Indoor air pollution consists
of toxic gases or particles that can harm your health. These pollutants can build up rapidly indoors to levels much higher than those usually found outdoors. This is especially true if large amounts of a pollutant are released indoors. Moreover, "tighter" construction in newer homes can prevent pollutants from escaping to the outdoors.
Poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute to the development of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. In addition, it can cause headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea and fatigue. People who already have respiratory diseases are at greater risk.
The effects of indoor air pollutants range from short-term effects - eye and throat irritation
- to long-term effects - respiratory disease and cancer. Exposure to high levels of some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, can even result in immediate death. Also, some indoor pollutants can magnify the effects of other indoor pollutants. Based on cancer risk alone, federal scientists have ranked indoor air pollution as one of the most important environmental problems in the US.
The lung is the most common site of injury by airborne pollutants. Acute effects, however,
may also include non-respiratory signs and symptoms, which may depend upon toxicological characteristics of the substances and host-related factors.
A typical mattress is stuffed with polyurethane foam and other materials that may have been treated with flame retardants and covered with material treated with water-, stain- and wrinkle-resistant chemicals. These, along with chemicals emitted from polyurethane foam, such as toluene, can contribute to indoor air pollution.
Many sources claim mattresses and other upholstered furniture that contain polyurethane foam are often treated with brominated flame retardants, also known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Recent studies have shown that brominated flame retardants persist in human and animal tissue for many years and that they may have similar action, and perhaps health effects, as the now banned PCBs and DDT. There has been evidence that some PBDEs can interfere with thyroid hormone, which is critical to the development of the fetus. Women in the U.S. have the highest levels of PBDEs in their bodies in the world, according to studies.
Fumes from new decorating products, like paint, carpets, vinyl or pressed wood, contribute to indoor air pollution, which is ranked among the top four environmental health risks by the EPA. Microscopic particles and invisible gases can accumulate undetected in your home until you notice the ill effects. These can include burning of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, asthma attacks and cold or hay fever symptoms.
Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials
and numerous household products. Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans.
Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of unvented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters. Formaldehyde, by itself or in combination with other chemicals, serves a number of purposes in manufactured products. For example, it is used to add permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies, as a component of glues and adhesives, and as a preservative in some paints and coating products.
If you experience adverse reactions to formaldehyde, you may want to avoid the use of pressed wood products and other formaldehyde-emitting goods. Even if you do not experience such reactions, you may wish to reduce your exposure as much as possible by purchasing exterior-grade products, which emit less formaldehyde. For further information on formaldehyde and consumer products, call the EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) assistance line (202-554-1404).
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
"In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors."
In addition, homes built after 1970 are more likely to harbor bad air because, to keep energy consumption down, builders tightened up houses to prevent the loss of precious heat. Unfortunately, this also traps pollutants indoors. Temperature and humidity levels also tend to rise in a well-sealed home, encouraging dust mites and mold.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
“The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality” This short step-by-step guidance provides helpful hints for comprehensive asthma management. English PDF
“Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "Removing allergy triggers from your home"
Center for Disease Control “Indoor Air Quality Information by State”
Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America
American Respiratory Care Foundation
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology