While efforts to curb air pollution have long centered around alfresco concerns such as vehicle and factory emissions, the critical nature of indoor air pollution cannot be understated, with key pollutants including secondhand tobacco smoke, radon, wood smoke, asbestos, mold and carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless – translation: undetectable – toxic gas that can be fatal in high concentrations.
Given that we spend as much as 90 percent of our lives indoors, indoor air pollution greatly affects the way we live and function on a day-to-day basis, and a myriad of short- and long-term health woes — fatigue, nausea, respiratory issues, eye irritation and headaches — associated with exposure to various types of indoor pollutants. In fact, the EPA has singled out indoor air pollution as one of the greatest overall risks to human health. Children, the elderly and those with preexisting conditions are particularly susceptible to the hazards of indoor air pollutants. Reducing exposure to indoor air pollutants is the most effective way to avoid the health hazards associated with them.
So how does one reduce exposure to these ubiquitous yet hazardous airborne hazards? Mitigation techniques vary widely. For example, if exposure to secondhand smoke is an issue, the obvious solution is to eliminate tobacco use while indoors. For other pollutants, the answer lies not so much in completely eliminating/avoiding the source but in proper ventilation – that is, ensuring that fresh, clean air from the outdoors is constantly circulating around your home, diluting stale indoor air and carrying it outdoors. Air purifiers with HEPA filters and dehumidifiers are also helpful tools in combating indoor air pollutants, as are certain types of air-filtering houseplants.
Remaining hypervigilant of household carbon monoxide levels is also critical as carbon monoxide is both poisonous and can be emitted from a variety of sources, including malfunctioning appliances such as stoves, water heaters and furnaces as well as blocked chimney flues. Mild exposure to carbon monoxide manifests itself in flu-like symptoms such as a slight headache and nausea; extreme exposure can result in convulsions, unconsciousness and death. In addition to inspecting to be certain that all fuel-burning home appliances are working properly, homeowners should install a carbon monoxide alarm that bears the UL certification mark.
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills approximately 500 people in the United States each year. [UL] »
Levels of indoor air pollutants may be two to five times higher than levels of outdoor air pollutants. [EPA] »