What is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), or indoor environmental quality, is a term used to describe the condition of air within a building such as a home, school, or place of employment. According to the EPA, Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, and the concentration of pollutants can be two to five times higher than outdoor levels. Given the amount of time spent in your home, you should be aware of your home’s IAQ and take action to eliminate pollutants that can adversely impact your health.
Why Should Homeowners Care?
Poor IAQ can have both immediate and long-term negative impacts on your health. Direct effects of poor IAQ can be irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, and fatigue, often showing up following exposure. Exposure to pollutants can also trigger or worsen respiratory issues such as asthma. You can remedy the immediate effects if the known pollutants are removed, which will improve your IAQ. Long-term effects show up long after the initial exposure to these indoor pollutants. Studies have linked various respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and certain forms of cancer to the exposure of these indoor pollutants.
To keep yourself and your family healthy and avoid health risks associated with poor IAQ, you can monitor the following factors in your home to ensure your home’s air is clear and healthy:
Due to its durability and flame-resistant qualities, asbestos was a common material used in many construction products, from flooring to insulation. However, once airborne inhalation was linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma, it was outlawed by the government for these applications. If you live in an older home, you may want a professional asbestos inspector to determine if asbestos was used in any of your home materials.
2. Biological Pollutants
This category covers many particulate pollutants from biological sources: plant pollen, viruses and bacteria, pet dander, droppings from pests such as mice or cockroaches, and mold. Inhalation of these biological pollutants can lead to allergic reactions, respiratory issues, and catching illnesses like influenza. These particulates can accumulate in air ducts and get spread throughout the home by your HVAC.
3. Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that is also toxic. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to detect when it is present in your home without a proper CO detector. Common sources of CO in the house are leaks of natural gas from furnaces or stoves, automobile exhaust from attached garages, and any other gas-powered equipment that may be found in the home, such as generators or space heaters.
Formaldehyde is a widely used chemical across many building materials, household products, and a byproduct of fuel-burning appliances. High concentrations of formaldehyde can lead to cancer, while short-term exposure can lead to irritation of your eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
5. Lead (Pb)
Lead particles become airborne quickly and can get into the home from many different sources: lead-based paint, lead in pipes, lead-contaminated soil. Lead accumulates in the body once inhaled and can cause severe damage to the nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Children are at a higher risk, as their bodies absorb lead easier and can disrupt their development.
Pesticides are chemicals used to control insects, pests, microbes, termites, and rodents. These chemicals are toxic to people as well. Pesticides are common in houses across the US. High concentrations of pesticides inside the house can irritate eyes, nose, throat, and skin in the short term and cause cancer or nervous system damage after long-term exposure.
7. Radon (Rn)
Like Carbon Monoxide, Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is nearly impossible to detect without specific radon testing. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from uranium found in the earth. The gas can enter your home through cracks in the foundation and another opening throughout your home. The radioactive particles present in radon gas do severe damage to the sensitive tissue in your lungs when inhaled and can lead to cancer developing. There are no immediate symptoms of radon exposure, as the gas is scentless and colorless, making it hard to know if you have been exposed to dangerous levels in your home.
8. Indoor Particulate Matter
Particulate matter, or particle pollution, describes airborne solid particles, ranging from microscopic to particulate large enough to be seen by the human eye, such as dust, dirt, or smoke. Once inhaled, this particulate matter can lead to or worsen various respiratory or cardiovascular issues.
9. Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), results from the smoke when tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars are burned. The health effects of smoking are well known: cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), lung cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, and other serious health problems. The same risks are associated when exposure to secondhand smoke.
10. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted from certain solids or liquids. These gasses can be emitted from various everyday household products: paints, solvents, aerosol sprays, disinfectants, air fresheners, glues, degreasers. The different VOCs can range from nearly harmless to highly toxic. Short-term exposures can irritate, while long-term exposure can lead to more serious nervous system and cancer-related issues. When using these products, be sure to ventilate with fresh air.
11. Wood Smoke
In the US, the common source of wood smoke is from indoor fireplaces, as wood stoves are not commonplace anymore. When wood is burned, the smoke released from the fire is a complex mixture of gases and fine microscopic particles (particulate matter). The particulate matter in some can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or other severe respiratory diseases when they enter the lungs and worsen other chronic heart and lung diseases.
Ways to Improve Your IAQ
Fear not! Though there are many threats to your health that poor IAQ can cause, improving your IAQ is simple and can protect you from these dangers.
Source Control: The most effective and cheapest way to improve indoor air quality is eliminating individual pollution sources or reducing emissions. Buy appropriate detectors, get the proper tests done, keep humidity low to hinder mold growth, use gentle cleaning products, avoid leaving food out so as not to attract pests, and make sure your home is a smoke-free zone.
Improve Ventilation: Another way to improve your IAQ is to bring in more outdoor air indoors. When weather permits, open up winds and doors to let fresh air in to vent your indoor air and dilute the pollutants.Various air purifiers can further clean your air and filter out more pollutants, though these should be used alongside proper source control and increased ventilation. The path to cleaner air in your home is a worthwhile endeavor to take on, as it leads to a happier, healthier life!