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Air Pollution Sources in the Home

Indoor Air Quality in Your Home
What If You Live in an Apartment?
Improving the Air Quality in Your Home
A Look at Source-Specific Controls
Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Biological Contaminants
Stoves, Heaters, Fireplaces, and Chimneys
Household Products
Reference Guide to Major Indoor Air Pollutants in the Home
When Building a New Home
Do You Suspect Your Office Has an Indoor Air Problem?
Where to Go for Additional Information
1. Moisture
2. Pressed Wood Furniture
3. Humidifier
4. Moth Repellents
5. Dry-Cleaned Goods
6. House Dust Mites
7. Personal Care Products
8. Air Freshener
9. Stored Fuels
10. Car Exhaust
11. Paint Supplies
12. Paneling
13. Wood Stove
14. Tobacco Smoke
15. Carpets
16. Pressed Wood Sub flooring
17. Drapes
18. Fireplace
19. Household Chemicals
20. Asbestos Floor Tiles
21. Pressed Wood Cabinets
22. Unvented Gas Stove
23. Asbestos Pipe Wrap
24. Radon
25. Unvented Clothes Dryer
26. Pesticides
27. Stored Hobby Products
28. Lead-Based Paint
All of us face a variety of risks to our health as we go about our day
to day lives. Driving in cars, flying in planes, engaging in
recreational activities, and being exposed to environmental pollutants
all pose varying degrees of risk. Some risks are simply unavoidable.
Some we choose to accept because to do otherwise would restrict our
ability to lead our lives the way we want. And some are risks we might
decide to avoid if we had the opportunity to make informed choices.
Indoor air pollution is one risk that you can do something about.
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.
While pollutant levels from individual sources may not pose a
significant health risk by themselves, most homes have more than one
source that contributes to indoor ar pollution. There can be a serious
risk from the cumulative effects of these sources. Fortunately, there
are steps that most people can take both to reduce the risk from
existing sources and to prevent new problems from occurring. This
booklet was prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to help you
decide whether to take actions that can reduce the level of indoor air
pollution in your own home.
Because so many Americans spend a lot of time in offices with mechanical
heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, there is also a short section
on the causes of poor air quality in offices and what you can do if you
suspect that your office may have a problem. A glossary and a list of
organizations where you can get additional information are listed at the
back of this booklet.
Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air
are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes.
Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not
bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources
and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High
temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some
Pollutant Sources
There are many sources of indoor air pollution in any home. These
include combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and
tobacco products; building materials and furnishings as diverse as
deteriorated, asbestos containing insulation, wet or damp carpet, and
cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products; products
for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies;
central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; and
outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution.
The relative importance of any single source depends on how much of a
given pollutant it emits and how hazardous those emissions are. In some
cases, factors such as how old the source is and whether it is properly
maintained are significant. For example, an improperly adjusted gas
stove can emit significantly more carbon monoxide than one that is
properly adjusted.
Some sources, such as building materials, furnishings, and household
products like air fresheners, release pollutants more or less
continuously. Other sources, related to activities carried out in the
home, release pollutants intermittently. These include smoking, the use
of unvented or malfunctioning stoves, furnaces, or space heaters, the
use of solvents in cleaning and hobby activities, the use of paint
strippers in redecorating activities, and the use of cleaning products
and pesticides in housekeeping. High pollutant concentrations can remain
in the air for long periods after some of these activities.
Amount of Ventilation
If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate o
levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Unless they are built
with special mechanical means of ventilation, homes that are designed
and constructed to minimize the amount of outdoor air that can leak into
and out of the home may have higher pollutant levels than other homes.
However, because some weather conditions can drastically reduce the
amount of outdoor air that enters a home, pollutants can build up even
in homes that are normally considered leaky.
Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by: infiltration, natural
ventilation, and mechanical ventilation. In a process known as
infiltration, outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints,
and cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings, and around windows and doors.
In natural ventilation, air moves through opened windows and doors. Air
movement associated with infiltration and natural ventilation is caused
by air temperature differences between indoors and outdoors and by wind.
Finally, there are a number of mechanical ventilation devices, from
outdoor vented fans that intermittently remove air from a single room,
such as bathrooms and kitchen, to air handling systems that use fans and
duct work to continuously remove indoor air and distribute filtered and
conditioned outdoor air to strategic points throughout the house. The
rate at which outdoor air replaces indoor air is described as the air
exchange rate. When there is little infiltration, natural ventilation,
or mechanical ventilation, the air exchange rate is low and pollutant
levels can increase.
Apartments can have the same indoor air problems as single family homes
because many of the pollution sources, such as the interior building
materials, furnishings, and household products, are similar. Indoor air
problems similar to those in offices are caused by such sources as
contaminated ventilation systems, improperly placed outdoor air intakes,
or maintenance activities.
