Every day, people are constantly subjected to environmental risks that are detrimental to their health. And while many are only concerned about outdoor pollutants, indoor air quality can be just as bad. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollutants are up to two to five times more concentrated than the outside! This is a serious health concern given that up to 90% of our time is spent indoors.
Luckily, indoor air pollutants and exposure to health hazards in our homes are risks that we can do something about. But understanding the most common culprits is the first step to eliminate them. Here are eight of the common indoor air pollutants that pose serious health risks.
Radon is a radioactive gas that naturally occurs from the breakdown of uranium in soil, water, and stones. The gas is odorless, colorless, and is found almost everywhere in low levels. Radon can get indoors through warm rising air, cracks in walls and floors, spaces around furnaces, pipelines, ventilation, and concrete joints. This pollutant can also be found in drinking water, but in the air, it remains the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. It is also the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US.
To prevent the buildup of radon indoors, your home must be properly ventilated. The easiest way is to have an HVAC professional carry out tests to detect radon in your home and help you take the necessary steps to eliminate and prevent future exposure.
2. Tobacco Smoke
Cigarette smoke has a serious health consequence, even for nonsmokers, and the most vulnerable are children. According to the EPA, secondhand smoke is classified as a Group A carcinogen. It contains copious amounts of hazardous gases and particles. Smoke from tobacco exacerbates asthma and has been found to elevate the risk of sudden infant death syndrome as well as ear infections. In adults, tobacco smoke has been associated with coronary heart disease and irritation, and it has been known to make respiratory health symptoms worse.
When someone smokes a cigarette in your home, the harmful particles can remain in the air for up to five hours. The easiest way to ensure your indoor air quality is safe from secondhand smoke is to ensure that no one smokes indoors. Also, keep your house well-ventilated.
3. Combustion Products
Common combustion pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and water vapor. They are produced by gas-fired appliances such as water heaters, furnaces, and some dryers. These pollutants seep into the house, particularly if the appliances are not properly vented to the outdoors or if the air pressure on a non-sealed gas appliance backdrafts.
Carbon monoxide (CO), for instance, is a colorless and odorless gas that cannot be easily detected unless with an exclusive CO detector. Carbon monoxide, if inhaled in large amounts, inhibits the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen. As a result, oxygen is not properly transported to the critical organs in the body, which causes dizziness, unconsciousness, and sometimes death. One way of combating this threat is by keeping your house and the appliances inside properly ventilated.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), on the other hand, is a toxic and corrosive gas that irritates the eyes, throat, nose, and respiratory tract. High-dose exposure to nitrogen dioxide may lead to lung injury and pulmonary edema. Moderate exposure causes acute or chronic bronchitis, while low-level exposure is associated with impaired lung function in children, people with asthma, and those with obstructive lung disease.
Wood smoke is another culprit. While they provide warmth in your home, fireplaces and woodstoves can also release harmful particles into the air, especially if your home is not properly ventilated.
According to the EPA, ensuring that combustion appliances are properly vented, correctly installed, well-maintained, and used for the right purpose is the right way to keep these harmful substances from your home.
4. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds mainly originate from the various cleaning agents that we use in our homes, such as bleach, detergents, aerosol sprays, and air fresheners. Some rug and upholstery cleaners, paints, and varnishes also contain these harmful substances. Exposure to VOCs causes eye, nose, and throat irritation. Other symptoms also include headaches and nausea, and inhaling VOCs can lead to serious health issues like kidney damage, liver failure, and neurological problems.
To eliminate these pollutants, it is important to use little to no-emission renovation materials, reduce the consumption of VOC-containing products, and keep your house properly maintained.
Lead originates from various sources, including contaminated drinking water and soil. It is also highly prevalent in paints, where it becomes airborne if the paint is scraped. Exposure to lead happens through inhalation as dust or when children, for example, play with old toys made with lead paint.
Lead exposure causes nervous system, brain, kidney, and red blood cell damage. In children, it causes short attention spans, stunted or delayed growth, low IQs, and behavioral problems. What you can do to prevent poisoning from this pollutant from hurting your family is to ensure that the paint in your house does not contain lead and to keep your children away from old toys that were painted with lead paint. It has been illegal for companies to manufacture paint with lead in it for some time, so paint-based lead poisoning is not as prevalent as it once was.
6. Asthma and Allergic Triggers
These pollutants include mold, mildew, dust mites, and pet dander, among others. These substances may trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions for the occupants in your home. Mold, for instance, also causes runny noses, red eyes, hay fever, and sneezing. It grows commonly in damp places such as under the sink, around leaking pipes, and in hidden, moist spaces.
The key to fighting these pollutants is by ensuring the maximum circulation of air in your home, keeping it properly ventilated, investing in a humidifier or an air purifier, and fixing any plumbing problems.
Formaldehyde is a volatile, naturally occurring compound found in pressed-wood furniture and products, paints, adhesives, cigarette smoke, burning incense, and a variety of other building materials. It is a human carcinogen, and it has a strong smell that irritates the respiratory tract. It can also adversely affect the nervous system, trigger asthma attacks, or cause lung damage on exposure at high levels.
To keep formaldehyde away from your home, avoid the use of pressed-wood products, utilize low emission furniture and renovation materials, and ensure that your house is sufficiently ventilated.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is harmful when airborne. Exposure to this substance may lead to lung disorders, including cancer and asbestosis – an inflammatory condition that causes trouble when breathing, coughing, and sometimes permanent lung damage. The pollutant is found in cement, roofing materials, heat-resistant fabrics, coatings, tiles, and other building materials, as well as automobile breaks. If your home contains products with asbestos, ensure that you keep them in good condition. Similarly, you can enlist the help of a professional to help you remove them.
Reach Out to Summit Heating & A/C Today
If you’re having air conditioning issues, Summit Heating & A/C is always on-call is and ready to assist you with your indoor air quality needs in Arvada, Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Lakewood, Aurora, Centennial, Littleton, Broomfield, Parker, and the larger Denver Metro and surrounding region. Our team of professionals will diagnose any issues and offer ready solutions, including making recommendations on how to keep your appliances properly maintained and serviced for healthy indoor air quality. We also repair and maintain AC units and furnaces and provide indoor air quality solutions like air cleaners and purifiers. Contact us today, and breathe easy!