Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Indoor Air Pollution

There’s something in the air…

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the primary sources of indoor air pollution are a building’s or home’s materials, which release harmful gases and particles into the air.  And it’s not limited to just the indoors.  These same noxious materials are being released outside, affecting air and water quality, too. 

So where is all this bad stuff coming from?  It can be in the materials used to construct the building or home, it can be in the furnishings, the flooring, the walls, and even the everyday household products we use.  Some of these items are slowly, continuously, releasing the pollutants.  Some are released intermittently, when they are in use.  The gases and particles can stay in the air or cling to surfaces for a long time, especially if the space is not well ventilated.

Some of the common sources of indoor pollution include:

Used between the 1930’s-1970’s as insulation in homes.  It’s no longer in use for this, but still can be found in older homes that have not been abated. Also used in roofing shingles, textured paint and pipe coatings.

Lead-based Paint:
Still commonly found in pre-1978 buildings, homes, playgrounds, etc. Lead is very harmful to the environment and to people, particularly children.  If found in good, sealed condition, it’s typically not deemed hazardous, but chipping, peeling or cracking lead paint is cause for concern.  Since 2010, the EPA has enforced strict removal guidelines of lead based paint.  A contractor certified in the safe practices of the process, which can spread dust into the air and be inhaled, must handle it.

Combustion Pollutants:
Inside a home, these can originate from heaters, ovens, stoves, fireplaces, water heaters and clothes dryers.  Ensure you are using sealed-combustion, draft induced and properly vented appliances.  The ENERGY STAR seal typically indicates a sealed combustion unit.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s):
These are emitted from paint and lacquer, adhesives, solvents and upholstery/carpet stain protectors. Formaldehyde is a common VOC, and is commonly used in the fabrication of building materials like particleboard, plywood and MDF (medium density fiberboard).

Moisture inside a home can lead to the growth of mold and mildew.  The negative effects on health include allergic reactions and asthma.  It can also lead to rot and other structural damage to the home.

Granted, at this point, most people are well educated about the dangers of asbestos and lead.  But how many think about the presence of formaldehyde in their cheap, ready-to-assembly furniture?  Credit where due though: Since 1986, IKEA has applied strict guidelines and works to minimize the use formaldehyde.  And in 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, (click here if you want to read the actual act!), which establishes limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products.

But how many people have ever heard of Chromated Copper Arsenic (CCA), a known carcinogen found in pressure treated wood used for decks and play sets?  It’s no longer used for residential settings, but who knew?  Or Diisocyanates, found in polyurethane products, which are highly toxic when the vapors and particulates are inhaled or if it comes into contact with the skin? 

Let’s chalk this up to what we don’t know…CAN hurt us.  Builder, contractors and homeowners have options to avoid these types of indoor and outdoor toxins in the materials we use.  And as with many things, the best first step is education.  To that end, we invite you to bookmark this blog and visit regularly for further information about toxic building materials.



  1. Thanks for sharing the article. I am too much grateful to you.

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