There are times when the air quality outside is noticeable bad. Your allergies may act up, the sky may seem hazy, or you might get a big whiff of diesel exhaust as a belching truck rumbles past. But have you even considered the quality of the air in your own home?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside the typical home is, on average, up to five times more polluted than the air outside. In some cases it can be up to 100 times more contaminated!
Indoor air pollution can be caused by any number of sources, but they are all “sources that release gases or particles into the air” notes the EPA.
So what does this really mean? It means that we need to be aware that the air we are breathing in our homes can be affected by choices we make – and some things that are out of our control.
First of all, open up your windows! As the weather becomes more spring-like, take advantage and let mother nature do a little bit of your cleaning.
Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels. Also, lower the heat a bit. High temperature and/or humidity levels can intensify concentrations of some pollutants.
There are many sources of indoor air pollution our homes.
Experts single out household cleaners as one of the main offenders inside the home. Common household cleaners release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) even when you're not using them. You should always store household products according to manufacturers' instructions and keep them away from children. You can even consider purchasing cleaners without VOCs. Many natural alternatives are now available at Target, Giant and other stores.
Other sources of indoor pollution include “combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products; building materials and furnishings as diverse as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products;…central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; and outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution” that get into the home, according to the EPA.
The importance of any one single source depends on how much pollutant it emits and how “hazardous those emissions are.” In some circumstances, factors such as how old the source is and whether it is properly maintained are very significant. For instance, an improperly adjusted gas stove can emit much more carbon monoxide than one that is properly adjusted and maintained.
Other sources of indoor air pollution, such as building materials, furnishings, and those household products release pollutants almost continuously.
Some, like space heaters and solvents, release pollutants intermittently, but high pollutant concentrations can remain in the air for extended periods after they are no longer being used.
Health effects from indoor air pollutants can be experienced now as well as years from now.
According to the EPA, “Immediate effects may show up after a single exposure or repeated exposures. These include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Such immediate effects are usually short-term and treatable. Sometimes the treatment is simply eliminating the person's exposure to the source of the pollution, if it can be identified. Symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever, may also show up soon after exposure to some indoor air pollutants.”
Other health issues may show up years after exposure has occurred, or after long or repeated periods of exposure.
So it’s important to do what you can now. Read the labels on your cleaning supplies, check your stove, heating system and carbon monoxide detectors. Open the windows.
And take some time to pay attention to your body.
People react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants. As the EPA points out, “further research is needed to better understand which health effects occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations found in homes and which occurs from the higher concentrations that occur for short periods of time.”