Solutions to air quality problems in apartments, as in homes and
offices, involve such actions as: eliminating or controlling the sources
of pollution, increasing ventilation, and installing air cleaning
devices. Often a resident can take the appropriate action to improve the
indoor air quality by removing a source, altering an activity,
unblocking an air supply vent, or opening a window to temporarily
increase the ventilation; in other cases, however, only the building
owner or manager is in a position to remedy the problem. (See the
section What to Do If You Suspect a Problem on page 30.) You can
encourage building management to follow guidance in EPA and NIOSH s
Building Air Quality: A Guide for Building Owners and Facility
Managers. It is available for $24 from the Superintendent of Documents,
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 152507954; stock # 055000003904.
Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after
exposure or, possibly, years later.
Immediate effects may show up after a single exposure or repeated
exposures. These include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat,
headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Such immediate effects are usually
short term and treatable. Sometimes the treatment is simply eliminating
the person s exposure to the source of the pollution, if it can be
identified. Symptoms of some diseases, including asthma,
hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever, may also show up
soon after exposure to some indoor air pollutants.
The likelihood of immediate reactions to indoor air pollutants depends
on several factors. Age and preexisting medical conditions are two
important influences. In other cases, whether a person reacts to a
pollutant depends on individual sensitivity, which varies tremendously
from person to person. Some people can become sensitized to biological
pollutants after repeated exposures, and it appears that some people can
become sensitized to chemical pollutants as well.
Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds or other viral
diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a
result of exposure to indoor air pollution. For this reason, it is
important to pay attention to the time and place the symptoms occur. If
the symptoms fade or go away when a person is away from the home and
return when the person returns, an effort should be made to identify
indoor air sources that may be possible causes. Some effects may be made
worse by an inadequate supply of outdoor air or from the heating,
cooling, or humidity conditions prevalent in the home.
Other health effects may show up either years after exposure has
occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These
effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and
cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is prudent to try to
improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not
noticeable. More information on potential health effects from
particular indoor air pollutants is provided in the section, A Look at
Source Specific Controls.
While pollutants commonly found in indoor air are responsible for many
harmful effects, there is considerable uncertainty about what
concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific
health problems. People also react very differently to exposure to
indoor air pollutants. Further research is needed to better understand
which health effects occur after exposure to the average pollutant
concentrations found in homes and which occur from the higher
concentrations that occur for short periods of time.
The health effects associated with some indoor air pollutants are
summarized in the chart in the middle of this booklet titled Reference
Guide to Major Indoor Air Pollutants in the Home.
Some health effects can be useful indicators of an indoor air quality
problem, especially if they appear after a person moves to a new
residence, remodels or refurnishes a home, or treats a home with
pesticides. If you think that you have symptoms that may be related to
your home environment, discuss the with your doctor or your local health
department to see if they could be caused by indoor air pollution. You
may also want to consult a board certified allergist or an occupational
medicine specialist for answers to your questions.
Another way to judge whether your home has or could develop indoor air
problems is to identify potential sources of indoor air pollution.
Although the presence of such sources (see illustration at the beginning
of this booklet) does not necessarily mean that you have an indoor air
quality problem, being aware of the type and number of potential sources
is an important step toward assessing the air quality in your home.
A third way to decide whether your home may have poor indoor air quality
is to look at your lifestyle and activities. Human activities can be
significant sources of indoor air pollution. Finally, look for signs of
problems with the ventilation in your home. Signs that can indicate your
home may not have enough ventilation include moisture condensation on
windows or walls, smelly or stuffy air, dirty central heating and air
cooling equipment, and areas where books, shoes, or other items become
moldy. To detect odors in your home, step outside for a few minutes,
and then upon reentering your home, note whether odors are noticeable.
The federal government recommends that you measure the level of radon in
your home. Without measurements there is no way to tell whether radon is
present because it is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas.
Inexpensive devices are available for measuring radon. EPA provides
guidance as to risks associated with different levels of exposure and
when the public should consider corrective action. There are specific
mitigation techniques that have proven effective in reducing levels of
radon in the home. (See Radon section on p. 11 of this booklet for
additional information about testing and controlling radon in homes.)
For pollutants other than radon, measurements are most appropriate when
there are either health symptoms or signs of poor ventilation and
specific sources or pollutants have been identified as possible causes
of indoor air quality problems. Testing for many pollutants can be
expensive. Before monitoring your home for pollutants besides radon,
consult your state or local health department or professionals who have
experience in solving indoor air quality problems in nonindustrial
The federal government recommends that homes be weatherized in order to
reduce the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. While
weatherization is underway, however, steps should also be taken to
minimize pollution from sources inside the home. (See Improving the Air
Quality in Your Home for recommended actions.) In addition, residents
should be alert to the emergence of signs of inadequate ventilation,
such as stuffy air, moisture condensation on cold surfaces, or mold and
mildew growth. Additional weatherization measures should not be
undertaken until these problems have been corrected.
