Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) #
VOCs are gases that are released by many common household products. VOCs are present in many products including pesticides, furniture, flame retardant chemicals, and other building materials.
The amount of VOCs in buildings vary widely. Some VOCs are more harmful than others. For instance, benzene is carcinogenic and may affect the nervous system. Other compounds are non-cancer-causing, while others can lead to severe health problems.
These compounds are known to cause many health effects, including cancer and respiratory problems. Some of them can also cause allergic reactions in humans. Exposure to VOCs can also trigger asthma attacks and headaches.
Carbon Monoxide #
Carbon monoxide is a dangerous indoor air pollutant that is produced by burning fuels, like for cooking, heating, and other purposes. While it isn’t dangerous in low levels outside, carbon monoxide levels inside can become dangerously high if not properly vented.
Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in blood. People with breathing problems and heart disease are at high risk. Even at low levels for people without these risks, carbon monoxide can cause health issues, including flu-like symptoms, headaches, and dizziness. In some cases, it can lead to serious illness or death.
Carbon monoxide is known to cause cancer. Exposure to it can result in reduced mental health, impaired memory, and reduced work capacity. It can even cause death at high levels. About 200 Americans die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning in their homes. Most of these cases are caused by gas water heaters and heating systems. Sadly, many victims die in their sleep.
Install carbon monoxide detectors near combustion appliances and on every floor to alert people in the event of high levels of CO. Since these are required by law, they’re easy to find at hardware stores.
Nitrous Oxide #
Nitrous oxide is a very reactive, corrosive gas that irritates the lungs. It can cause acute bronchitis and pulmonary edema when exposed to high levels. The average indoor nitrous oxide level is half that of the outdoor level, but levels can be higher in buildings with combustion appliances, such as gas stoves and kerosene heaters.
Proper ventilation to the outside will protect people in the building.
Sulfur Dioxide #
Sulfur dioxide is a common indoor air pollutant that is often produced by industrial processes and burning coal and wood. People who live close industrial areas might choose to limit their time outdoors.
Inhaling high levels of sulfur dioxide can result in breathing problems such as chest tightness and coughing. It can also worsen existing conditions, like asthma and cardiovascular disease. The most vulnerable groups are children and elderly people, as well as people with asthma.
Burning Fuels #
Burning fuels, such as natural gas, oil, wood, or coal, can release a range of pollutants into indoor air. These include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. These can cause lung and blood system problems and make symptoms worse for people with asthma or other lung-related health issues. Address the problem with:
- Proper air flow (i.e. ventilation)
- Regular maintenance of appliances that combust fuels
- Using cleaner burning fuels or appliances
Billions of people use these fuels to heat their homes and prepare their meals. These pollutants have a devastating impact on the health of individuals, particularly children and women, who are most likely to be exposed to smoke while near a fireplace.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent-smelling gas that is commonly used in building materials and household products. It’s one of the most common indoor air pollutants. The amount of it in the air depends on a number of factors. These include the age of wall coverings and furniture, the amount of smoking, and ambient parameters. A report by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment found that pressed wood products were the leading source of formaldehyde in homes. In a study of 162 Strasbourg homes conducted in 2004-2005, the amount of formaldehyde in the air decreased with increasing age of furniture.Example of sources include:
- Choose building materials and household products that are labeled as low-emitting or formaldehyde-free.
- Get proper air flow (i.e. ventilation)
- Use air purifiers with activated carbon filters.
- If formaldehyde-containing materials are already installed, seal or cover them.
- Avoid smoking indoors, as cigarette smoke is a significant source of formaldehyde.