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Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce your risk of indoor health concerns. Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later.

Did you know that the average american spends 90% of his or her time indoors? Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) has been tied to symptoms like headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Also some specific diseases have been linked to specific air contaminants or indoor environments, like asthma and damp indoor environments.

Air Pollution is a term that likely conjures images of industrial smokestacks and billowing plumes rising into the atmosphere. Those are certainly examples of air pollution but the oft forgotten truth is that the worst air quality you experience every day is most likely to be located right in your living room. Trapped, stagnant air and poor ventilation combine to create a toxic cloud inside the home. Here’s 10 facts everyone should know about indoor air pollutants and how to protect themselves and their family from the potential health dangers.

1). The United States EPA ranks indoor air quality as a top five environmental risk to public health. EPA studies found indoor air pollutants were generally 2 to 5 times greater than outdoor pollution levels. In some cases, indoor air pollution was 100x greater. [1] There are many reasons to why this is the case, including poor ventilation, the burning of toxic candles, use of air fresheners, chemical laden household cleaners, and more.

2). Furniture purchased prior to 2006 contained toxic PBDEs — chemicals used as flame retardants. These flame retardants have the possibility of sending toxins into the air. Even after 2006, flame retardants continue to be used. Chlorinated tris (a known carcinogen banned from children’s pajamas in 1977) was reintroduced, and new flame retardant chemicals appear to create the same dangers. Inhalation has been noted as the primary route to exposure.

3). The NRDC determined most air fresheners contain phthalates, noxious chemicals known to disrupt hormone function in babies and children, interfere with reproductive development, and aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma. [2] A recent study found the terpenes released by air fresheners interact with ozone to form compounds like formaldehyde and acetone at concentrations which can cause respiratory sensitivity and airflow limitation. 

4). Candles can be nice but it’s important to pay attention to what you’re buying. Most candles, especially the scented ones made with paraffin wax, contain benzene and toluene, two known carcinogens. These candles also contain hydrocarbons called alkanes and alkenes (chemicals found in car exhaust). When you burn toxic candles in your home, you’re releasing toxic chemicals, don’t do it! If you purchase candles, choose soy- or beeswax-based varieties scented only with pure essential oils.

5). Did you ever think your inkjet printer could be a source of air pollution? Printing inks, like those used in home printers, contain glymes. These industrial chemicals have been linked to developmental and reproductive damage. The EPA has expressed concern about their safety, especially in regards to repeat long-term exposure. [4] It may be better to have your photos printed at the store.

6). Schools accommodate up to 4x more occupants, aka students, than a standard office building with the same amount of floor space. What makes this alarming is that children breathe more air relative to their body weight than adults. In closed spaces with a lot of huffing and puffing, many germs, allergens, and other nasties quickly spread. The EPA specifically identifies air quality in schools as a point of concern.

7). Since the early 1980s, the occurrence of asthma has been on the rise for everyone — all races, classes, and ages. Simply put, asthma is a silent epidemic that has a disastrous effect on quality of life. In 1999, about 20 million Americans suffered from asthma, or about 1 in 14. [5] In 2011, the number had increased to around 25 million Americans, or 1 in 12. 

8). Many elderly spend the majority of their day inside, whether in their own homes or in care centers. Some estimates suggest the average time spent indoors is 19-20 hours a day. A Portuguese study found that elderly patients in elderly care centers faced exposure to high concentrations of fungus which could negatively affect their respiratory health. [7]

9). The range of indoor air pollutants includes VOCs, phthalates, PBDEs, mold, pollen, pet dander, radon, and more. Most of these qualify as fine or ultra-fine particulate matter that are easily inhaled and can pass into the bloodstream, and even cross the blood-brain barrier. Dry eyes, headaches, nasal congestion, fatigue, and even nausea are common symptoms. Serious problems such as asthma, lung infections, or even lung cancer have been linked to exposure. Particles which enter the bloodstream have been associated with stroke and depression in adults, and children have shown increased systemic inflammation, immune dysfunction, and neural distress. 

10). There’s no denying that campfire is cozy and inviting but make it a special treat. Research shows that regular inhalation of wood smoke limits immune activity and function. [9] While this is a greater concern for many individuals who depend on wood burning for cooking and heat, anyone who burns wood indoors should be aware of the potential health risks. Many of the particles in wood smoke collect and gather in dust long after the fire is extinguished. There may be no aroma as comforting as that of the home fire, but it’s one which should be enjoyed sparingly.

Improving Your Indoor Air Quality

Since an indoor space can contain chemicals, mold, dust, or even industrially-created chemicals such as phthalates, PBDEs, and other VOCs, it’s especially important to be vigilant about purifying the air in your home.

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How To Effectively Improve Indoor Air Quality