Weatherization generally does not cause indoor air problems by adding
new pollutants to the air. (There are a few exceptions, such as
caulking, that can sometimes emit pollutants.) However, measures such as
installing storm windows, weather stripping, caulking, and blown in wall
insulation can reduce the amount of outdoor air infiltrating into a
home. Consequently, after weatherization, concentrations of indoor air
pollutants from sources inside the home can increase.
Source Control
Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to
eliminate individual sources of pollution or to reduce their emissions.
Some sources, like those that contain asbestos, can be sealed or
enclosed; others, like gas stoves, can be adjusted to decrease the
amount of emissions. In many cases, source control is also a more cost
efficient approach to protecting indoor air quality than increasing
ventilation because increasing ventilation can increase energy costs.
Specific sources of indoor air pollution in your home are listed later
in this section.
Ventilation Improvements
Another approach to lowering the concentrations of indoor air pollutants
in your home is to increase the amount of outdoor air coming indoors.
Most home heating and cooling systems, including forced air heating
systems, do not mechanically bring fresh air into the house. Opening
windows and doors, operating window or attic fans, when the weather
permits, or running a window air conditioner with the vent control open
increases the outdoor ventilation rate. Local bathroom or kitchen fans
that exhaust outdoors remove contaminants directly from the room where
the fan is located and also increase the outdoor air ventilation rate.
It is particularly important to take as many of these steps as possible
while you are involved in short-term activities that can generate high
levels of pollutants for example, painting, paint stripping, heating
with kerosene heaters, cooking, or engaging in maintenance and hobby
activities such as welding, soldering, or sanding. You might also choose
to do some of these activities outdoors, if you can and if weather
Advanced designs of new homes are starting to feature mechanical systems
that bring outdoor air into the home. Some of these designs include
energy efficient heat recovery ventilators (also known as air-to-air
heat exchangers). For more information about air-to-air heat
exchangers, contact the Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and
Referral Service (CAREIRS), PO Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116; (800)
Air Cleaners
There are many types and sizes of air cleaners on the market, ranging
from relatively inexpensive tabletop models to sophisticated and
expensive whole house systems. Some air cleaners are highly effective at
particle removal, while others, including most tabletop models, are much
less so. Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous
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. Tabletop 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.
Over the past few years, there has been some publicity suggesting that
house plants 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 over
watered because overly damp soil may promote the growth of
microorganisms which can affect allergic individuals.
At present, EPA does not recommend using air cleaners to reduce levels
of radon and its decay products. The effectiveness of these devices is
uncertain because they only partially remove the radon decay products
and do not diminish the amount of radon entering the home. EPA plans to
do additional research on whether air cleaners are, or could become, a
reliable means of reducing the health risk from radon. EPA s booklet,
Residential Air Cleaning Devices, provides further information on air
cleaning devices to reduce indoor air pollutants
For most indoor air quality problems in the home, source control is the
most effective solution. This section takes a source by source look at
the most common indoor air pollutants, their potential health effects,
and ways to reduce levels in the home. (For a summary of the points made
in this section, see the chart in the middle of this booklet titled
Reference Guide to Major Indoor Air Pollutants in the Home. )
The most common source of indoor radon is uranium in the soil or rock on
which homes are built. As uranium naturally breaks down, it releases
radon gas which is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas. Radon gas
enters homes through dirt floors, cracks in concrete walls and floors,
floor drains, and sumps. When radon become strapped in buildings and
concentrations build up indoors, exposure to radon becomes a concern.
Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well
sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.
Sometimes radon enters the home through well water. In a small number
of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too. However,
building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.
Health Effects of Radon
The predominant health effect associated with exposure to elevated
levels of radon is lung cancer. Research suggests that swallowing water
with high radon levels may pose risks, too, although these are believed
to be much lower than those from breathing air containing radon. Major
health organizations (like the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, the American Lung Association (ALA), and the American
Medical Association) agree with estimates that radon causes thousands of
preventable lung cancer deaths each year. EPA estimates that radon
causes about 14,000 deaths per year in the United States however, this
number could range from 7,000 to 30,000 deaths per year. If you smoke
and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is
especially high.
Reducing Exposure to Radon in Homes
Measure levels of radon in your home.
You can t see radon, but it s not hard to find out if you have a radon
problem in your home. Testing is easy and should only take a little of
your time.
There are many kinds of inexpensive, do-it-yourself radon test kits you
can get through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail
outlets. Make sure you buy a test kit that has passed EPA s testing
program or is state certified. These kits will usually display the
phrase Meets EPA Requirements. If you prefer, or if you are buying or
selling a home, you can hire a trained contractor to do the testing for
you. The EPA Radon Measurement Proficiency (RMP) Program evaluates
testing contractors. A contractor who has met EPA s requirements will
carry a special RMP identification card. EPA provides a list of
companies and individual contractors to state radon offices. You can
call your state radon office to obtain a list of qualified contractors
in your area (call 800-SOS-RADON for a list of state radon offices).
