Indoor Air Pollution and Health

Indoor Air Quality

PHOTO: Brian Babb, Unsplash

October is National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month

According to the American Lung Association, people take an average of 21,600 breaths per day. With 80% of our time spent indoors, the quality of the air we breathe is very important to our health. A variety of harmful containments including carbon monoxide, radon, mildew, molds, secondhand smoke, allergens, and chemicals can mix together in our home creating polluted air that can lead to increased asthma rates and exacerbate respiratory conditions. In commercial settings the consequences can be even more severe.

Common Contaminants

Carbon Monoxide

Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector placed near the furnace, stove, and oven as well as outside sleeping areas. Using detectors will provide protection from carbon monoxide poisoning.


Radon is another risk.  Over time can regular exposure can increase your chance of getting lung cancer, especially if you smoke. Be sure to get your home tested to determine its levels and if remedial action is needed, make sure your home is properly ventilated to reduce the levels of radon. Change filters on forced air furnaces and air conditioners, as recommended.


If you’re a smoker quitting is the best course of action, but if you’re not ready for that at least smoke outside. Cigarette smoke lingers on clothing and hands, so if you have small children wash your hands or change your clothes before holding them.


While outdoor air quality is a major factor for allergy sufferers, there are many things that can affect indoor air quality as well. The main sources of indoor allergens are pets, wall-to-wall carpeting, soft furniture, stuffed toys, bedding, damp areas, indoor plants, and mattresses that aren’t in allergy covers. A lack of indoor ventilation is generally the primary culprit, so proper air circulation is essential and HEPA vacuums can help keep allergens in check.


When an item gives off formaldehyde, it is released into the air through a process called off-gassing. High humidity and high temperatures can speed up and increase the release of formaldehyde from products and surfaces. In some spaces such as manufacturing and commercial buildings, formaldehyde vapors may reach dangerously high concentrations.

More information

The EPA website has a great introduction to potential contaminants that could make it into your home, with links to other pages on the site providing further details.

Sick Building Syndrome

Indoor Air Quality - Commercial Buildings

The term “sick building syndrome” (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.

Indicators of SBS include:

  • Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, e.g., headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.
  • The cause of the symptoms is not known.
  • Most of the complainants report relief soon after leaving the building.

The Indoor Air Facts No. 4 – Sick Building Syndrome Factsheet by the EPA offers detailed information about this syndrome and potential solutions, along with links to information at state and local levels.

Related Articles

Home Air Filtration

Best Home Air Filtration Systems

Portable air cleaners, also known as air purifiers or air sanitizers, are designed to filter the air in a single room or area. Central furnace or HVAC filters are designed to filter air throughout a home. Portable air cleaners and HVAC filters can reduce indoor air pollutants, including viruses, that are airborne. When used along with other best practices recommended by CDC and others, filtration can be part of a plan to protect people indoors.

Dust Mites

There’s More to Dust than Just Dirt

What’s in your home’s dust? The average home collects 40 pounds of dust every year; and it isn’t just small particles of dirt. Surface dust can include a wide range of airborne aerosols including mold spores, pollen, insect parts, skin cells, fibers, mineral dust and more. Knowing what’s in your dust will help you select the right air filtration system for your home.

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