When you think of polluted air, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a big factory pumping out smelly clouds of smoke or old cars releasing exhaust gas. Although outdoor air pollution seems dangerous, indoor air pollution has adverse effects. The first step to ensuring your family’s safety is to understand the problem. Here are the major indoor air pollutants.
1. Biological Pollutants
Biological pollutants include mites, pollen, bacteria, viruses, pet saliva, and house dust mites. You can minimize most sources of biological contaminants by maintaining the relative humidity of your home between 30 and 50%. Stagnant water and water-damaged materials in your compound are breeding grounds for mildew, mold, insects, and bacteria. Most biological contaminants are small enough to be inhaled, and they can trigger allergic reactions like asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and allergic rhinitis.
Good housekeeping practices and proper maintenance of your HVAC equipment are vital steps in keeping biological air pollutants at bay. The key to mold control is to regulate the moisture levels in your home. Use integrated pest management to control the population of insects and animal allergens in your home. You can also install vented exhaust fans to eliminate moisture from the bathrooms and clothes dryers.
2. Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Since CO is odorless and colorless, it can quickly intoxicate your home without noticing it. Despite being a highly toxic gas, you cannot taste or smell its fumes. So, carbon monoxide can affect you significantly before you are even aware of its presence. The effects of CO exposure vary from one person to another. The extent can increase with age and exposure levels.
Sources of carbon monoxide include:
- Gas stoves
- Unvented gas space heaters
- Leaking furnaces and chimneys
- Generators and other gasoline-powered equipment
- Auto exhaust from roads or nearby parking areas
- Incomplete oxidation during the burning of kerosene or gas heaters
Make sure you maintain combustion equipment and adjust it appropriately. Moderate the use of vehicles, especially for places close to residential areas. Use enough ventilation in the house.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber commonly found in soil and rocks. Thanks to its high heat resistivity and fiber strength, asbestos has found vital application in construction materials. People also use it for insulation and as a fire retardant. Unfortunately, the compound has adverse effects on health and well-being, such as scarring the lungs and mesothelioma.
High levels of asbestos occur when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by sanding, cutting, and other remodeling activities. When handled inappropriately, the materials can release asbestos fibers into the air, thus endangering people living in the area.
4. Nitrogen Dioxide
The two common nitrogen oxides, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, are toxic gases. Nitrogen dioxide is corrosive and highly reactive. The gas can pollute your home from kerosene heaters, unvented combustion appliances, welding, and tobacco smoke.
Nitrogen dioxide irritates the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory tract. When released at high levels, it can cause pulmonary edema and acute bronchitis. Exposure to low levels of nitrogen dioxide might decrease lung function and increase the risk of respiratory infections. Make sure that your appliances are correctly installed and regularly maintained to minimize exposure.
Radon is an odorless and colorless gas that is found everywhere at minimal levels. Radon comes from uranium when it decomposes. Prolonged exposure increases your risk of getting lung cancer. Unlike popular opinion, radon doesn’t affect smokers only – it can affect non-smokers too. If you suspect radon exposure, talk to a professional and have your home screened.
6. Indoor Particulate Matter
Also referred to as PM, this is a complex mixture of liquid and solid particles suspended in the air. The particles vary in composition, size, and shape. The EPA cites that particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less are dangerous because they are inhalable. When they get to the lungs, these particles can affect the organs and cause severe health conditions in some extreme cases.
Examples of health effects associated with PM:
- Nose, eye and throat irritation
- Aggravation of respiratory and coronary disease symptoms
Sources of particulate matter pollution include environmental tobacco smoke, chimneys, fireplaces, heaters, and stoves. Northern California residents should consider regular HVAC maintenance to prevent PM indoor air pollution.
7. Secondhand Smoke
This refers to the smoke given off by the combustion of tobacco products. It can be from cigars, pipes, cigarettes, or smoke exhaled by smokers. According to the EPA, secondhand smoke is a group A carcinogen, containing over 7,000 pollutants. Exposure is prevalent between the rooms of a home, apartments, or cars.
Secondhand smoke is linked to cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and sudden infant death syndrome. It can also worsen chronic lung diseases like asthma, especially in children. Unfortunately, you cannot prevent exposure to secondhand smoke by increasing ventilation or opening windows in your home. The best way to curb exposure is to designate specific smoking zones.
According to a recent survey, 75% of US residents used at least one pesticide product indoors. Commonly used pesticides are disinfectants and insecticides. Research shows that a high percentage of these substances make their way into homes.
Possible sources of pests:
- Stored pesticide containers
- Contaminated dust or soil from outside
- Household surfaces that collect and release the pesticides
Exposure to pesticides may irritate the eye, nose, and throat, damage the central nervous system and increase cancer risks. To limit contact, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using them, dilute the chemicals outside and use non-chemical pest-control methods where possible.
9. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
These are emitted as gases when certain liquids or solids burn and include various chemicals, which bear short and long-term health effects. The concentrations of most VOCs are higher indoors more than outdoors – up to a tenth fold.
Organic chemicals are used in many products like wax, varnishes, and paints. Fuels also consist of organic chemicals. The products can release volatile gases when in use or under storage. You can reduce exposure by ventilating the room when using the chemicals and following label instructions to the letter.
10. Wood Smoke
Smoke consists of a complex mixture of fine, microscopic particles and gases. It is a byproduct of the combustion of organic matter. The biggest health threat from wood smoke is the fine solid particles, which are small enough to enter the lungs. Fine particles worsen chronic lung and heart diseases.
Most of the traditional, pot-bellied wood stoves used to cook and provide warmth in houses are culprits. They are likely to release wood smoke that affects the occupants, mostly the young and elderly. The best thing is to replace the old stoves with newer ones to avoid wood smoke’s detrimental effects.
Maintaining your HVAC system will help to improve indoor air quality in your home. If you live in Northern California, contact Gallagher's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning for excellent plumbing, heating, and air conditioning services. We are fully licensed, and we offer EPA-certified products to serve the greater Sacramento area. Talk to us today, and you are guaranteed to love our services.