Refer to the EPA guidelines on how to test and interpret your test
You can learn more about radon through EPA s publications, A Citizen s
Guide to Radon: The Guide to Protecting Yourself and Your Family From
Radon and Home Buyer s and Seller s Guide to Radon, which are available
from state radon offices.
Learn about radon reduction methods.
Ways to reduce radon in your home are discussed in EPA s Consumer's
Guide to Radon Reduction. You can get a copy from your state radon
office. There are simple solutions to radon problems in homes.
Thousands of homeowners have already fixed radon problems. Lowering
high radon levels requires technical knowledge and special skills. You
should use a contractor who is trained to fix radon problems.
The EPA Radon Contractor Proficiency (RCP) Program tests these
contractors. EPA provides a list of RCP contractors to state radon
offices. A contractor who is listed by EPA will carry a special RCP
identification card. A trained RCP contractor can study the problem in
your home and help you pick the correct treatment method. Check with
your state radon office for names of qualified or state certified radon
reduction contractors in your area.
Stop smoking and discourage smoking in your home.
Scientific evidence indicates that smoking combined with radon is an
especially serious health risk. Stop smoking and lower your radon level
to reduce lung cancer risk.
Treat radon contaminated well water.
While radon in water is not a problem in homes served by most public
water supplies, it has been found in well water. If you've tested the
air in your home and found a radon problem, and you have a well, contact
a lab certified to measure radiation in water to have your water tested.
Radon problems in water can be readily fixed. Call your state radon
office or the EPA Drinking Water Hotline (8004264791) for more
Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is the mixture of smoke that comes
from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and smoke exhaled
by the smoker. It is a complex mixture of over 4,000 compounds, more
than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and many
of which are strong irritants. ETS is often referred to as secondhand
smoke and exposure to ETS is often called passive smoking.
Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke
In 1992, EPA completed a major assessment of the respiratory health
risks of ETS (Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung
Cancer and Other Disorders EPA/600/690/006F). The report concludes that
exposure to ETS is responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer
deaths each year in non-smoking adults and impairs the respiratory
health of hundreds of thousands of children.
Infants and young children whose parents smoke in their presence are at
increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections (pneumonia and
bronchitis) and are more likely to have symptoms of respiratory
irritation like cough, excess phlegm, and wheeze. EPA estimates that
passive smoking annually causes between 150,000 and 300,000 lower
respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of
age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year.
These children may also have a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, which
can lead to ear infections. Older children who have been exposed to
secondhand smoke may have slightly reduced lung function.
Asthmatic children are especially at risk. EPA estimates that exposure
to secondhand smoke increases the number of episodes and severity of
symptoms in hundreds of thousands of asthmatic children, and may cause
thousands of non-asthmatic children to develop the disease each year.
EPA estimates that between 200,000 and 1,000,000 asthmatic children have
their condition made worse by exposure to secondhand smoke each year.
Exposure to secondhand smoke causes eye, nose, and throat irritation. It
may affect the cardiovascular system and some studies have linked
exposure to secondhand smoke with the onset of chest pain. For
publications about ETS, contact EPA s Indoor Air Quality Information
Clearinghouse (IAQ-INFO), 8004384318.
Reducing Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Don t smoke at home or permit others to do so. Ask smokers to smoke
The 1986 Surgeon General s report concluded that physical separation of
smokers and nonsmokers in a common air space, such as different rooms
within the same house, may reduce but will not eliminate nonsmokers
exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
If smoking indoors cannot be avoided, increase ventilation in the area
where smoking takes place.
Open windows or use exhaust fans. Ventilation, a common method of
reducing exposure to indoor air pollutants, also will reduce but not
eliminate exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Because smoking
produces such large amounts of pollutants, natural or mechanical
ventilation techniques do not remove them from the air in your home as
quickly as they build up. In addition, the large increases in
ventilation it takes to significantly reduce exposure to environmental
tobacco smoke can also increase energy costs substantially.
Consequently, the most effective way to reduce exposure to environmental
tobacco smoke in the home is to eliminate smoking there.
Do not smoke if children are present, particularly infants and toddlers.
Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of passive smoking.
Do not allow baby sitters or others who work in your home to smoke
indoors. Discourage others from smoking around children. Find out about
the smoking policies of the day care center providers, schools, and
other care givers for your children. The policy should protect children
from exposure to ETS.
Biological contaminants include bacteria, molds, mildew, viruses, animal
dander and cat saliva, house dust mites, cockroaches, and pollen. There
are many sources of these pollutants. Pollens originate from plants;
viruses are transmitted by people and animals; bacteria are carried by
people, animals, and soil and plant debris; and household pets are
sources of saliva and animal dander. The protein in urine from rats and
mice is a potent allergen. When it dries, it can become airborne.
