Indoor Air Pollution and Health Problems

This article provides education on many aspects of IAQ (Indoor Air Quality). It will help you become more aware of the environment you live in on a daily basis. You will begin to better understand why people catch colds and bacterial infections including staph and respiratory infections. You will also find out how molds and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) trigger allergic reactions. More importantly, you will learn how to reduce your chances of catching a cold, infection, or having allergic reactions caused by the contaminants in your air.

Microbial pollution is a key element of indoor air pollution. It is caused by hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi, in particular filamentous fungi (mold), growing indoors when sufficient moisture is available, noted the World Health Organization in its report "WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mold, published July 16, 2009

"Problems of indoor air quality are recognized as important risk factors for human health in both low-income and middle- and high-income countries. Indoor air is also important because populations spend a substantial fraction of time within buildings. In residences, day-care centres, retirement homes and other special environments.

Indoor air pollution affects population groups that are particularly vulnerable due to their health status or age. Microbial pollution involves hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi that grow indoors when sufficient moisture is available. Exposure to microbial contaminants is clinically associated with respiratory symptoms, allergies, asthma and immunological reactions," according to the World Health Organization in its report WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould, published July 16, 2009.

"Black mold and toxic mold are causes of Indoor Air Pollutions and Indoor Water Pollutions. It can be in any indoor places like home, offices and buildings. It can be behind those beautifully painted walls in the office, nice-colored carpets, cabinets, walls, ceilings and even in cleanly maintained kitchen at home"

Ninety four percent (94%) of all respiratory ailments are caused by polluted air according to the American Medical Association, which also reported that one-third of our national health bill is for causes directly attributable to indoor air pollution such as toxic mold damage and black mold problem.

The U.S. Government Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns people that "Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health but may not know that indoor air pollution can also have significant effects. EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor air levels of many pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasion more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. These levels of indoor air pollutants are of particular concern because it is estimated that most people spend as much as 90% of their time indoors. In recent years, comparative risk studies performed by EPA and its Science Advisory Board (SAB) have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health."

Black mold and toxic mold problems should not be taken for granted because it is a serious problem which can cause mold damage. When molds are growing on some part of your home, it is like a cancer, it can spread all over your home through its mold spores and before you know it, it has already wrecked your entire house. Mold sucks out the strength of your home and then make your entire dwelling place dangerous to live in due to toxic mold contamination problem.

Indoor air pollutants fall into three main categories

Particulates
Particulates
Over 99% of particulate matter is invisible to the naked eye and easily infiltrates the lungs.
On average, every cubic foot of untreated indoor air contains 20 million particles.




MicrobesMicrobes
Includes three major types of organisms: bacteria, protozoa, and fungi/mold. Most of these contaminants rely on a humid and moist environment for growth & survival. Some molds produce certain chemicals, such as mycotoxins and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).



Gases & Odors
Indoor gases, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide, are released into the air from furniture, carpets, hair sprays, cleaning chemicals, insulation, and pesticides. Gases include VOCs which evaporate into the air easily. Odors are often composed of VOCs or other gases.
The chart below shows a partial list of the most common air pollutants and their sources. Knowing the sources of certain pollutants help you later in deciding the best areas to conduct your IAQ testing. Knowing the sources of contaminants also helps you to determine the best method to eliminate them.

 

Pollutants


Are the contaminants we learned about above present in our homes and buildings?

Perhaps the biggest cause of poor IAQ today is energy conservation. We seal our homes and buildings as tight as possible to keep our heating and cooling costs down. This causes lack of ventilation or fresh air from entering the building. Instead of fresh air being introduced, the same contaminated air keeps circulating through the already contaminated structure. With each cycle the air becomes more contaminated.
When you take a shower or boil water you fill the air with more moisture. In return you create the perfect breeding ground for mold, bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms. The moisture builds up inside your central heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) unit where more mold and bacteria continue to grow. As the air passes through your ducts the mold and bacteria sticks to the ducts. It begins to grow in this low light, moist environment. Over time the growth becomes worse.

With every cycle your HVAC unit runs it pollutes your home or building even more by spreading the contaminants throughout the entire structure.
Mold and bacteria are not your only concerns. Pretend you have a sister or daughter who has come down with a cold. During the first day of her cold she is still able to attend school and participate in activities at home. The first symptoms she has is a runny nose and a cough. At school that day she is constantly sneezing and coughing. When she goes home you play games, help her with homework and eat dinner together.
The whole time she is still coughing and sneezing. The virus becomes aerosolized for you to inhale. The virus lands on your food at the dinner table. As she wipes her nose with a tissue the virus gets on her hands and then you share a pencil during homework. She transfers the virus from her to you in many ways. Before you know it you have the same cold and several other students at school have also been infected.

