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Air Quality
Radon
Tobacco Smoke
Biologicals
Formaldehyde
Pesticides
Asbestos
Lead
Carbon Monoxide
Nitrogen Dioxide
Organic Gases
Respirable Particles
Air Cleaners
Houseplants
Carpet
Dust mites
Mold and mildew
Bacteria
photographic agents and their hazards

Glossary of Terms


Indoor Air Quality Concerns

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, people who may be exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease.

Only 10% of colds are caught outdoors. 90% are caught indoors! Nature destroys germs and dust outdoors, but our energy-efficient homes keep nature out and germs in!

Radon

Sources: Earth and rock beneath home; well water; building materials.

Health Effects: No immediate symptoms. Estimated to contribute to between 7,000 and 30,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Smokers are at higher risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer.

Levels in Homes: Based on a national residential radon survey completed in 1991, the average indoor radon level is 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The average outdoor level is about 0.4 pCi/L.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Test your home for radon_it’s easy and inexpensive. Fix your home if your radon level is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher. Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced. If you want more information on radon, contact your state radon office, or call 800-SOS-RADON.


Tobacco Smoke

Source: Cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoking.

Health Effects: Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; lung cancer; may contribute to heart disease. Specifically for children, increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and ear infections; build-up of fluid in the middle ear; increased severity and frequency of asthma episodes; decreased lung function.

Levels in Homes: Particle levels in homes without smokers or other strong particle sources are the same as, or lower than, those outdoors. Homes with one or more smokers may have particle levels several times higher than outdoor levels.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Do not smoke in your home or permit others to do so. Do not smoke if children are present, particularly infants and toddlers. If smoking indoors cannot be avoided, increase ventilation in the area where smoking takes place. Open windows or use exhaust fans.

Biologicals

Sources: Wet or moist walls, ceilings, carpets, and furniture; poorly maintained humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners; bedding; household pets.

Health Effects: Eye, nose, and throat irritation; shortness of breath; dizziness; lethargy; fever; digestive problems. Can cause asthma; humidifier fever; influenza and other infectious diseases.

Levels in Homes: Indoor levels of pollen and fungi are lower than outdoor levels (except where indoor sources of fungi are present). Indoor levels of dust mites are higher than outdoor levels.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Install and use fans vented to outdoors in kitchens and bathrooms. Vent clothes dryers to outdoors. Clean cool mist and ultrasonic humidifiers in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and refill with clean water daily. Empty water trays in air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators frequently. Clean and dry or remove water-damaged carpets. Use basements as living areas only if they are leakproof and have adequate ventilation. Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to maintain humidity between 30-50 percent.

Formaldehyde

Sources: Pressed wood products (hardwood plywood wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard) and furniture made with these pressed wood products. Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI). Combustion sources and environmental tobacco smoke. Durable press drapes, other textiles, and glues.

Health Effects: Eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. May cause cancer. May also cause other effects listed under "organic gases."

Levels in Homes: Average concentrations in older homes without UFFI are generally well below 0.1 (ppm). In homes with significant amounts of new pressed wood products, levels can be greater than 0.3 ppm.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins). Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels. Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.

Pesticides

Sources: Products used to kill household pests (insecticides, termiticides, and disinfectants). Also, products used on lawns and gardens that drift or are tracked inside the house.

Health Effects: Irritation to eye, nose, and throat; damage to central nervous system and kidney; increased risk of cancer.

Levels in Homes: Preliminary research shows widespread presence of pesticide residues in homes.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Use strictly according to manufacturer’s directions. Mix or dilute outdoors. Apply only in recommended quantities. Increase ventilation when using indoors. Take plants or pets outdoors when applying pesticides to them. Use nonchemical methods of pest control where possible. If you use a pest control company, select it carefully. Do not store unneeded pesticides inside home; dispose of unwanted containers safely. Store clothes with moth repellents in separately ventilated areas, if possible. Keep indoor spaces clean, dry, and well ventilated to avoid pest and odor problems.

Asbestos

Sources: Deteriorating, damaged, or disturbed insulation, fireproofing, acoustical materials, and floor tiles.

Health Effects: No immediate symptoms, but long-term risk of chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases. Smokers are at higher risk of developing asbestos-induced lung cancer.

Levels in Homes: Elevated levels can occur in homes where asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

It is best to leave undamaged asbestos material alone if it is not likely to be disturbed. Use trained and qualified contractors for control measures that may disturb asbestos and for cleanup. Follow proper procedures in replacing woodstove door gaskets that may contain asbestos.