Contaminated central air handling systems can become breeding grounds
for mold, mildew, and other sources of biological contaminants and can
then distribute these contaminants through the home.
By controlling the relative humidity level in a home, the growth of some
sources of biologicals can be minimized. A relative humidity of 3050
percent is generally recommended for homes. Standing water,
water-damaged materials, or wet surfaces also serve as a breeding ground
for molds, mildews, bacteria, and insects. House dust mites, the source
of one of the most powerful biological allergens, grow in damp, warm
Health Effects From Biological Contaminants
Some biological contaminants trigger allergic reactions, including
hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, and some types of
asthma. Infectious illnesses, such as influenza, measles, and chicken
pox are transmitted through the air. Molds and mildews release disease
causing toxins. Symptoms of health problems caused by biological
pollutants include sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath,
dizziness, lethargy, fever, and digestive problems.
Allergic reactions occur only after repeated exposure to a specific
biological allergen. However, that reaction may occur immediately upon
re-exposure or after multiple exposures over time. As a result, people
who have noticed only mild allergic reactions, or no reactions at all,
may suddenly find themselves very sensitive to particular allergens.
Some diseases, like humidifier fever, are associated with exposure to
toxins from microorganisms that can grow in large building ventilation
systems. However, these diseases can also be traced to microorganisms
that grow in home heating and cooling systems and humidifiers. Children,
elderly people, and people with breathing problems, allergies, and lung
diseases are particularly susceptible to disease causing biological
agents in the indoor air.
Reducing Exposure to Biological Contaminants
Install and use exhaust fans that are vented to the outdoors in kitchens
and bathrooms and vent clothes dryers outdoors.
These actions can eliminate much of the moisture that builds up from
everyday activities. There are exhaust fans on the market that produce
little noise, an important consideration for some people. Another
benefit to using kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans is that they can
reduce levels of organic pollutants that vaporize from hot water used in
showers and dishwashers.
Ventilate the attic and crawl spaces to prevent moisture buildup.
Keeping humidity levels in these areas below 50 percent can prevent
water condensation on building materials.
If using cool mist or ultrasonic humidifiers, clean appliances according
to manufacturer s instructions and refill with fresh water daily.
Because these humidifiers can become breeding grounds for biological
contaminants, they have the potential for causing diseases such as
hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier fever. Evaporation trays in
air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators should also be
cleaned frequently.
Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged carpets and building materials
(within 24 hours if possible) or consider removal and replacement.
Water-damaged carpets and building materials can harbor mold and
bacteria. It is very difficult to completely rid such materials of
biological contaminants.
Keep the house clean. House dust mites, pollens, animal dander, and
other allergy causing agents can be reduced, although not eliminated,
through regular cleaning.
People who are allergic to these pollutants should use allergen proof
mattress encasements, wash bedding in hot (130 F) water, and avoid room
furnishings that accumulate dust, especially if they cannot be washed in
hot water. Allergic individuals should also leave the house while it is
being vacuumed because vacuuming can actually increase airborne levels
of mite allergens and other biological contaminants. Using central
vacuum systems that are vented to the outdoors or vacuums with high
efficiency filters may also be of help.
Take steps to minimize biological pollutants in basements.
Clean and disinfect the basement floor drain regularly. Do not finish a
basement below ground level unless all water leaks are patched and
outdoor ventilation and adequate heat to prevent condensation are
provided. Operate a dehumidifier in the basement if needed to keep
relative humidity levels between 30 50 percent.
To learn more about biological pollutants, read Biological Pollutants in
Your Home issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the
American Lung Association. For contact information, see the section,
Where to Go For Additional Information.
In addition to environmental tobacco smoke, other sources of combustion
products are unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, wood stoves,
fireplaces, and gas stoves. The major pollutants released are carbon
monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles. Unvented kerosene heaters may
also generate acid aerosols.
Combustion gases and particles also come from chimneys and flues that
are improperly installed or maintained and cracked furnace heat
exchangers. Pollutants from fireplaces and wood stoves with no dedicated
outdoor air supply can be back drafted from the chimney into the living
space, particularly in weatherized homes.
Health Effects of Combustion Products
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that interferes with the
delivery of oxygen throughout the body. At high concentrations it can
cause unconsciousness and death. Lower concentrations can cause a range
of symptoms from headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and
disorientation, to fatigue in healthy people and episodes of increased
chest pain in people with chronic heart disease. The symptoms of carbon
monoxide poisoning are sometimes confused with the flu or food
poisoning. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or
with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially
sensitive to carbon monoxide exposures.
