Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor Air Pollution

Although most people associate air pollution with the outdoors, your home may also harbor potentially dangerous pollutants. Some of these compounds trigger allergic responses, and others have been linked to cancer. Common indoor pollutants include the following:

• Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), a human carcinogen that also increases the risk of asthma, bronchitis, and cardiovascular disease. Many states and cities have passed legislation known as Clean Indoor Air Acts, which state that any enclosed, indoor areas used by the public shall be smoke-free except for certain designated areas.

• Carbon monoxide and other combustion by-products, which can cause chronic bronchitis, headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and even death. Common sources in the home are woodstoves, fireplaces, kerosene heaters and lamps, and gas ranges. In poverty-stricken areas, especially in Asia and Africa, people commonly burn solid fuels like coal for cooking and heating their homes. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the smoke and by-products from these indoor fires kill about 1.5 million people annually mostly children.

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• Formaldehyde gas, which can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; shortness of breath; headaches; nausea; lethargy; and, over the long term, cancer. This gas can seep from certain construction materials, paints, floor finishes, permanent press clothing, and nail polish.

• Biological pollutants, including bacteria, dust mites, mold, and animal dander, which can cause allergic reactions and other health problems. These allergens are typically found in bathrooms, damp or flooded basements, humidifiers, air conditioners, and even some carpets and furniture.

• Indoor mold, the fuzzy black substance growing on shower tiles and damp basement walls, is an indoor pollutant not to be taken lightly. More than 100 common indoor molds have been classified as potentially hazardous to people, but only a few are serious threats to human health. One of the most common of these is Stachybotrys mold, commonly known as “toxic black mold.” It is greenish black in color and appears slimy when wet. Toxic mold spores permeate the air and can cause health problems when inhaled, especially for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

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