Indoor air pollution and Its Effects on Human Health

human health and indoor air pollutionIndoor air pollution is increasingly a common problem in today’s modern living environment. Part of the reason is because people in Western industrialized cities spend 90% of their time indoors at home, work or in school.

The other reason is because of the toxic chemicals found in everything from building materials to cleaning products.

In fact, scientific evidence indicates that indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air even in large cities. The home is the number one place for a concentration of toxic chemicals.

Since the acceleration of chemical production in the 1950’s, the increase in the number of toxic chemicals found in household products and building materials is astounding. Unfortunately, the majority of these chemicals have never been tested for human safety.

Air Pollution and Your Health

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, of the 86,000 chemicals in use today, only about 43% have actually been tested for negative health affects.

The correlation between the surge of chemical use and the increase in asthma, childhood illnesses and other conditions such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Environmental Illness and Sick Building Syndrome has become undeniable.

Many of these illnesses were never heard of until after World War II, when the dramatic increase of chemical development took place.

The EPA reports that:

Common toxic chemicals found in homes are three times more likely to cause cancer than outdoor pollutants.

It also states that almost every American carries at least 30 cancer-causing chemicals stored in their body’s fatty tissue.

Pollutants in the home are not only synthetically based, but can also be gases, or living organisms like mold or pests. Many of these pollutants cause mild to serious health problems such as:

  • Burning in the nose and throat
  • Irritation to eyes
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Allergies
  • Respiratory illnesses (such as asthma)
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Syndromes such as EI, MCS, SBS (Sick Building Syndrome)
  • Brain Damage
  • Neurological issues
  • Death

Most Common Pollutants Found in Homes

Combustion Pollutants

These are gases or particles that result from burning materials in
improperly vented appliances such as stoves and space heaters.

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)


Molds are living organisms that can grow in homes that have high humidity or water damage. These organisms produce spores that float in the air. Inhabitants of a mold invaded home breathe the spores and can become quite ill. Mold exposure can also cause asthma attacks, mold allergies, or mold illness.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are found in almost all conventionally produced building materials, home furnishings, cleaning supplies, pesticides, dry cleaned clothing, air fresheners and office equipment. Some of these chemicals are so toxic that they are proven to cause cancer.

Secondhand smoke

While it seems like a no-brainer not to smoke for health reasons, many people still smoke and do it indoors. For safety reasons, it’s best not to allow smoking in a home for the health of the other occupants. Smoke tends to absorb into the walls, furnishings and carpeting of homes, which continually exposes people to the secondhand effects.


Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas formed in the soil. It can enter into the living space of a home through cracks and openings in the foundation, flooring and walls. It is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause of cancer overall.

Asthma triggers

Everything from dust in the carpet, to mold on a shower curtain can cause asthma symptoms. Pet dander, dust mites, wood smoke, gas heat, and other common pollutants can cause a major asthma attack particularly in children and the elderly.

While it’s literally impossible to avoid all indoor air pollution, a lot can be done to avoid the most harmful. The EPA suggests these basic tips to avoid breathing polluted air:

• Test for radon and fix if there is a problem.

• Reduce asthma triggers such as mold and dust mites.

• Do not let people smoke indoors.

• Keep all areas clean and dry. Clean up any mold and get rid of excess water or moisture.

• Always ventilate when using products that can release pollutants into the air; if products must be stored following use, make sure to close tightly.

• Inspect fuel-burning appliances regularly for leaks, and make repairs when necessary.

• Consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm.

These tips can go a long way toward creating better IAQ. A step further would be to intentionally create a healthier home by doing away with the most toxic VOC offenders in your household products.

For the most ardent healthy home enthusiasts, the way to avoid indoor air pollution is to remodel or build a home with safe, green building materials. Any degree of chemical avoidance is good, but more is always healthier!

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