Nitrogen dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas that irritates the mucous
membranes in the eye, nose, and throat and causes shortness of breath
after exposure to high concentrations. There is evidence that high
concentrations or continued exposure to low levels of nitrogen dioxide
increases the risk of respiratory infection; there is also evidence from
animal studies that repeated exposures to elevated nitrogen dioxide
levels may lead, or contribute, to the development of lung disease such
as emphysema. People at particular risk from exposure to nitrogen
dioxide include children and individuals with asthma and other
respiratory diseases.
Particles, released when fuels are incompletely burned, can lodge in the
lungs and irritate or damage lung tissue. A number of pollutants,
including radon and benzo(a)pyrene, both of which can cause cancer,
attach to small particles that are inhaled and then carried deep into
the lung.
Reducing Exposure to Combustion Products in Homes
Take special precautions when operating fuel burning unvented space
Consider potential effects of indoor air pollution if you use an
unvented kerosene or gas space heater. Follow the manufacturer s
directions, especially instructions on the proper fuel and keeping the
heater properly adjusted. A persistent yellow tipped flame is generally
an indicator of maladjustment and increased pollutant emissions. While a
space heater is in use, open a door from the room where the heater is
located to the rest of the house and open a window slightly.
Install and use exhaust fans over gas cooking stoves and ranges and keep
the burners properly adjusted.
Using a stove hood with a fan vented to the outdoors greatly reduces
exposure to pollutants during cooking. Improper adjustment, often
indicated by a persistent yellow tipped flame, causes increased
pollutant emissions. Ask your gas company to adjust the burner so that
the flame tip is blue. If you purchase a new gas stove or range,
consider buying one with pilotless ignition because it does not have a
pilot light that burns continuously. Never use a gas stove to heat your
home. Always make certain the flue in your gas fireplace is open when
the fireplace is in use.
Keep wood stove emissions to a minimum. Choose properly sized new stoves
that are certified as meeting EPA emission standards.
Make certain that doors in old wood stoves are tight fitting. Use aged
or cured (dried) wood only and follow the manufacturer s directions for
starting, stoking, and putting out the fire in wood stoves. Chemicals
are used to pressure treat wood; such wood should never be burned
indoors. (Because some old gaskets in wood stove doors contain asbestos,
when replacing gaskets refer to the instructions in the CPSC, ALA, and
EPA booklet, Asbestos in Your Home, to avoid creating an asbestos
problem. New gaskets are made of fiberglass.)
Have central air handling systems, including furnaces, flues, and
chimneys, inspected annually and promptly repair cracks or damaged
Blocked, leaking, or damaged chimneys or flues release harmful
combustion gases and particles and even fatal concentrations of carbon
monoxide. Strictly follow all service and maintenance procedures
recommended by the manufacturer, including those that tell you how
frequently to change the filter. If manufacturer s instructions are not
readily available, change filters once every month or two during periods
of use. Proper maintenance is important even for new furnaces because
they can also corrode and leak combustion gases, including carbon
monoxide. Read the booklet What You Should Know About Combustion
Appliances and Indoor Air Pollution to learn more about combustion
pollutants. The booklet is available by contacting CPSC, EPA s IAQ INFO
Clearinghouse, or your local ALA. (See Where to Go for Additional
Information for contact information.)
Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products.
Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many
cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, decreasing, and hobby products. Fuels
are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release
organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when
they are stored.
EPA s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies found levels
of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher
inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located
in rural or highly industrial areas. Additional TEAM studies indicate
that while people are using products containing organic chemicals, they
can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and
elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity
is completed.
Health Effects of Household Chemicals
The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly
from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect.
As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect
will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of
time exposed. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches,
dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the
immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure
to some organics. At present, not much is known about what health
effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes. Many
organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are
suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.
Reducing Exposure to Household Chemicals
Follow label instructions carefully.
Potentially hazardous products often have warnings aimed at reducing
exposure of the user. For example, if a label says to use the product in
a well ventilated area, go outdoors or in areas equipped with an exhaust
fan to use it. Otherwise, open up windows to provide the maximum amount
of outdoor air possible.
Throw away partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals
Because gases can leak even from closed containers, this single step
could help lower concentrations of organic chemicals in your home. (Be
sure that materials you decide to keep are stored not only in a well
ventilated area but are also safely out of reach of children.) Do not
simply toss these unwanted products in the garbage can. Find out if your
local government or any organization in your community sponsors special
days for the collection of toxic household wastes. If such days are
available, use them to dispose of the unwanted containers safely. If no
such collection days are available, think about organizing one.
Buy limited quantities.
If you use products only occasionally or seasonally, such as paints,
paint strippers, and kerosene for space heaters or gasoline for lawn
mowers, buy only as much as you will use right away.
Keep exposure to emissions from products containing methylene chloride
to a minimum.
