Indoor Air Quality
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Types of Indoor Air Pollution
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) defines indoor air as air within a building occupied for at least one hour by people of varying states of health. This can include the office, classroom, transport facility, shopping centre, hospital and home. Indoor air quality can be defined as the totality of attributes of indoor air that affect a person’s health and well being.
A major concern with respect to indoor air quality is the use of gas cookers and unflued gas heaters. These two sources can often contribute a large percentage of the pollutants found in domestic dwellings.
Increasingly, as dwellings have become better sealed from the external environment, pollutants being released from indoor sources are being found at higher concentrations.
Indoor air quality can be adversely affected by other pollutants such as fungi, microbial contamination, house dust mites, particulates and air toxics such as formaldehyde.
Immediate Effects of IAQ
Long-Term Effects of IAQ
Indoor Air Quality Pollutant Sources
Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine, microscopic particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from wood smoke comes from fine particles (also called particulate matter). They are small enough to enter the lungs where they can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or other serious respiratory diseases. Fine particles can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases, and are linked to premature deaths in people with these chronic conditions.
Many old, pot-bellied wood stoves are still functioning to provide warmth and a cooking fire in tribal communities; but they may also be releasing wood smoke that is harmful to the health of everyone exposed to it, especially the young and the old. To avoid these inevitable health risks — and gain the greater efficiency and effectiveness of new, cleaner burning technology wood stoves — it is recommended that old stoves be gradually replaced or “changed out.”
Changing out wood stoves requires a financial investment; however, there are programs that provide financial assistance and manufacturers that provide discounts. The results of replacement speak for themselves with improvements in the health of children and community, home safety, visibility, and indoor air quality.
EPA certified wood s
What is Secondhand Smoke?Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars or pipes and the smoke exhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Exposure to secondhand smoke is sometimes called involuntary or passive smoking. Secondhand smoke, classified by EPA as a Group A carcinogen, contains more than 7,000 substances. Secondhand smoke exposure commonly occurs indoors, particularly in homes and cars. Secondhand smoke can move between rooms of a home and between apartment units. Opening a window or increasing ventilation in a home or car is not protective from secondhand smoke.
- There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, 2.5 million adults who were nonsmokers died because they breathed secondhand smoke.
- Secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among nonsmokers.
- Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25-30%.
- Secondhand smoke causes many lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year.
- Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increases their risk of developing lung cancer by 20-30%.
- Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome.
- Secondhand smoke is a universal asthma trigger and can elicit an asthma attack or make asthma symptoms more severe.
- Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways of the lungs and can lead to coughing, trouble breathing, wheezing and tightness in the chest.
- Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease affecting, on average, 1 in 13 school aged children.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke may cause new cases of asthma in children who have not previously shown symptoms.
- More than half of US children with asthma are exposed to secondhand smoke (quinto, 2013).
- The home is becoming the predominant location for the exposure of children and adults to secondhand smoke. (Surgeon General’s Report, 2006)
- Households within buildings with smoke-free policies have lower PM2.5 compared to buildings without these policies. PM2.5 is a unit of measure for small particles in the air and is used as one indication of air quality. High levels of fine particles in the air can lead to negative health impacts. (Russo, 2014)
- Prohibiting smoking indoors is the only way to eliminate secondhand smoke from the indoor environment. Ventilation and filtration techniques can reduce, but not eliminate, secondhand smoke. (Bohoc, 2010)
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance it has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. Asbestos has been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in:
- Building materials:
- Roofing shingles
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Paper products
- Asbestos cement products
- Friction products:
- Automobile clutch
- Automobile brake
- Transmission parts
- Heat-resistant fabrics
Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can release asbestos fibers into the air in homes, increasing asbestos levels and endangering people living in those homes.
Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations both indoors and outdoors.
Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.
OverviewBiological contaminants include bacteria, viruses, animal dander and cat saliva, house dust, mites, cockroaches, and pollen. There are many sources of these pollutants. By controlling the relative humidity level in a home, the growth of some sources of biologicals can be minimized. A relative humidity of 30-50 percent is generally recommended for homes. Standing water, water-damaged materials or wet surfaces also serve as a breeding ground for molds, mildews, bacteria and insects. House dust mites, the source of one of the most powerful biological allergens, grow in damp, warm environments.
- pollens, which originate from plants
- viruses, which are transmitted by people and animals
- bacteria, which are carried by people, animals, and soil and plant debris
- household pets, which are sources of saliva and animal dander (skin flakes)
- droppings and body parts from cockroaches, rodents and other pests or insects
- viruses and bacteria
- The protein in urine from rats and mice is a potent allergen. When it dries, it can become airborne.
- Contaminated central air handling systems can become breeding grounds for mold, mildew and other sources of biological contaminants and can then distribute these contaminants through the home
- damp or wet areas such as cooling coils, humidifiers, condensate pans or unvented bathrooms can be moldy
- draperies, bedding, carpet and other areas where dust collects may accumulate biological contaminants
Health Effects from Biological ContaminantsSome biological contaminants trigger allergic reactions, including:
- hypersensitivity pneumonitis
- allergic rhinitis
- some types of asthma
- watery eyes
- shortness of breath
- and digestive problems
Reducing Exposure to Biological ContaminantsGeneral good housekeeping, and maintenance of heating and air conditioning equipment, are very important. Adequate ventilation and good air distribution also help. The key to mold control is moisture control. If mold is a problem, clean up the mold and get rid of excess water or moisture. Maintaining the relative humidity between 30% – 60% will help control mold, dust mites and cockroaches. Employ integrated pest management to control insect and animal allergens. Cooling tower treatment procedures exist to reduce levels of Legionella and other organisms.