There are several other pollutants that won't cause a cold or an infection, but can cause serious allergic reactions. When a door opens or your dog comes inside pollen also comes inside. There are many sources for dust and dander. The main source is you. You shed billions of dead skin cells everyday. Your carpet, furniture, household cleaners, the paint on your walls, your toys, your bedding, cosmetics, perfumes, and virtually everything in your home and most buildings today releases some type of VOC or gas into your air.

Another common pollutant present in many homes today is cigarette smoke. A single cigarette alone releases over 4,000 chemicals in your air. Many places of business no longer allow smoking in the building or on their property, but many adults still smoke in their homes. This places their children and other people in their home at risk.

Carpet is one of the biggest and most common sources of air pollutants.

Carpet covers over 70% of the floors in America. Most new carpet contains over 31 chemicals including: volatile organic compounds, styrene, 4-PC, and formaldehyde. Some of these chemicals are considered carcinogens. They can cause severe, even deadly neurotoxin reactions. Some carpets are glued directly to the floor using strong adhesives containing harmful chemicals. The chemicals in carpet are not the only pollutants. Overtime we spill liquids, foods, and other everyday items on the carpet. We track in pollens, molds etc. from outdoors and they become imbedded in the carpet.
We cough and sneeze on the carpet. We along with our pets leave dead skin behind and much more. All which equates to one giant sized area with almost every contaminant known to man trapped within.
This is now another perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Even if you clean your carpets often you only clean the surface. All the contaminants lurk deep within and resurface quickly. In fact, the act of cleaning your carpet increases the moisture under your carpet, resulting in a dark, warm, moist environment to grow more mold and bacteria. You thought your bathroom was gross. Think about it tonight as you lay and play on your soft comfortable carpet.

Another large pollution source often overlooked is the ducts and coils of your HVAC system.

We have covered how mold, bacteria and other contaminants build up in your ducts. The chemicals emitted by your carpet and other items circulate through homes and buildings via air conditioners as well. Of course none of us want to live or work without cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Therefore, removing your HVAC system and all ducts is not an option.

Generally, cleaning your coils and ducts at least once a year is recommended. This greatly reduces the amount of dust, mold, bacteria, etc., circulating through a home or building. Many companies specialize in this cleaning process.

There are other things you can do to help reduce pollutants. Anytime you cook, do laundry, or take a shower or bath you should turn on the exhaust vents in your kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry room to help remove moisture from the air. This helps to control the growth and spreading of mold and bacteria. Turning on the exhaust vents when you use high VOC products, such as hair spray, helps to eliminate pollutants.

Not using an over abundance of cleaning products, cosmetics, perfumes, air freshener sprays, etc., reduces the amount of chemical pollutants present in your air. It is also a good idea to open your windows as often as possible to allow old stale air to escape and introduce new fresh air into your home or other buildings.

What should a person do about all other pollutants left behind after removing the above sources? With humans and pets being two of the biggest sources in homes and buildings there must be other options. We cannnot exactly make ourselves disappear to have clean air.

If these contaminants do exist, what makes them so harmful to our health?

Removing certain sources of contaminants does not always fix the problem. As you have already learned, there are various sources for the many different contaminants. Many illnesses can be contributed to the many contaminants in your air. The top mold health symptoms are the following, in alphabetical order. A mold victim may experience one or more symptoms, separately or simultaneously.

  • asthma
  • breathing difficulties
  • central nervous system effects
  • colds, recurring and with decreased resistance to infection
  • coughing and resulting sore lungs/chest from excessive coughing
  • dandruff problems [chronic] that don't go away despite use of anti-dandruff shampoos
  • dermatitis and skin rashes
  • eye and vision problems
  • fatigue [chronic, excessive, or continued] and/or general malaise
  • feeling lost or "disconnected" from what's happening around you
  • flu symptoms
  • hair loss
  • headaches
  • hives
  • hypersensitivity pneumonitis (extrinsic allergic alveolitis, farmers lung disease)
  • irritability
  • itching of the nose, mouth, eyes, throat, skin, or any area
  • learning difficulties or mental functioning problems or personality changes
  • open skin sores and lacerations
  • organic dust toxic syndrome
  • redness of the sclera(white of your eyes)
  • runny nose (rhinitis), clear, thin, watery mucus from your nose may appear suddenly, or thick, green slime coming out of nose (from sinus cavities)
  • sinus congestion, sinus problems, and chronic sinusitis
  • skin redness
  • sleep disorders
  • sore throat
  • tremors [shaking]
  • verbal dysfunction [trouble in speaking]
  • vertigo