When we think of air pollution, we think of smokestacks and smog, we think of big-rigs barrelling down the highway and factories pumping-out processed meats. But did you know that air pollution also exists inside your home? Indoor air pollution easily accumulates and is then circulated throughout our home. Knowing what contributes to the air quality of your home can help you improve the air quality of your home, protecting the health of your family. When you know the dangers of different pollutants and how they negatively affect your home’s air quality, you can best combat them in the future. Here are the top 15 sources of poor air quality in the home.
Sources of Toxic Pollutants
The following sources of pollution (and their contaminants) can cause death, cancer, and other severe health effects.
1) Inefficient or Old Appliances
Old furnaces, stoves, water-heaters, dryers, and other appliances, can release carbon monoxide when they are not properly ventilated. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combustion, and is emitted when the appliance is functioning inefficiently. Old appliances, poorly maintained appliances, and poorly installed appliances, are all common culprits of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is extremely deadly as it is odorless and builds quickly. Carbon monoxide poisoning is fatal.
2) Cracks in Your Home’s Foundation
Cracks in your home’s foundation let-in contaminants from the soil, the most deadly of which is radon. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the soil. When your foundation has cracks, radon can easily slip into your home unnoticed. Radon is colorless and odorless. When suffering radon poisoning, radon’s radioactive particles stick to the inside of your lungs, causing lung cancer.
3) Aged Renovations & Old Insulation
In the recent past, building materials were popularly comprised of asbestos. The 1970’s saw a huge boom of residential construction, all built with materials contaminated by asbestos. Asbestos is usually found in old insulation, old plasters, old roofing materials, pipe insulation, and vinyl flooring. If you live in an older home, you have a greater risk of asbestos exposure, though products today still carry small amounts. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, the fibrotic lung disease asbestosis is contracted. Asbestosis causes coughing, inflamed tissue, shortness of breath, and permanent lung damage. Asbestos can also cause lung cancer and mesothelioma.
4) Extremely Dirty Air Conditioning & Plumbing Systems
It is easy for HVAC systems and plumbing systems to have a buildup of moisture. Moisture buildup is usually rectified during routine maintenance of both systems, fixing the source of the moisture and cleaning any residue. However, when allowed to linger, bacteria and molds can fester in the moisture buildup in ducts, coils, pipes, and even dehumidifiers. One of the kinds of harmful bacteria that can form in dirty air conditioning and plumbing systems is the Legionella pneumophila bacteria. When exposed to this bacteria, Legionnaire’s disease is contracted, causing potentially fatal pneumonia.
5) Second-Hand Smoke
Second-hand smoke from tobacco and cigarettes is incredibly dangerous. When smoking occurs indoors, the smoke is trapped and pushed through the home via the HVAC system. Second-hand smoke is “sticky.” It clings to walls, windows, fans, and filters, making the it difficult to cleanse the home of its harmful contaminants. Cigarettes contain thousands of harmful chemicals, like formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. Second-hand smoke can cause lung cancer, pneumonia, heart disease, emphysema, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses like asthma.
Sources of Hazardous Pollutants
The following sources of pollution (and their contaminants) are extremely dangerous, causing harmful health effects.
6) Chemical Cleaners
Popular cleaning products found in stores across America harbor extremely harmful chemicals. Chemical-rich cleaners leave harmful residues on surfaces and release dangerous volatile organic compounds into the air. Cleaning products packed with chemicals contaminate your home’s air quality, causing chronic respiratory problems. Chemical cleaners will cause throat irritation, coughing, eye irritation, headaches, increase in allergies, asthma, and long-term respiratory complications.
7) Old Paint
It is popularly known that older paint contains lead. If you live in an older home, your walls may have been coated in lead-based paint at some point. One of the greatest dangers of lead paint is that it does not cease to be toxic with each new layer of paint. Lead still seeps through fresh layers of paint. When exposed, flaked, peeled, or chipped, lead paint’s harmful effects increase tenfold. After a renovation (or a great disturbance like moving heavy furniture), pulverized fragments of lead paint can be easily inhaled and circulated in the air throughout your home. Lead is very toxic and in extreme instances can be fatal. Inhaling lead is particularly harmful to small children and pregnant women. Lead poisoning can stunt brain development, attack the central nervous system, and cause anemia and hypertension.
