We're always talking about air pollution and its effect on nature, but the air in your home could be more polluted than the air outside. Shocked? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, and indoor air pollution levels can be higher than outdoor pollutant levels in the "largest and most industrialized cities." It may seem dire, but you can take steps to minimize indoor air pollution, starting with knowing where the pollutants are coming from.
Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
There are numerous sources of indoor air pollution. Some are temporary, but others can continually to pollute your indoor air for years, as the components of the materials slowly break down.
- Combustion byproducts from burning oil, gas, coal, wood, and other sources of heat, as well as tobacco, and candles.
- Off-gassing from building and home décor products, including carpeting, cabinetry, furniture, adhesives, and paint.
- Insulation that contains asbestos.
- Commercial cleaning products that contain chemicals.
- Personal care products, such as perfume, hair spray, or hair color.
- Pollution entering the home from the outdoors, such as radon or pesticides.
Read more about toxic chemicals in your home and what you can do to help
Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution
Many of health problems associated with indoor air pollution appear after years of living in a toxic environment. Common health problems associated with indoor air pollution include respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. But there are also immediate effects of indoor air pollution, including headaches, dizziness, eye, nose or throat irritation, and fatigue. If you notice these after bringing a new piece of furniture or a new vinyl shower curtain into your home, the culprit is likely chemicals off-gassing from the new product. Removing sources of indoor air pollution is key to keeping your home a healthy environment for everyone.
Improving Indoor Air Quality
There are lots of simple and affordable ways to improve the air quality in your home or office. Some of these simple solutions include:
- Improve ventilation by opening windows or doors whenever possible (even for a short time each day or week in the winter).
- Switch to soy or beeswax candles.
- Use only all-natural commercial cleaning products, or make your own with natural ingredients.
- Use no-VOC paints.
- Use natural personal care products (it's good for your body too!) and look for ways to eliminate unnecessary product use.
- Fill your home with carbon-absorbing plants such as English Ivy, peace lilies, and elephant ear.
If you're looking to radically reduce the indoor pollutants in your home, you may have to invest in building materials and pricy upgrades, but it can be worth it. Options include:
- Buy formaldehyde-free furniture and cabinetry.
- Switch to solar or wind power.
- Remove carpeting and replace with hardwood, stone, ceramic, or cork flooring.
- Consider installing a HEPA filter unit that works with your furnace to remove tiny particles from your air.
All homeowners (and home buyers) should test the radon levels in their home. According to the EPA, radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the United States, so it's vital to have the levels in your home tested. Most hardware and home improvement stores carry affordable radon testing kits, but be sure to choose one that is certified by your state or a national program.
The EPA's Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction explains in detail the ways you can reduce the levels of radon in your home through various forms of "soil suction," a process that vents radon away from your home. Sealing cracks can help, but the EPA does not recommend it as a solution to high radon levels.
Reducing levels of indoor air pollution will allow your family to live more comfortably and healthfully, and who doesn't want that?
Image: Maureen Didde