Consumer products that contain methylene chloride include paint
strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints. Methylene
chloride is known to cause cancer in animals. Also, methylene chloride
is converted to carbon monoxide in the body and can cause symptoms
associated with exposure to carbon monoxide. Carefully read the labels
containing health hazard information and cautions on the proper use of
these products. Use products that contain methylene chloride outdoors
when possible; use indoors only if the area is well ventilated.
Keep exposure to benzene to a minimum.
Benzene is a known human carcinogen. The main indoor sources of this
chemical are environmental tobacco smoke, stored fuels and paint
supplies, and automobile emissions in attached garages. Actions that
will reduce benzene exposure include eliminating smoking within the
home, providing for maximum ventilation during painting, and discarding
paint supplies and special fuels that will not be used immediately.
Keep exposure to perchloroethylene emissions from newly dry cleaned
materials to a minimum.
Perchloroethylene is the chemical most widely used in dry cleaning. In
laboratory studies, it has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Recent
studies indicate that people breathe low levels of this chemical both in
homes where dry cleaned goods are stored and as they wear dry cleaned
clothing. Dry cleaners recapture the perchloroethylene during the dry
cleaning process so they can save money by re using it, and they
remove more of the chemical during the pressing and finishing processes.
Some dry cleaners, however, do not remove as much perchloroethylene as
possible all of the time. Taking steps to minimize your exposure to this
chemical is prudent. If dry cleaned goods have a strong chemical odor
when you pick them up, do not accept them until they have been properly
dried. If goods with a chemical odor are returned to you on subsequent
visits, try a different dry cleaner.
Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to
manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is
also a byproduct of combustion and certain other natural processes.
Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations both indoors and
Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking,
household products, and the use of unvented, fuel burning appliances,
like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters. Formaldehyde, by itself or in
combination with other chemicals, serves a number of purposes in
manufactured products. For example, it is used to add permanent press
qualities to clothing and draperies, as a component of glues and
adhesives, and as a preservative in some paints and coating products.
In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be
pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain ureaformaldehyde
resins. Pressed wood products made for indoor use include: particle
board (used as sub flooring and shelving and in cabinetry and
furniture); hardwood plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering
and used in cabinets and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used
for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Medium density
fiberboard contains a higher resin to wood ratio than any other UF
pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest
formaldehyde emitting pressed wood product.
Other pressed wood products, such as softwood plywood and flake or
oriented strand board, are produced for exterior construction use and
contain the dark, or red/black colored phenolformaldehyde (PF) resin.
Although formaldehyde is present in both types of resins, pressed woods
that contain PF resin generally emit formaldehyde at considerably lower
rates than those containing UF resin.
Since 1985, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has
permitted only the use of plywood and particle board that conform to
specified formaldehyde emission limits in the construction of
prefabricated and mobile homes. In the past, some of these homes had
elevated levels of formaldehyde because of the large amount of high
emitting pressed wood products used in their construction and because of
their relatively small interior space.
The rate at which products like pressed wood or textiles release
formaldehyde can change. Formaldehyde emissions will generally decrease
as products age. When the products are new, high indoor temperatures or
humidity can cause increased release of formaldehyde from these
During the 1970s, many homeowners had ureaformaldehyde foam insulation
installed in the wall cavities of their homes as an energy conservation
measure. However, many of these homes were found to have relatively high
indoor concentrations of formaldehyde soon after the UFFI installation.
Few homes are now being insulated with this product. Studies show that
formaldehyde emissions from UFFI decline with time; therefore, homes in
which UFFI was installed many years ago are unlikely to have high levels
of formaldehyde now.
Health Effects of Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent smelling gas, can cause watery eyes,
burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in
breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per
million). High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma.
There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to
formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may
cause cancer in humans.
Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde in Homes
Ask about the formaldehyde content of pressed wood products, including
building materials, cabinetry, and furniture before you purchase them.
If you experience adverse reactions to formaldehyde, you may want to
avoid the use of pressed wood products and other formaldehyde emitting
goods. Even if you do not experience such reactions, you may wish to
reduce your exposure as much as possible by purchasing exterior grade
products, which emit less formaldehyde. For further information on
formaldehyde and consumer products, call the EPA Toxic Substance Control
Act (TSCA) assistance line (2025541404).
Some studies suggest that coating pressed wood products with
polyurethane may reduce formaldehyde emissions for some period of time.
To be effective, any such coating must cover all surfaces and edges and
remain intact. Increase the ventilation and carefully follow the
manufacturer s instructions while applying these coatings. (If you are
sensitive to formaldehyde, check the label contents before purchasing
coating products to avoid buying products that contain formaldehyde, as
they will emit the chemical for a short time after application.)
