This report discusses viable options for reducing indoor pollutants in order to improve indoor air quality. This work focuses on three major concerns in regard to indoor air quality: poor ventilation, indoor smoking, and other indoor pollutants. The media bombards us daily with information regarding external pollution such as the emissions from automobiles, water contaminants, basic garbage and of course the smoke stacks of industry. But most people may not be aware of the high number and the effect of indoor pollutants. "Indoor air pollution consists of toxic gases or particles that can harm your health." (Air Resources Board) From this lack of knowledge stems the problem of also not understanding how important it is to reduce indoor pollutants as best we can in our homes, schools, restaurants, bars and other public places. Consider the fact that humans spend a great deal of time indoors and because of this we are constantly surrounded by sources of toxins. "A recent ARB-sponsored study found that Californians spend an average of 87% of their 24-hour day indoors. If pollutants are present indoors, people will almost certainly inhale them." (Air Resources Board) Although this particular study was done in and for Californians, the fact is that these statistics can certainly be applied to any state in the nation.
These sources of indoor pollution can be created or caused by things that we simply take for granted such as consumer products, gas appliances, building materials, cigarettes, and even typical household furniture. "In a 1987 study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked indoor air pollution fourth in cancer risk among the 13 top environmental problems analyzed. Indoor radon ranked first." (Air Resources Board) Ironically, many studies have shown that indoor air pollutants may be consistently at higher levels than the levels of outdoor air pollution. So, even though these toxic emissions are very common and at very high levels, there are still very few controls in place by federal, state, or local laws. With that being said, it is in our best interest to find ways to reduce the problems ourselves.
Sources and Potential Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollutants
Major Indoor Sources
Potential Health Effects*
Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes
Respiratory irritation, bronchitis and pneumonia in children, emphysema, lung cancer, and heart disease
Unvented or malfunctioning gas appliances, wood stoves, and tobacco smoke
Headache; nausea; angina; impaired vision and mental functioning; fatal at high concentrations
Unvented or malfunctioning gas appliances
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; increased respiratory infections in children
Aerosol sprays, solvents, glues, cleaning agents, pesticides, paints, moth repellents, air fresheners, dry cleaned clothing, and treated water
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; damage to liver, kidney and brain; various types of cancer
Pressed wood products such as plywood and particleboard; furnishings; wallpaper; durable press fabrics
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headache; allergic reactions; cancer
Cigarettes, wood stoves, fireplaces, aerosol sprays, and house dust
Eye, nose and throat irritation; increased susceptibility to respiratory infections and bronchitis; lung cancer
House dust; pets; bedding; poorly maintained air conditioners, humidifiers and dehumidifiers; wet or moist structures; furnishings
Allergic reactions; asthma; eye, nose, and throat irritation; humidifier fever, influenza, and other infectious diseases
Damaged or deteriorating insulation, fireproofing, and acoustical materials
Asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers
Sanding or open-flame burning of lead paint; house dust
Nerve and brain damage, particularly in children; anemia; kidney damage; growth retardation
Soil under buildings, some earth-derived construction materials, and groundwater
Depends on factors such as the amount of pollutant inhaled, the duration of exposure and susceptibility of the individual exposed.
(Air Resources Board)
Create Ventilation In Homes
Mother Nature has provided a perfect method for reducing pollutants. For example, below the oceans it uses constant circulating currents and above the seas it has the circulating wind systems such as the trade winds. Indoor pollutants must be handled in a similar fashion. Thus, one way to reduce the problems that are inherent with indoor pollutants is to have adequate ventilation which in turn is circulating air. Surprisingly easy, this method entails basically opening doors and windows in order to allow air to circulate. "Adequate ventilation is another easy and effective way to maintain good indoor air quality, although it may not completely remove all pollutants. Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors when the weather permits. This is particularly important when using products or engaging in activities that may generate pollutants." (Air Resources Board) Of course there are some situations where doors and windows are either not available or may be closed due to inclement weather or safety concerns.
Kitchen and bathrooms may not have access to the outdoors yet they still need to have an effective way of removing pollutants generated during cooking or showering. In those situations, it is best to install some type of ventilation. As per instructions to reduce exposure from indoor pollutants, "install and use fans vented to outdoors in kitchens and bathrooms. Vent clothes dryers to outdoors. Clean cool mist and ultrasonic humidifiers in accordance with manufactures instructions. Empty water trays in air conditioners, dehumidifiers and refrigerators frequently." (St. Louis Post) In order to conserve energy during extreme weather situations, heat recovery ventilators are an excellent option.
Ventilation also entails use equipment and consumer products properly. Always consider the effects of storing combustible or pollutant creating materials. Properly storing solvents and frequent housecleaning to remove dust and molds is an important aspect of proper ventilation and therefore must be done to maintain good indoor air quality. "Use gas appliances, wood stoves, and fireplaces only as intended. Gas stoves should never be used to heat the house since high pollutant levels can result. Wood stoves and fireplaces should only be used to burn properly sized and aged wood, since other types of fuel may emit toxic compounds." (Air Resources Board) These combustion devices must be regularly inspected and cleaned which helps with the ventilation process.
The homebuilding industry has a big responsibility to consumers in regard to proper ventilation. That is because there are a plethora of products that are in the typical home such as specific types of plywood or particleboard that have been shown to emit a very significant amount of formaldehyde and other gaseous pollutants. "Research by the ARB, the EPA, and others has shown that indoor levels of some pollutants, such as formaldehyde, chloroform, and styrene, range from 2 to 50 times higher than outdoor levels." (Air Resources Board) Although consumers may not be aware of these scenarios, when possible, manufactures, builders and other entities in the industry should avoid having those products purchased and installed in homes. Even new carpets and furniture must be aired out by the manufacturer or distributor prior to delivery in order to eliminate the many toxins that are used in the manufacturing and storing of these possessions.
Poor Ventilation Schools
Consider how many children are exposed to colds during school in the winter months. Does this mean that there are more germs in the winter? The fact is that there are often more germs present in warmer climates due to incubation in heat. However, people are subjected to germs more in the winter because they are confined to the indoors at the same time that there is less ventilation due to fewer windows being open to conserve heat. Although the rules for ventilation in schools can be applied to all public entities such as bars, restaurants, malls and more, it is important to distinguish that the typical person has little say over the ventilation process in these types of areas.
There are few regulatory bodies that control exposures to indoor air pollution in these settings other than what is built into these entities during construction. Obviously builders have a responsibility to take into consideration the basic of ventilation and air circulation when building buildings that will be used for public use. New building plans should always have clearly stated indoor air quality guidelines, consider indoor air pollution preventive measures, meet the government agencies existing policies, procedures and standards for reduced indoor air pollution and clearly post inadequate situations so that other preventative methods can be applied after construction.
Smoking has historically been a major concern in regard to indoor air pollution. "Only 15% of smoke from a cigarette is inhaled by the smoker. The other 85% goes directly into the air and is known as 'second-hand smoke'. Second-hand smoke is a combination of: mainstream smoke, which is the smoke inhaled and then breathed out. Sidestream smoke, which is the smoke coming from the cigarette between puffs, has more tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide and other chemicals that cause cancer than the smoke inhaled through the cigarette itself!" (Second Hand Smoke is Dangerous)
It is important therefore to reduce or eliminate the threats of smoking by either not smoking or limiting where and…