Air pollution is often associated with heavily trafficked highways or industrial areas home to manufacturing plants. But air pollution can occur anywhere, including inside homes.
Though it can be easy to recognize outdoor air pollution, indoor air pollution is not always so easily identifiable. But understanding indoor air pollution can help men and women, whether they live in a private home or an apartment, improve the air quality in their homes.
Indoor air pollution can be the result of many things, including biological contaminants (mold and mildew), tobacco smoke, radon, and household chemicals. The concentration of some pollutants can increase when the temperature indoors is high or if humidity levels indoors are high.
Poor ventilation may also contribute to poor indoor air quality. Without adequate ventilation, a home may not get enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources. As a result, pollutants can accumulate inside a home, making the home uncomfortable and possibly putting its inhabitants’ health at risk.
In addition, insufficient ventilation makes it harder for indoor pollutants to escape the home, forcing them to linger inside and negatively affect air quality. This is common during colder months when windows and doors are not open as often and fresh air from outside is not entering the home.
Indoor air pollutants can cause immediate effects, including irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as headaches, dizziness and fatigue, are typically short-term and can be treated, oftentimes by removing the person’s exposure to the source of the pollution. Symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, may also appear shortly after exposure.
Long-term effects of indoor air pollution may show up years after initial exposure or after prolonged exposure. Respiratory disease, cancer and even heart disease may result from prolonged exposure or not appear until years after initial exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency notes that there remains uncertainty about the concentrations or length of exposure necessary to produce specific health problems. Such uncertainty could be a result of different people reacting differently when exposed to indoor air pollutants. But while that uncertainty means there’s no guarantee exposure, be it brief or prolonged, will ultimately lead to disease, there’s also no guarantee that even minimal exposure will prevent the development of disease down the road.
Homeowners and apartment dwellers can take steps to improve the quality of the air inside their homes. Eliminating the sources of the pollution or reducing its emissions is a great place to start. Those with a gas stove can adjust their stove to reduce its emissions, which can save money while improving air quality.
Another way to improve indoor air quality is to take steps to get more outdoor air into the home. This can be as simple as opening windows and doors and operating window or attic fans when the weather permits. In the kitchen, install fans that exhaust outdoors, which will immediately remove contaminants from the room.
Each of these steps is meant to ventilate the home, and such ventilation should be emphasized when tackling home improvement projects that increase the amount of pollutants in the home. Such projects include painting, paint stripping or sanding.
Air cleaners can also be effective at improving indoor air quality, especially those cleaners that can remove particles from the air inside the home. Gaseous pollutants may not be removed by air cleaners, so if such pollutants are a problem then an air cleaner may not be the solution.
Indoor air pollution can make a home uncomfortable and unhealthy. More information about improving air quality in a home is available at www.epa.gov.