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Indoor Air Quality

Improve Efficiency With Clean Quality Air

Indoor air affects everyone, and it often contains higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air. However, the good news is that everyone can reduce indoor air pollution.

How can the air inside our homes be so bad for us? Over the years, buildings have been made more airtight to conserve energy. A variety of methods have been employed to keep the hot or cool air from escaping from our homes: installing storm windows and insulation; applying caulk and weather stripping to seal cracks and other openings; and heating our homes with kerosene, wood, coal, and natural gas. Unfortunately, when we trap in hot or cool air, we also trap in pollutants and sometimes generate more.

On average, people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. Sixty-five percent of that is spent at home. To make matters worse, those who are most susceptible to indoor air pollution are the ones who are home the most: children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses. Children breathe in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults. EPA studies have found that pollutant levels inside can be two to five times higher than outdoors. After some activities, indoor air pollution levels can be 100 times higher than outdoors.

There are many sources of pollutants in the home, including chemicals, cleaning products, and pesticides. Less obvious pollutants are caused by simple tasks such as cooking, bathing, or heating the home. Fortunately, there are easy steps that everyone can take to reduce the potential for indoor air pollution and to improve the quality of the air they breathe.

How do you know if the air inside your home is dangerous to your health? Often, it is difficult to determine which pollutant or pollutants are the sources of a person’s ill health, or even if indoor air pollution is the problem. Many indoor air pollutants cannot be detected by our senses (e.g., smell) and the symptoms they produce can be vague and sometimes similar, making it hard to attribute them to a specific cause. Some symptoms may not show up until years later, making it even harder to discover the cause. Common symptoms of exposure to indoor air pollutants include: headaches, tiredness, dizziness, nausea, itchy nose, and scratchy throat. More serious effects are asthma and other breathing disorders and cancer.

Children may be more susceptible to environmental exposures than adults, and, due to their developing systems, particularly vulnerable to their effects. Asthma is a case in point. About 8.9 million children in the United States, and more than 12.4 million people total, are affected by asthma each year. A recent study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concluded that 65 percent of asthma cases among elementary school-age children could be prevented by controlling exposure to indoor allergens and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). By controlling biological contaminants (e.g., dust mites and cat allergens), asthma cases could be reduced by 55 to 60 percent.

For more information, contact our environmental health specialist at (941) 312-6527 or send us an e-mail message.


MOLDS – Molds are part of the natural environment. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.

RADON – You can’t see radon, you can’t smell it or taste it, but it may be a problem in your home. Radon is estimated to cause many thousands of deaths each year. That’s because when you breathe air containing radon, you can get lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Find out how to test your home for radon and, if the reading is elevated, find out what to do next.

SMOKE-FREE HOMES – Secondhand smoke affects everyone, but children are especially vulnerable because they are still growing and developing. EPA has created a national Smoke-free Home Pledge Initiative to motivate parents to protect their children


The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air was launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to address the increased environmental health risk faced by more than 2 billion people in the developing world who burn traditional biomass fuels indoors for cooking and heating. According to the World Health Organization, their increased exposure results in an estimated 1.6 million premature deaths each year, largely among women and children. The mission of the Partnership is to improve health, livelihood, and quality of life by reducing exposure to air pollution, primarily among women and children, from household energy use.


Sick Building Syndrome

What Is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a situation in which occupants of a building experience acute health effects that seem to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building.

Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures. Sometimes indoor air problems are a result of poor building design or occupant activities.

What Are the Symptoms of SBS?

Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort. These symptoms include headaches; eye, nose, and throat irritation; a dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors. With SBS, no clinically defined disease or specific chemical or biological contaminant can be determined as the cause of the symptoms. Most of the complainants feel relief soon after leaving the building.

SBS reduces worker productivity and may also increase absenteeism.

What Causes SBS?

While specific causes of SBS remain unknown, the following have been cited as contributing factors to sick building syndrome. These elements may act in combination or may supplement other complaints such as inadequate temperature, humidity, or lighting.

Chemical contaminants from outdoor sources: Outdoor air that enters a building can also be a source of indoor pollution. Pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts, plumbing vents, and building exhausts (bathrooms and kitchens) can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings. Combustion byproducts can also enter a building from a nearby garage.

Chemical contaminants from indoor sources: Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. For example, adhesives, upholstery, carpeting, copy machines, manufactured wood products, cleaning agents and pesticides may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde. Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions in some individuals. Environmental tobacco smoke and combustion products from stoves, fireplaces, and un-vented space heaters all can put chemical contaminants into the air. It can also come from synthetic fragrances in personal care products or in cleaning and maintenance products

Biological contaminants: Biological contaminants include pollen, bacteria, viruses, and molds. These contaminants can breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in humidifiers, drain pans, and ducts, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, insulation, or carpet. Biological contaminants can cause fever, chills, cough, chest tightness, muscle aches, and allergic reactions. One indoor air bacterium, Legionella, has caused both Pontiac Fever and Legionnaire’s Disease.

Inadequate ventilation: In the 1970s the oil embargo led building designers to make buildings more airtight, with less outdoor air ventilation, in order to improve energy efficiency. These reduced ventilation rates have been found to be, in many cases, inadequate to maintain the health and comfort of building occupants.

What Are the Solutions to Sick Building Syndrome?

Solutions to SBS problems usually include combinations of the following measures:

Increasing the ventilation rates and air distribution is often a cost-effective means of reducing indoor pollutant levels. At a minimum, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems should be designed to meet ventilation standards in local building codes. Make sure that the system is operated and maintained to ensure that the design ventilation rates are attained. If possible, the HVAC system should be operated to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 62-1989. If there are strong pollutant sources, air may need to be vented directly to the outside. This method is especially recommended to remove pollutants that accumulate in specific areas such as restrooms, copy rooms, and printing facilities.

Removal or modification of the pollutant source is the most effective approach to solving a known source of an indoor air quality problem when this solution is practicable. Ways to do this include routine maintenance of HVAC systems; replacing water-stained ceiling tiles and carpets; banning smoking or providing a separately ventilated room; venting contaminant source emissions to the outdoors; using and storing paints, solvents, pesticides, and adhesives in closed containers in well-ventilated areas; using those pollutant sources in periods of low or no occupancy; and allowing time for building materials in new or remodeled areas to off-gas pollutants before occupancy.

Air cleaning has some limitations, but it can be a useful addition to source control and ventilation. Air filters are only effective at removing some, not all, of the pollution.

Education and communication are important parts of any air quality management program. When everyone associated with the building, from occupants to maintenance, fully understands the issues and communicates with each other they can work more effectively together to prevent and solve problems.