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We’ve all experienced that sudden coughing fit from inhaling a particularly aggressive cloud of dust, or a high concentration of fumes from a painting product. It’s easy to forget about the quality of the air we’re breathing as soon as we’re away from those sources of irritation — but the reality is, there are many other less noticeable factors that contribute to indoor air pollution. Contaminants like dust, mold, cleaning supplies, pesticides, and other airborne chemicals take a serious toll on indoor air quality. While pollutants from individual sources probably don’t pose a significant health risk on their own, most homes have many sources of pollution, and the cumulative effects of these sources is what poses a serious health risk. Read on for some unsettling truths about the indoor air quality in your home.
#1 The health effects of poor indoor air quality might not show up for years.
In most cases, the effects of indoor air quality pollution are short term and mostly discomfort-related, like irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Eliminating the sources of the pollution, like by adding a high-quality HEPA air purifier, often makes these symptoms disappear almost immediately. But some symptoms may not appear until months, or even years, later. These symptoms, which include impaired cognitive function, respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, can be debilitating or fatal.
#2 Indoor air pollution is commonly a bigger health risk than outdoor air pollution.
In the last few years, a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that levels of common air pollutants in homes are 2-5 times higher than the outdoor air, even in the largest and most industrialized cities. Combine this with the fact that people spend about 90% of their time indoors, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. In other words, for most people, health risks associated with indoor air are greater than those associated with city or outdoor air pollution.
#3 Any type of home, regardless of airtightness, is susceptible to poor indoor air quality.
Extremely air-tight homes are most susceptible to a buildup of stale and polluted air. If too little fresh air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. In fact, studies show that under-ventilation is quite common, particularly in new homes.
Non-airtight homes are at risk, too. Some weather conditions can drastically reduce the amount of outdoor air that enters a home, so pollutants can build up even in homes that are normally considered “leaky.”
#4 When it comes to indoor air quality research, the jury’s still out.
It’s not particularly comforting, but even though we know pollutants commonly found in indoor air are known instigators of various health issues, we don’t really understand what concentrations or periods of exposure lead to specific health problems. In time, we’ll be able to better understand which health effects are caused by which pollutants, and at what concentration levels — but for now, we know for sure that it’s wise to take precautions and improve indoor air quality as much as possible to avoid these health concerns altogether!
#5 A natural colorless and odorless gas that’s the second leading cause of lung cancer is common in indoor air.
Whether your home is old or new, it’s possible that your home is polluted with radon. Radon is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless natural gas. It forms when uranium breaks down to radium, which in turn breaks down to form radon; uranium in the soil or rock below a home’s foundation is usually the culprit source of indoor radon. Radon gas enters homes through dirt floors, cracks in concrete walls and floors, floor drains, and sometimes even through well water. As radon decays, it releases radioactive byproducts that can cause lung cancer when inhaled, especially over long periods of time. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer — Around 21,000 people die each year in the U.S. from lung cancer specifically caused by radon exposure. Fortunately, it’s easy to test for a radon problem in your home. You can order inexpensive, do-it-yourself radon test kits online, or pick one up at your local hardware store. If you prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire a trained contractor to do the testing for you.
#6 Some of the most common household items contribute to indoor air pollution.
Poor indoor air quality is often caused by common household items and materials. Cleaners, especially fragranced cleaners, are an example of everyday products that release fumes into the air and contribute to unhealthy indoor air. Paint stripping, sanding, polishing, staining, gluing, are all activities and projects that release chemicals into the air. Even cosmetics and household furnishings can add to your contaminant burden. Inadequate ventilation causes these particles to build up into the air and reach dangerous levels; even high temperatures and high humidity levels can increase the concentration of some pollutants. The garage can be particularly ridden with toxic fumes, including exhaust from idling cars and other motors; the problem is made worse by the lack of ventilation and air flow of most garages.