- Install and use exhaust fans that are vented to the outdoors in kitchens and bathrooms and vent clothes dryers outdoors. These actions can eliminate much of the moisture that builds up from everyday activities. There are exhaust fans on the market that produce little noise, an important consideration for some people. Another benefit to using kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans is that they can reduce levels of organic pollutants that vaporize from hot water used in showers and dishwashers.
- Ventilate the attic and crawl spaces to prevent moisture build-up. Keeping humidity levels in these areas below 50 percent can prevent water condensation on building materials.
- If using cool mist or ultrasonic humidifiers, clean appliances according to manufacturer’s instructions and refill with fresh water daily. Because these humidifiers can become breeding grounds for biological contaminants, they have the potential for causing diseases such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier fever. Evaporation trays in air conditioners, dehumidifiers and refrigerators should also be cleaned frequently.
- Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged carpets and building materials (within 24 hours if possible) or consider removal and replacement. Water-damaged carpets and building materials can harbor mold and bacteria. It is very difficult to completely rid such materials of biological contaminants.
- Keep the house clean. House dust mites, pollens, animal dander and other allergy-causing agents can be reduced, although not eliminated, through regular cleaning. People who are allergic to these pollutants should use allergen-proof mattress encasements, wash bedding in hot (130° F) water and avoid room furnishings that accumulate dust, especially if they cannot be washed in hot water. Allergic individuals should also leave the house while it is being vacuumed because vacuuming can actually increase airborne levels of mite allergens and other biological contaminants. Using central vacuum systems that are vented to the outdoors or vacuums with high efficiency filters may also be of help.
- Take steps to minimize biological pollutants in basements. Clean and disinfect the basement floor drain regularly. Do not finish a basement below ground level unless all water leaks are patched and outdoor ventilation and adequate heat to prevent condensation are provided. Operate a dehumidifier in the basement if needed to keep relative humidity levels between 30 – 50 percent.
IntroductionVolatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored. EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s “Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study” (Volumes I through IV, completed in 1985) found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas. TEAM studies indicated that while people are using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.
Sources of VOCsHousehold products, including:
- paints, paint strippers and other solvents
- wood preservatives
- aerosol sprays
- cleansers and disinfectants
- moth repellents and air fresheners
- stored fuels and automotive products
- hobby supplies
- dry-cleaned clothing
- building materials and furnishings
- office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper
- graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions.
Health EffectsHealth effects may include:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
- conjunctival irritation
- nose and throat discomfort
- allergic skin reaction
- declines in serum cholinesterase levels
- Eye and respiratory tract irritation
- visual disorders and memory impairment
- Search EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS)
- A compilation of electronic reports on specific substances found in the environment and their potential to cause human health effects
- EPA’s Office of Drinking Water Regulations
- U.S. Geology Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program
- Information on VOCs in Water Sources
Levels in HomesStudies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels.
Steps to Reduce Exposure
- Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs.
- Meet or exceed any label precautions.
- Do not store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials within the school.
- Formaldehyde, one of the best known VOCs, is one of the few indoor air pollutants that can be readily measured.
- Identify, and if possible, remove the source.
- If not possible to remove, reduce exposure by using a sealant on all exposed surfaces of paneling and other furnishings.
- Use integrated pest management techniques to reduce the need for pesticides.
- Use household products according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Make sure you provide plenty of fresh air when using these products.
- Throw away unused or little-used containers safely; buy in quantities that you will use soon.
- Keep out of reach of children and pets.
- Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.
- environmental tobacco smoke
- stored fuels
- paint supplies
- automobile emissions in attached garages
- eliminating smoking within the home
- providing for maximum ventilation during painting
- discarding paint supplies and special fuels that will not be used immediately
- If dry-cleaned goods have a strong chemical odor when you pick them up, do not accept them until they have been properly dried.
- If goods with a chemical odor are returned to you on subsequent visits, try a different dry cleaner
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These actions can eliminate much of the moisture that builds up from everyday activities. There are exhaust fans on the market that produce little noise, an important consideration for some people. Another benefit to using kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans is that they can reduce levels of organic pollutants that vaporize from hot water used in showers and dishwashers.
People who are allergic to these pollutants should use allergen-proof mattress encasements, wash bedding in hot (130° F) water and avoid room furnishings that accumulate dust, especially if they cannot be washed in hot water. Allergic individuals should also leave the house while it is being vacuumed because vacuuming can actually increase airborne levels of mite allergens and other biological contaminants. Using central vacuum systems that are vented to the outdoors or vacuums with high efficiency filters may also be of help.
Because these humidifiers can become breeding grounds for biological contaminants, they have the potential for causing diseases such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier fever. Evaporation trays in air conditioners, dehumidifiers and refrigerators should also be cleaned frequently.
Keeping humidity levels in these areas below 50 percent can prevent water condensation on building materials.
Clean and disinfect the basement floor drain regularly. Do not finish a basement below ground level unless all water leaks are patched and outdoor ventilation and adequate heat to prevent condensation are provided. Operate a dehumidifier in the basement if needed to keep relative humidity levels between 30 – 50 percent
Water-damaged carpets and building materials can harbor mold and bacteria. It is very difficult to completely rid such materials of biological contaminants.
Who is affected by indoor air pollution?
Everyone can be affected by air pollution especially when exposed over prolonged periods of time. However, some groups of people may be more susceptible than others in regards to exposure to air pollution. Different pollutants may affect these groups differently. For example, several of the pollutants may trigger symptoms in people with asthma, whereas people with heart disease are most likely to be affected by particle pollution.
Exposure to air pollution might worsen your symptoms or trigger asthma attacks. Use your reliever medicine and check you have an up to date asthma action plan