Most people are aware outdoor air can and often does contain pollutants, but the idea that the air we breathe while indoors can also be toxic may not be as well understood. Many of us spend a lot of time inside our homes and businesses where there can exist any number of sources of air pollutants. These air pollutants can have a substantial effect on health – particularly for vulnerable individuals.
In Arizona and Nevada, Ambient Edge is your full-service HVAC partner. We know how important it is for you and your family to breathe the cleanest indoor air possible. Our industry-trained experts can help you select and install an HVAC system to minimize your exposure to indoor air pollutants.
How Indoor Air Pollutants Can Affect Health
Indoor air pollutants can lead to both immediate and long-term health consequences. There are a number of factors that influence the impact of indoor pollutant exposure. The type of illness a person may experience is based on personal health, the length of time exposed to the pollutant, the concentration of the pollutant within the indoor space, and the mix of pollutants in the air.
Short-term effects can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Other symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. The illness may be similar to a cold or the flu, making it harder to identify the source of the symptoms.
When the exposure is brief, symptoms typically resolve a short time after exposure to the pollutant ceases. Over a longer period, the effects can become cumulative and result in the development of disease. Exposure to indoor air pollutants over an extended period of time can result in the development of COPD, asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
What an Indoor Air Pollutant Is
Indoor air pollutants consist of gases and particulate matter that are released into the air from materials in and around a home or business. The concentration of an indoor air pollutant is affected by ventilation, heat, and moisture. The more concentrated the exposure, the greater the risk to health.
On average, Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors. Indoor concentrations of air pollutants can be as much as 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations. The people most susceptible to indoor pollution, the very young, the very old, and the very ill, may spend an even greater amount of time indoors.
In recent years the indoor concentrations of air pollutants have risen due in large part to the use of synthetics in everything from building materials to personal care products. Energy-efficient construction focuses on minimizing the air exchange between indoors and outdoors. Without adequate ventilation, air pollutants can become concentrated to toxic levels.
The 8 Most Common Indoor Air Pollutant Exposures
Some fairly well-known indoor air pollutant exposures are not as common as they once were. Exposures such as asbestos or lead still exist in some indoor environments. However, they are no longer found as extensively as the following 8 indoor air pollutants, which continue to contaminate contemporary indoor spaces.
Biological contaminants are living organisms or the by-products of living organisms. Biologics tend to flourish where there is excess moisture or where dust and debris accumulate. They can include bacteria, viruses, pollen, mold, insects, pet dander, and dust.
Biologic accumulations can trigger allergic reactions or spread infectious diseases like influenza, measles, and chicken pox. Controlling the relative humidity of indoor air helps to minimize the growth possibilities for many biologics. The relative humidity recommendation for homes is 30-50%.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is created by the natural decay of uranium which is found in soil. Most radon comes up through the ground and enters a structure anywhere it can get in. Radon gas can get trapped indoors, where it can become concentrated.
Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. Radon gas is odorless and cannot be seen. Testing is the only way to determine concentration levels.
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels. It is an odorless gas that can become fatal within minutes if inhaled at high concentrations. Heaters, furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, and gas-powered equipment can all emit carbon monoxide in various concentrations if not used and maintained properly.
Exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can make a person feel tired. As concentration levels increase, there may be chest pain, vision impairment, and mild brain deficiency. At higher concentrations of carbon monoxide, a person may experience headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and loss of coordination.
Tobacco smoke is an entirely preventable pollutant. It contains thousands of irritating and illness-causing chemicals. Most of the toxic substances come from burning the tobacco leaves and not from other additives.
At least 70 of the chemical compounds found in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Formaldehyde, arsenic, benzene, and carbon monoxide are all found in tobacco smoke. Burning tobacco also gives off certain radioactive materials that are significant in the development of lung cancer.
Formaldehyde is a flammable gas with a strong odor. It is widely used for its preservative and anti-bacterial properties. It can be found in manufactured building materials, paints and finishes, fertilizers, pesticides, and cigarette smoke.
When formaldehyde is released from a product, it is called off-gassing and tends to occur in warm temperatures with high humidity. Formaldehyde exposure can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. High levels of exposure may contribute to the development of some cancers.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are gases emitted from organic chemicals widely used in household products. Solvents, aerosol sprays, cleansers, disinfectants, and air fresheners are examples of products that release VOC while being used. Indoor levels of VOC are consistently as much as 10 times higher than outdoor levels.
Exposure to VOC can cause respiratory irritation, headaches, and damage to internal organs and the central nervous system. Some VOC are suspected carcinogens. Benzene, found in tobacco smoke, stored fuels, and paint supplies, is known to cause leukemia after long-term exposure.
The ‘cide’ in pesticide means it is intended to kill pests. Therefore, any pesticide is inherently toxic. Pesticides can come in sprays, liquids, powders, and sticks.
The EPA reports that a recent study showed at least 75% of American households used at least one indoor pesticide within the last year. Research suggests the majority of exposure to pesticides comes from being indoors. Measurable levels of up to 12 pesticides have been found inside homes.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels. NO2 is a pollutant problem outdoors as well as indoors. It is a highly reactive gas that forms particulate matter and ozone by reacting with other gases.
Inhaling nitrogen dioxide can be particularly harmful to the respiratory system. It has been associated with damage to the heart and lungs. NO2 also contributes to problems with pregnancy and birth, increased risk of neurological and kidney damage, autoimmune issues, and cancer.
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Make Sure the Indoor Air You Breathe Supports Your Health
Toxic indoor air can lead to a multitude of health problems. To help improve indoor air quality, sources of pollutants should be reduced or eliminated, and indoor space should be well-ventilated. Furthermore, research has shown that a quality air filtration system also helps keep indoor air free of pollutants.
Ambient Edge is committed to being the go-to business for all your plumbing, heating, and cooling needs. Our 100% satisfaction guarantee lets you know we value our customers. Near Kingman, AZ or Las Vegas, NV contact the HVAC experts at Ambient Edge.