluted than the smog-laden air in a big city, people now spend nine-tenths of their lives inside. The combination of higher pollutant levels and prolonged exposure is what makes poor indoor air quality such a serious health hazard.
How Bad Indoor Air Affects Health
The health implications of breathing dirty air can vary depending on the specific pollutants present, the length of exposure, and an individual’s susceptibility. While everyone in a household can suffer, indoor pollution poses a greater risk for the elderly, children and those with chronic illnesses. The effects felt can include itchy/irritated eyes, sore throats, headaches, chest or nasal congestion, and coughing. Anyone with asthma or allergies may experience heightened symptoms and more frequent attacks. Other adverse effects and illnesses caused by indoor pollution include:
- Respiratory tract infections.
- Heart or lung disease.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).
- Lung and other forms of cancer.
What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?
One reason for the compromised air quality seen in homes today is the trend toward sealing and weatherizing to reduce energy losses. If adequate ventilation and air exchange are lacking in your tightly sealed dwelling, harmful gases and particles can stay trapped inside, along with unhealthy excess humidity. Some of the most common pollutants and their sources are:
- Combustion byproducts. If you have a gas-fired furnace, range, clothes dryer or water heater that’s not well-maintained, the exhaust fumes it produces can pump harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and lethal carbon monoxide (CO) into the air you breathe. Wood stoves, fireplaces and fuel-burning space heaters are other sources of these toxins.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The materials used in your home’s construction, carpets and furniture can off-gas noxious chemicals such as formaldehyde. Hundreds of other unhealthy VOCs are released by the household cleaners, pesticides, paints and personal-care products used and stored inside your home.
- Biological contaminants. High humidity and warmth create the perfect breeding ground for mold, mildew and dust mites. Other common biological pollutants are plant pollen and dander from pets.
- Tobacco smoke. Second-hand smoke can worsen asthma attacks in children, and cause bronchitis, pneumonia, and respiratory tract or ear infections. Exposure can also lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer in non-smokers.
Effective Ways of Improving Indoor Air Quality
Now that you know the hazards and potential causes of indoor pollution, you can take steps to boost your home’s air quality and reduce the associated health risks:
- Control dander and dust mites. Bathing pets frequently can reduce animal dander accumulations. Using dust-proof mattress covers and pillows, and washing all bedding in hot water once a week, can keep dust mites under control. Dusting with a damp cloth, and vacuuming floors, furniture and window treatments regularly can help too.
- Ventilate your living environment. Installing a whole-house ventilation system is one way to do this. A more affordable alternative is adding trickle ventilation devices to some windows to provide vital cross ventilation.
- Operate your A/C continuously in the summer. This can help keep moisture levels under control, which discourages dust mites and mold growth. It has the added benefit of expelling water-soluble pollutants along with the excess humidity.
- Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. You can reduce the number of airborne particles circulating through your HVAC system’s ductwork by 90 percent with HEPA filtration. Because they remove he smallest particulates, HEPA filters may restrict necessary airflow, so follow your equipment manufacturer’s recommendations on use and replacement. Your equipment likely will require modifications to work with a HEPA or other high-end air filter.
- Schedule yearly maintenance for fuel-burning devices. Inspecting, servicing and cleaning the fuel-burning equipment and appliances in your home annually limits your exposure to unhealthy and deadly combustion byproducts.
- Avoid VOC-emitting products. Choosing environmentally friendly or green materials and products can limit the amount of harmful VOCs released in your home. If your use of household chemicals and cleaners can’t be avoided, buy limited quantities, and store them where there’s ample ventilation.
- Ban second-hand smoke. Doing so protects everyone in your household from exposure to tobacco smoke’s 7,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens.
To learn more ways to lessen the toll of poor indoor air quality on your Griffith, Munster, or Gary area household, please contact us today at Meyer’s.