Indoor Air Pollution Quiz > January 15, 2009

True or false: According to the EPA, the air inside the typical home is just as polluted as the air just outside.

Congratulations to this week's winner, Sharena Conte of East Patchogue, NY, who answered this quiz challenge correctly and will receive an EarthShare reusable bag and other fun environmental goodies.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air inside the average home is two to five times more polluted than the air outside, largely due to toxic household cleaners and pesticides. Read on to learn what might be contaminating your home and how you can clear the air. >> MORE

Given that we spend approximately 90 percent of our time indoors, exposure to toxins may be greater inside your home or office than outside—which may be hard to imagine if you live in a large or industrial city.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the EPA, indoor pollutants that release gases or particles into the air are the primary source of poor indoor air quality, which can be exacerbated by poor air circulation and ventilation, as well as hot, humid temperatures. Pollutants themselves can be emitted from a number of sources, including:

  • Combustion sources (like tobacco and heating sources like wood, coal, gas and oil)
  • Dilapidated building materials or asbestos-ridden insulation
  • Pesticides used on indoor plants or outside of the home
  • Central heating and cooling systems
  • Personal care products
  • Wet carpet and mold
  • Household cleaners

And while increased ventilation may reduce some indoor emissions, it’s important to note that some materials produce pollutants that literally hang in the air. For example, smoking, using malfunctioning appliances, and repeated use of some cleaning agents can impact the air long after you’re finished with them.

Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution

As we’ve noted before, exposure to harmful toxins such as those found in pesticides, can lead to serious health problems, including organ defects in fetuses; asthma, attention deficit and hyperactivity, autism, and leukemia in children; and breast cancer in preadolescents.

The EPA’s report on indoor air pollution states that some building occupants—such as office workers or those living in apartments—experience symptoms that don’t fit the pattern of any particular illness and are thus hard to pin down.

Called sick building syndrome, people might complain of a dry or burning sensation in their eyes, nose or throat; fatigue; headache or nausea; irritability and forgetfulness. Serious, long-term illnesses such as Legionnaires’ disease, respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer can also develop.

Reducing Indoor Air Pollution

The EPA has a helpful checklist to help you take the appropriate steps if you feel that your office or apartment complex may be susceptible to indoor air pollution. These steps include:

  • Talking with a supervisor or union representative about the issue
  • Logging health complaints if such a file hasn’t already been created
  • Reporting health symptoms or concerns to your doctor
  • Calling your state or local health department to discuss symptoms and causes
  • Working with your supervisor or building manager to establish policies that protect employees from tobacco exposure
  • Contacting the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for information on conducting a health hazard evaluation of your workspace

Similarly, the EPA lists a number of ways to pinpoint pollution sources in your home or office with steps to reduce exposure, including:

  • Providing plenty of fresh air when using household paints, cleaners and disinfectants
  • Keeping home ventilation, heating and cooling systems up to manufacturer standards
  • Having a trained professional clean and inspect your fireplace or wood burning stove
  • Using exterior grade pressed-wood products (for wood paneling and furniture)
  • Allowing trained professionals handle chemical spills or asbestos
  • Using non-toxic pesticides and pest control agents
  • Cleaning water-damaged carpets and fabrics
  • Not smoking indoors

While we talk a lot about reducing our carbon footprint and sustaining a healthy, pollution-free environment, don’t forget to include your home or office building into the mix. Be proactive about using non-toxic cleaning, construction and office materials to safeguard those around you and protect the environment.

Related resources from EarthShare and our members:

Greening the Office Cleaners, EarthShare

Facts about Fireplaces, EarthShare

Alternatives to Toxic Pest Control, Beyond Pesticides

How-to Rid Homes and Offices of Pesticides, Beyond Pesticides

Pass Up the Poison Plastic, Center for Health, Environment and Justice

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All Air Purification

The air inside your home can be much more toxic than the air outdoors. According to many scientists, the EPA, and numerous consumer groups, indoor air pollution is one of the most important environmental problems in the United States, constituting “one of the top 5 environmental health risks” that must be addressed.

Another great resource for more information is the Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank (IAQ-SFRB) from the Indoor Environment Department of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory done in conjunction with the EPA. This is their website - http://www.iaqscience.lbl.gov

Al

"Air fresheners" and scented candles are also contributors to indoor air pollution.

Cecilia Sunday

The answer is false~ The air inside of your home is much more toxic and harmful than the air outside!

Gabrina

I think it's false.

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