Lead

Sources: Lead-based paint, contaminated soil, dust, and drinking water.

Health Effects: Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per deciliter (80 ug/dl) of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 ug/dl can impair mental and physical development.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible. Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead. Do not remove lead paint yourself. Do not bring lead dust into the home. If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home. Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.

Carbon Monoxide

Sources: Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, woodstoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves. Automobile exhaust from attached garages. Environmental Tobacco Smoke.

Health Effects: At low concentrations, fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Can cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving home. Fatal at very high concentrations.

Levels in Homes: Average levels in homes without gas stoves vary from 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). Levels near properly adjusted gas stoves are often 5 to 15 ppm and those near poorly adjusted stoves may be 30 ppm or higher.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Keep gas appliances properly adjusted. Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one. Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters. Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves. Open flues when fireplaces are in use. Choose properly sized woodstoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all woodstoves fit tightly. Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly. Do not idle the car inside garage.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Sources: Kerosene heaters, unvented gas stoves and heaters. Environmental tobacco smoke. Health Effects: Eye, nose, and throat irritation. May cause impaired lung function and increased respiratory infections in young children.

Levels in Homes: Average level in homes without combustion appliances is about half that of outdoors. In homes with gas stoves, kerosene heaters, or unvented gas space heaters, indoor levels often exceed outdoor levels.

Steps to Reduce Exposure: See steps under carbon monoxide.

Organic Gases

Sources: Household products including: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.

Health Effects: Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

Levels in Homes: Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Use household products according to manufac-turer’s directions. Make sure you provide plenty of fresh air when using these products. Throw away unused or little-used containers safely; buy in quantities that you will use soon. Keep out of reach of children and pets. Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.

Respirable Particles

Sources: Fireplaces, woodstoves, and kerosene heaters. Environmental tobacco smoke.

Health Effects: Eye, nose, and throat irritation; respiratory infections and bronchitis; lung cancer. (Effects attributable to environmental tobacco smoke are listed elsewhere.)

Levels in Homes: Particle levels in homes without smoking or other strong particle sources are the same as, or lower than, outdoor levels.

Steps to Reduce Exposure:

Vent all furnaces to outdoors; keep doors to rest of house open when using unvented space heaters. Choose properly sized woodstoves, certified to meet EPA emission standards; make certain that doors on all woodstoves fit tightly. Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnace, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly. Change filters on central heating and cooling systems and air cleaners according to manufacturer’s directions.

Air Cleaners

There are many types and sizes of air cleaners on the market, ranging from relatively inexpensive table-top models to sophisticated and expensive whole-house systems. Some air cleaners are highly effective at particle removal, while others, including most table-top models, are much less so. Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants.

The effectiveness of an air cleaner depends on how well it collects pollutants from indoor air (expressed as a percentage efficiency rate) and how much air it draws through the cleaning or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute). A very efficient collector with a low air-circulation rate will not be effective, nor will a cleaner with a high air-circulation rate but a less efficient collector. The long-term performance of any air cleaner depends on maintaining it according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Another important factor in determining the effectiveness of an air cleaner is the strength of the pollutant source. Table-top air cleaners, in particular, may not remove satisfactory amounts of pollutants from strong nearby sources. People with a sensitivity to particular sources may find that air cleaners are helpful only in conjunction with concerted efforts to remove the source.

Houseplants

Over the past few years, there has been some publicity suggesting that houseplants have been shown to reduce levels of some chemicals in laboratory experiments. There is currently no evidence, however, that a reasonable number of houseplants remove significant quantities of pollutants in homes and offices. Indoor houseplants should not be overwatered because overly damp soil may promote the growth of microorganisms which can affect allergic individuals.

Carpet

Exposure to indoor air contaminants has become an area of health concern, especially in light of the fact that the average person spends 80% to 90% of his or her time indoors–at home and at work. People who report sensitivities to their indoor environments complain of a wide range of symptoms, including headache, fatigue, nausea, sinus congestion, and eye, nose and throat irritation. Combinations of these symptoms have also been reported. However, these symptoms are common to a wide variety of illnesses and conditions, which often makes assigning a specific cause for a complaint very difficult.

Findings, based on studies conducted by The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health of "sick buildings" (more than 10% of the occupants report health problems), indicate that ventilation systems play a critical role in indoor air quality. When air exchange with fresh air is low, it is possible for activities in the building (or home) to result in the buildup of carbon dioxide and contaminants such as combustion products (e.g., tobacco smoke), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), etc.

