Friday, May 8th, 2020 by Marco Campos
While outdoor air pollution is a big problem, research clearly shows that indoor air pollution can be as bad or worse, often reaching harmful levels. The EPA found that indoor air may have two to five times (and in some cases 100 times) more pollutants than outdoor air. Other aspects of indoor air quality, such as high indoor humidity levels and widely fluctuating indoor temperatures, lead to poor health outcomes. Since the majority of us spend 90 percent of our lives indoors – at home, at work, in classrooms, in malls and other buildings – poor indoor air quality is even more of a health threat than outdoor air quality. Therefore here are six causes of toxic indoor air that you should consider fixing today to make a significant impact on your and the lives of your loved ones.
1. A leaky building or home allows outside air pollutants inside. The average home or building has nearly constant negative pressure resulting from the removal of air through bathroom fans and range hoods and replaces that air with potentially toxic outside air that leaks through the building envelope. Particulates and ozone from the air and radon from the soil can be drawn into the buildings. Drafts in older homes can also pick up and spread years of collected dust that contains pollen, dander, lead-paint, and asbestos.
2. Materials commonly used or found in homes and buildings contain formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are given off as gases. Common sources of VOCs include household products such as cleansers, disinfectants, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, moth repellents, printer ink, dry-cleaned clothes, and pesticides; construction materials such as floor and carpet adhesives, paints, insulation, varnish, carpets, cabinets, sealants, and composite wood products that are commonly used in construction; infiltration of outside air containing some of the outdoor pollutants mentioned above; and the occupants themselves, as humans and pets naturally emit some VOCs and other pollutants, shed pet dander or millions of human skin cells, and bring some pollutants inside on shoes, clothing and pets’ coats. Dust mites, tiny creatures that feed on skin cells that we slough off, are a common allergen also found in homes.
3. Many homes have gas stoves, furnaces, and water heaters, as well as wood stoves, that release exhaust fumes into homes. These include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, various oxides of nitrogen, and ultra-fine particulates, the latter two of which may be associated with neurological development issues.
4. Many homes and buildings are constructed in ways that trap moisture. An indoor relative humidity between 40 & 60% is optimal for human health, but daily we add gallons of moisture by breathing, flushing, cooking, washing clothes, and bathing, which can push relative humidity levels well above 60% and lead to mold, mildew, bacteria, pathogens, and viruses that thrive indoors. At relative humidity below 40 percent, viruses like influenza and measles flourish, and our mucous membranes may dry up making us more susceptible to respiratory infections or irritation.
5. Homes and buildings that have ducted heating systems can accumulate dust and mold and distribute it through the building, especially if filters are not changed regularly. Baseboard heating systems can also spread accumulated dust through convection currents.
6. Most homes lack effective fresh air ventilation, filtration, and distribution systems designed under the basic tenants of building science. And many homes do not even meet ventilation standards required by current building codes.
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