8) Air Fresheners
Similar to chemical cleaners, air fresheners emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pollute your home’s air. In fact, air fresheners are almost as toxic as secondhand smoke. Air fresheners contain toxic chemicals like phthalates, a chemical known to specifically damage endocrine development in small children. The chemicals in air fresheners are also particularly harmful to male children, as the VOCs interrupt the development of testosterone. Because they are generally emitted via aerosols, the pollutants of air fresheners are easily inhaled and circulated throughout the home. Air fresheners can also cause exacerbated allergies, as well as sore throats and asthma.
9) Air Purifiers
Though one might turn to air purifiers to literally purify their home’s air, air purifiers themselves can emit harmful pollutants into your home. Air purifiers commonly release unhealthy amounts of ozone (trioxygen) into your home. Though it might smell sweet, like rainfall, consistent ozone exposure is incredibly dangerous. The ozone released by air purifiers can irritate lungs, and cause chronic lung disease and asthma. Ozone can even scar the lungs of infants. Air purifiers are not a recommended resource to turn to when seeking improved indoor air quality.
Homeowners popularly have small hoards of scented candles. In the winter, we pull out the “Holly Berry” and the “Christmas Cookie.” In the summer, we pull out the “Bahama Breeze.” In the fall, “Pumpkin Spice.” Scented candles can be relaxing and soothing, providing an extra warmth to the atmosphere of your home. But candles have a sinister side: candles are toxic, releasing volatile organic compounds and lead into the air. In fact, the major ingredient of most candles, paraffin, is actually a sludge from the petroleum industry. When burned, candles emit carcinogenic chemicals, and their scented-counterparts also release lead. Even the sooty remnants left behind by burned candles have been shown to release at least two toxic chemicals: benzene and toluene. Candles can cause respiratory complications, exacerbated allergies, asthma, and–after continued exposure–complications to the central nervous system and even cancer.
Sources of Irritants
The following sources of pollution (and their contaminants) cause health complications and negatively affect the air quality of your home.
11) Dirty Shoes
When your shoes track-in mud and dirt from the outdoors, they carry with them toxins and allergens. Dirt is often laden with lead and other volatile organic compounds. Leave shoes outside, or place them on a matt by the door to catch the allergens and pollutants, preventing them from being spread throughout your home. The pollutants carried-in by dirty shoes can cause increased effects of allergies, sore throat, nosebleeds, itchy eyes, asthma, and other respiratory complications.
12) Family Dog
Biscuits is a good boy: it isn’t his fault he has long, luxurious, golden fur that collects pollen, dander, allergens, and other outdoor toxins. Your dog’s fur easily harbors contaminants, spreading them everywhere he lays, shakes, or walks. A quick brush-down, or rub-down with a doggy bath-wipe, can help prevent the spread of pollen, dander, allergens, and other pollutants throughout your home. The contaminants spread by your dog can irritate your throat, eyes, and nose, causing asthma and worsening the effects of allergies.
13) Dirty Carpets
Your carpet traps all the dust, mold, allergens, dirt, dander, and pollutants, that are trod across it. Even the carpet’s adhesives release irritants and volatile organic compounds. To prevent poor indoor air quality, regular vacuuming can help remove contaminants from your home and from your air. Dirty carpets can exacerbate allergies, irritate/cause asthma, and cause sore throats, sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes.
14) Dirty Air Filters
Dirty air filters are inefficient. When your air filters are dirty, they cannot successfully filter the air, allowing pollutants to be spread throughout the home. Dirty air filters drastically decrease the indoor air quality of your home. Dirty air filters can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as cause dizziness, shortness of breath, asthma, influenza, and fevers.
15) Fungi and Mold
Fungi and mold can appear throughout your home, commonly growing in moist areas exposed to external temperatures and weather such as attics, garages, basements, external walls, ducts, and pipes. When your home suffers high humidity, your risk of fungi and mold dramatically increases. Poorly maintained drainage, HVAC systems, humidifiers, and dehumidifiers can all result in fungi and mold. Fungi and mold can cause severe respiratory complications, asthma, exacerbated allergies, headaches, shortness of breath, fevers, dizziness, and irritated eyes, nose, and throat.