According to the EPA, there are 13 common indoor air pollutant sources. They fall into one of four categories: VOCs, biological pollutants, combustion byproducts, and legacy pollutants. These pollutants can affect the health and comfort of building and household occupants. Some health effects may show up easily after a single exposure, or years later after prolonged exposure.
The Most Common Indoor Air Pollutants Include:
- Biological Pollutants
- Carbon Monoxide
- Cookstoves and Heaters
- Lead (Pb)
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
- Radon (Rn)
- Indoor Particulate Matter
- Secondhand Smoke/Environmental Tobacco Smoke
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Wood Smoke
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. It occurs naturally in rock and soil. Because of its strength and heat resistance, it has been used in a variety of building materials, including insulation, roofing shingles, and as a flame retardant. It has also been used in friction products for cars. Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of developing lung disease, mesothelioma, or asbestosis. Because of these health effects, the import, manufacture and sale of asbestos-related materials are prohibited.
2. Biological Pollutants
Biological pollutants are pollutants produced by living things. As a result, they were possibly found in areas with excessive food or moisture. Biological pollutants can include bacteria, viruses, pet dander, saliva, house dust, dust mites and pollen. In buildings, these pollutants are usually found near excessive humidity, for example in humidifiers or a bathroom without ventilation, because excessive humidity can be a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.
3. Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas released when fossil fuels are burned. The biggest outdoor CO emitters are vehicles, while kerosene lamps and gas heaters are the main sources of CO indoors.
Carbon monoxide can be extremely harmful to humans when inhaled in large quantities because it impairs the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity. This means it reduces the amount of oxygen the body can carry in the blood to critical organs. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause dizziness, unconsciousness and even death. CO is primarily a threat to tightly closed indoor spaces with poor ventilation, since high CO concentrations are unlikely to be encountered outdoors.
4. Cookstoves and Heaters
Burning solid fuels, such as wood or charcoal, to cook or heat a building can contribute to poor indoor air quality. Although not necessarily common in the United States, these cooking/heating methods are still used by billions of homes around the world. The smoke and fumes produced by these cooking and heating methods, combined with poor ventilation, can cause significant health and lung problems.
Formaldehyde is found in many household products and building materials. It is commonly used in resins on wood products, insulation materials, adhesives, paints, cosmetic preservatives, and pesticides. It is a chemical compound that is also a by-product of combustion, meaning it can be released from fuel-powered devices. Long-term, high exposure to formaldehyde can cause cancer. Skin, eye, nose and throat irritation can be affect by short term exposure
6. Lead (Pb)
Lead emissions enter the air from a variety of sources. The most common source is metalworking and burning leaded fuel. Once inhaled, lead can accumulate throughout the body and cause many side effects. In adults, high levels of lead can cause nervous, cardiovascular, and reproductive health problems. In children, this can lead to learning or behavioral problems.
7. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) belongs to the highly reactive family of nitrogen oxide glasses. It is emitted from fuel combustion, commonly from cars, trucks, and power plants. When combined with water in the atmosphere in high concentrations, it can form acid rain.
NO2 can be extremely harmful to people with pre-existing respiratory conditions, especially asthma, as it can cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Exposure over time can result in increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
Pesticides are used to control and to kill insects, pests, microbes, termites and rodents. This makes them inherently poisonous. Pesticides, insecticides and disinfectants are common household products. Exposure to pesticides can have a variety of short- and long-term effects, including skin, eye, nose, and throat irritation, an increased risk of cancer, and damage to the central nervous system.
9. Radon (Rn)
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is tasteless, colorless and odorless, making it very difficult to detect without a specific radon test. Because it occurs naturally in trace amounts, it is not usually a major external health concern. Most radon exposures, however, occur indoors because radon gas becomes trapped indoors after entering through cracks and holes in the building envelope.
Long-term exposure to radon can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Tests can identify indoor radon levels. When levels are high, they can usually be corrected by improving ventilation or increasing the rate of air exchange throughout the building.
10. Indoor Particulate Matter
Fine dust or fine dust pollution is the mixture of solid particles in the air. While some particles are large enough to be seen by the human eye (dust, dirt, sand, and smoke), other particles are so small that they can only be seen with a microscope. Particulate matter can be emitted directly from a source such as a construction site or a beach, but is often the result of a complex chemical reaction of pollutants emitted from the combustion of fuels.
Prolonged exposure to particles can lead to various health problems, including heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, worsening asthma and increased respiratory problems. People with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, are at a higher risk of experiencing the adverse effects of particles. To determine exposure to this pollutant, the Air Quality Index (AQI) is a good indicator of air pollution.
11. Secondhand Smoke/Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is a smoke mixture that is released when tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars are burned. Passive smoking is often referred to as passive smoking. It is classified as a Group A carcinogen by the EPA and contains more than 7,000 substances. Secondhand smoke can cause heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, asthma attacks, and other lung diseases.
12. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gasses given off by certain solids or liquids. They can be the result of many common household products, including paint, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, cleaning and disinfecting products, moth repellents, air fresheners, stored fuel, dry-cleaned clothing, and pesticides. VOCs encompass a wide variety of chemicals that can have both short-term and long-term effects. Health effects can include eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
13. Wood Smoke
Smoke is a complex mixture of gasses and fine microscopic particles (particulate matter) produced when wood and other organic materials are burned. The greatest health hazard from wood smoke comes from the particles in the smoke discussed above. Many still use wood stoves for heating and cooking. While they provide the necessary benefits of food and warmth, they can release noxious smoke if not properly ventilated. Replacing old wood stoves with newer, cleaner technology can help reduce the health risks associated with wood smoke.
Reduce Pollutants—Get Professional Indoor Air Quality Testing Homeowners exhibiting the telltale symptoms of airborne contamination can take proactive steps to identify potential pollutants, take remedial action, and schedule ongoing monitoring. To get the professional air quality testing you need to keep yourself and your family safe, trust your knowledgeable local HVAC contractors. Call or make an appointment today.