What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?
We usually think of air pollution as being outdoors, but the air in your house or office may also be polluted and in some cases, contain higher amounts of pollutants than found outdoors. Sources of indoor pollution include, Mold and pollen, Tobacco smoke, Household cleaning products and pesticides, Gases such as radon and carbon monoxide. Additionally, materials used in the building such as asbestos, formaldehyde and lead are also sources of indoor pollutants.
Sometimes a group of people have symptoms that seem to be linked to time spent in a certain building. There may be a specific cause, such as Legionnaire's disease and in other cases the cause of the illness cannot be found. This is known as sick building syndrome. Usually indoor air quality problems only cause slight discomfort and most people feel better as soon as they remove the source of the pollution. However, some pollutants can cause diseases that show up much later, such as respiratory diseases or cancer. Making sure that your home or office is well-ventilated in addition to isolating the sources of pollution and removing them can improve the quality of your indoor air.
There are many sources of indoor air pollution in any home. These include combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products as well as building materials and home furnishings. Deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products, household cleaning and maintenance products, personal care items, central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices. In short, the sources for indoor air pollutants are diverse.
The relative importance of any single source depends on how much of a given pollutant it emits and how hazardous those emissions are. In some cases, factors such as how old the source is and whether it is properly maintained are significant. For example, an improperly adjusted gas stove can emit significantly more carbon monoxide than one that is properly adjusted.
Some sources, such as building materials, furnishings, and household products like air fresheners, release pollutants more or less continuously. Other sources, related to activities carried out in the home, release pollutants intermittently. These include smoking, the use of unvented or malfunctioning stoves, furnaces, or space heaters, the use of solvents in cleaning and hobby activities, the use of paint strippers in redecorating activities, and the use of cleaning products and pesticides in house-keeping. High pollutant concentrations can remain in the air for long periods after some of these activities.
What Causes Indoor Air Problems?
Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes and offices. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels. By not bringing in enough fresh air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and not allowing adequate airflow to carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home cause major increases in pollutant concentrations. Further, high temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.
While pollutants commonly found in indoor air are responsible for many harmful effects, there is considerable uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems. People also react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants. Further research is needed to better understand which health effects occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations found in homes and which occurs from the higher concentrations that occur for short periods of time.
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