Many materials, including new carpet, have been suggested as contributors to indoor VOCs. Over five years of research has provided considerable information about carpet VOC emissions. Published data shows the quantities of VOCs emitted from carpet to be much lower than the majority of building and construction materials. Furthermore, emission rates have been found to drop fairly rapidly after installation to very low levels in a few days.

Although the carpet itself may emit only low levels of VOCs, one must recognize that the carpet padding or the adhesive used in "gluedown" installations can add a significant amount of VOCs into the ambient air. This is generally a short-term situation, and these materials decrease to low levels in only a few weeks.

One component emitted from new carpet, 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC), has received considerable attention over the last two years. This is the material which results in the "new carpet odor." 4-PC is a side-product from the manufacture of SBR latex, the material used to bind carpet fibers to the backing.

 Dust mites

Dust mites are the most common allergen-producing organisms found in homes. They live in carpets, upholstered furniture and mattresses. They require periods of relative humidity above 55% in order to survive and breed.

Mold and mildew

Mold and mildew are musty-smelling fungi that thrive in moist conditions. Even short periods of high humidity or condensations can cause mold and mildew to grow and release their health-affecting spores and mycotoxins.

Bacteria

Bacteria is the cause of many diseases, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and legionnaire’s disease. Gram-negative bacteria produce endotoxins that cause inflammation and affect the human immune system.


GLOSSARY OF TERMS

ACID AEROSOL: Acidic liquid or solid particles that are small enough to become airborne. High concentrations of acid aerosols can be irritating to the lungs and have been associated with some respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

ANIMAL DANDER: Tiny scales of animal skin.

ALLERGEN: A substance capable of causing an allergic reaction because of an individual’s sensitivity to that substance.

ALLERGIC RHINITIS: Inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose that is caused by an allergic reaction.

BUILDING-RELATED ILLNESS: A discrete, identifiable disease or illness that can be traced to a specific pollutant or source within a building. (Contrast with "Sick building syndrome").

CHEMICAL SENSITIZATION: Evidence suggests that some people may develop health problems characterized by effects such as dizziness, eye and throat irritation, chest tightness, and nasal congestion that appear whenever they are exposed to certain chemicals. People may react to even trace amounts of chemicals to which they have become "sensitized."

ENVIRONMENTAL TOBACCO SMOKE (ETS): Mixture of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar and smoke exhaled by the smoker (also secondhand smoke or passive smoking).

FUNGI: Any of a group of parasitic lower plants that lack chlorophyll, including molds and mildews.

HUMIDIFIER FEVER: A respiratory illness caused by exposure to toxins from microorganisms found in wet or moist areas in humidifiers and air conditioners. Also called air conditioner or ventilation fever.

HYPERSENSITIVITY PNEUMONITIS: A group of respiratory diseases that cause inflammation of the lung (specifically granulomatous cells). Most forms of hypersensitivity pneumon-itis are caused by the inhalation of organic dusts, including molds.

ORGANIC COMPOUNDS: Chemicals that contain carbon. Volatile organic compounds vaporize at room temperature and pressure. They are found in many indoor sources, including many common household products and building materials.

PICOCURIE (pCi): A unit for measuring radioactivity, often expressed as picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air.

PRESSED WOOD PRODUCTS: A group of materials used in building and furniture construction that are made from wood veneers, particles, or fibers bonded together with an adhesive under heat and pressure.

RADON (Rn) AND RADON DECAY PRODUCTS: Radon is a radioactive gas formed in the decay of uranium. The radon decay products (also called radon daughters or progeny) can be breathed into the lung where they continue to release radiation as they further decay.

SICK BUILDING SYNDROME: Term that refers to a set of symptoms that affect some number of building occupants during the time they spend in the building and diminish or go away during periods when they leave the building. Cannot be traced to specific pollutants or sources within the building. (Contrast with "Building related illness").

VENTILATION RATE: The rate at which indoor air enters and leaves a building. Expressed in one of two ways: the number of changes of outdoor air per unit of time (air changes per hour, or "ach") or the rate at which a volume of outdoor air enters per unit of time. (cubic feet per minute, or "cfm")

VOC’s: or volative organic compounds.
They are emitted from solid and liquid products found in the home, including carpets, furnishings, building materials, perfumes, hair sprays, cleaning products and pesticides. The most common VOC, formaldehyde, has been classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen.

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