People spend the majority of their time indoors, where they face significant health risks due to repeated exposure to air pollutants in their homes, offices, schools and other indoor environments. Exposure to these pollutants can lead to numerous immediate and long-term health problems. Common pollutants include respirable particles, chemical emissions, mold spores, animal allergens, radon, combustion gases, environmental tobacco smoke and pesticides.
Creating Healthier Indoor Environments
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the most effective way to reduce indoor air pollution is to reduce or eliminate the sources harmful chemical emissions. Sources of chemical emissions may include cleaning products, furnishings and furniture, flooring, cabinetry, paint, textiles and building materials. Though federal, state or local law does not regulate product emissions, numerous government and private programs, including public health agencies, have recommended minimal exposure levels for indoor pollutants.
Health Problems Caused by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Many factors determine if people get sick from exposure to indoor pollutants, including the type of pollutant, its concentration, the duration of exposure, the method of exposure (inhalation, ingestion or dermal absorption) and the individual sensitivities of those exposed. Building conditions, such as the amount of ventilation, age of the building, indoor temperature and humidity levels, can also have an impact.
Immediate or Acute Health Effects:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Allergic skin reaction
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of coordination
Long-Term or Chronic Health Effects:
Damage to the heart, liver or kidneys
Damage to the central nervous system
Many chronic conditions commonly associated with indoor exposure to both VOCs and mold are allergic respiratory diseases. These diseases may permanently worsen the health of persons affected even after they have been removed from exposure. These conditions include:
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
- Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
Health Problems Associated With Mold
Health problems caused by mold may be acute, which occur immediately, or within a few days of exposure. Health problems may also be chronic, which are long-term health effects that might not occur immediately.
Acute health problems associated with indoor mold exposure include:
- Irritated eyes, nose and throat
- Difficulty with concentrating or short-term memory
These symptoms together are often called sick building syndrome, but are more correctly referred to as building-related symptoms. Generally, acute symptoms resolve when the person is removed from exposure. However, mold exposure may also aggravate chronic conditions, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and may trigger asthma and allergy attacks.