IAQ Report

What is Indoor Air Pollution?


Concerns about indoor air quality (IAQ) have increased since the 1970’s when people started doing a better job of sealing their homes and offices to conserve electricity.
Sealing buildings better only reduces the amount of fresh outside
air from coming into buildings and contributes to the buildup of indoor air contaminants.

Complaints about IAQ range from simple complaints, such as the air smelling odd, to more complex complaints where poor air quality results in illness and absence in school. Identifying a single reason for these complaints is difficult due to the number and variety of possible sources, causes, and individual sensitivities.
Indoor air pollutants fall into three main categories:

particulates
Particulates – Term used for the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Over 99% of particulate matter is invisible to the naked eye and can easily infiltrate the lungs. On average, every cubic foot of untreated indoor air contains 20 million particles.
microbes
Microbes – 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 can produce certain chemicals, such as mycotoxins and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).
gases
Gases & Odors – Indoor gases, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide, are released from furniture, carpets, hair sprays, cleaning chemicals, insulation, and pesticides. Gases include VOC’s which evaporate into the air easily. Odors are often made up of VOC’s or other gases.


This chart 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.

Category Pollutants Sources
Particulate
Dust
Humans, drapes, outdoor air
Particulate
Pollen
Clothing, outdoor air, pets
Particulate
Tobacco Smoke, Hydrocarbons
Smokers
Particulate
Dander
Humans, pets
Microbial
Mold Spores
HVAC ducts, carpets, outdoor air
Microbial
Bacteria
Waste containers, toilets, humans, A/C coils & ducts
Microbial
Fungi
Pets, foods, outdoor air, waste containers
Gas
Methyl mercaptan
Plastic, natural gas and propane additive
Gas
Carbon disulfide
Solvents
Gas
Butyl acetate
Lacquer, industrial chemicals
Gas
Methyl mthacrylate
Solvents
Gas
MEK
Solvents
Gas
d-Limonene
Solvents
Gas
Toluene
Solvents
Gas
Hydrogen sulfide
Toilet vents, water


Why Worry About Indoor Air Quality?

girl_dogThe average American spends up to 90% of their time indoors. Think about it. When you wake up in the morning in your bed you are inside your house. Then you leave your house to get in your car. You step out of the car and enter your place of work. After several hours, you leave work
to go back home, go shopping, go to a restaurant or other indoor places. The majority of your day is spent indoors, making you one of the many average Americans. Those more susceptible to the
effects of poor IAQ spend even more time indoors. These people include infants, the elderly and critically ill.
voc_manPerhaps 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 aren’t 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.

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 alreadylearned, there are various sources for the many different contaminants. Many illnesses can becontributed to the many contaminants in your air. Mold spores can cause allergic reactions, serious health risks, and in some cases death. The bacteria circulating in your home can causerespiratory infections, infections in open wounds, and more. While most people quickly overcome the common cold in a matter of a few days, the same cold can be fatal to infants, elderly and critically ill. Colds also cause absence from school or work and time away from family and friends.
As the items off-gas and send chemicals and VOCs into the air you inhale these chemicals. Many of the chemicals can cause allergic reactions or pose other serious health risks, such as cancer.When a cigarette burns it releases over 4,000 chemicals into the air which places your health “up in the air”. The chemicals in cigarettes can cause many different diseases of the lungs or even cancer. They also weaken your immune system and cause damage to many other vital organs in your body.
How Do We Remove These Contaminants From The Air We Breathe?
Some items pose greater threats to your indoor air than others. One of the best ways to remove the contaminants is to eliminate the sources. Since virtually everything in homes and buildings is synthetically made out of chemicals or attract other pollutants what should you do? Completely strip your building or home of every item in it? No. Even if you did, the materials used to create buildings and homes also contain contaminants. Instead a good first step is to remove some of the larger sources of contaminants.
boy_girlIf a smoker resides in your home ask them to smoke outdoors. This greatly reduces your exposure to the 4,000 plus chemicals released from cigarettes. Not to mention how much better this will make your clothes, personal items and home smell.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’s 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 can’t exactly make ourselves disappear to have clean air.

 

See Air Quality Test Kit