Maintain moderate temperature and humidity levels and provide adequate
The rate at which formaldehyde is released is accelerated by heat and
may also depend somewhat on the humidity level. Therefore, the use of
dehumidifiers and air conditioning to control humidity and to maintain a
moderate temperature can help reduce formaldehyde emissions. (Drain and
clean dehumidifier collection trays frequently so that they do not
become a breeding ground for microorganisms.) Increasing the rate of
ventilation in your home will also help in reducing formaldehyde levels.
According to a recent survey, 75 percent of U.S. households used at
least one pesticide product indoors during the past year. Products used
most often are insecticides and disinfectants. Another study suggests
that 80 90 percent of most people s exposure to pesticides occurs
indoors and that measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been
found in the air inside homes. The amount of pesticides found in homes
appears to be greater than can be explained by recent pesticide use in
those households; other possible sources include contaminated soil or
dust that floats or is tracked in from outside, stored pesticide
containers, and household surfaces that collect and then release the
pesticides. Pesticides used in and around the home include products to
control insects (insecticides), termites (termiticides), rodents
(rodenticides), fungi (fungicides), and microbes (disinfectants). They
are sold as sprays, liquids, sticks, powders, crystals, balls, and
In 1990, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported
that some 79,000 children were involved in common household pesticide
poisonings or exposures. In households with children under five years
old, almost one half stored at least one pesticide product within reach
of children.
EPA registers pesticides for use and requires manufacturers to put
information on the label about when and how to use the pesticide. It is
important to remember that the "cide" in pesticides means to kill.
These products can be dangerous if not used properly.
In addition to the active ingredient, pesticides are also made up of
ingredients that are used to carry the active agent. These carrier
agents are called "inerts" in pesticides because they are not toxic to
the targeted pest; nevertheless, some inerts are capable of causing
health problems.
Health Effects From Pesticides
Both the active and inert ingredients in pesticides can be organic
compounds; therefore, both could add to the levels of airborne organics
inside homes. Both types of ingredients can case the effects discussed
in this booklet under Household Products. However, as with other
household products, there is insufficient understanding at present about
what pesticide concentrations are necessary to produce these effects.
Exposure to high levels of cyclodiene pesticides, commonly associated
with misapplication, has produced various symptoms, including headaches,
dizziness, muscle twitching, weakness, tingling sensations, and nausea.
In addition, EPA is concerned that cyclodienes might cause long term
damage to the liver and the central nervous system, as well as an
increased risk of cancer.
There is no further sale or commercial use permitted for the following
cyclodiene or related pesticides: chlordane, aldrin, dieldrin, and
heptachlor. The only exception is the use of heptachlor by utility
companies to control fire ants in underground cable boxes.
Reducing Exposure to Pesticides in Homes
Read the label and follow the directions. It is illegal to use any
pesticide in any manner inconsistent with the directions on its label.
Unless you have had special training and are certified, never use a
pesticide that is restricted to use by state certified pest control
operators. Such pesticides are simply too dangerous for application by a
non certified person. Use only the pesticides approved for use by the
general public and then only in recommended amounts; increasing the
amount does not offer more protection against pests and can be harmful
to you and your plants and pets.
Ventilate the area well after pesticide use.
Mix or dilute pesticides outdoors or in a well ventilated area and only
in the amounts that will be immediately needed. If possible, take plants
and pets outside when applying pesticides to them.
Use nonchemical methods of pest control when possible.
Since pesticides can be found far from the site of their original
application, it is prudent to reduce the use of chemical pesticides
outdoors as well as indoors. Depending on the site and pest to be
controlled, one or more of the following steps can be effective: use of
biological pesticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, for the control
of gypsy moths; selection of disease resistant plants; and frequent
washing of indoor plants and pets. Termite damage can be reduced or
prevented by making certain that wooden building materials do not come
into direct contact with the soil and by storing firewood away from the
home. By appropriately fertilizing, watering, and aerating lawns, the
need for chemical pesticide treatments of lawns can be dramatically
If you decide to use a pest control company, choose one carefully.
Ask for an inspection of your home and get a written control program for
evaluation before you sign a contract. The control program should list
specific names of pests to be controlled and chemicals to be used; it
should also reflect any of your safety concerns. Insist on a proven
record of competence and customer satisfaction.
Dispose of unwanted pesticides safely.
If you have unused or partially used pesticide containers you want to
get rid of, dispose of them according to the directions on the label or
on special household hazardous waste collection days. If there are no
such collection days in your community, work with others to organize
Keep exposure to moth repellents to a minimum.
One pesticide often found in the home is paradichlorobenzene, a commonly
used active ingredient in moth repellents. This chemical is known to
cause cancer in animals, but substantial scientific uncertainty exists
over the effects, if any, of long term human exposure to
paradichlorobenzene. EPA requires that products containing
paradichlorobenzene bear warnings such as avoid breathing vapors to
warn users of potential short term toxic effects. Where possible,
paradichlorobenzene, and items to be protected against moths, should be
placed in trunks or other containers that can be stored in areas that
are separately ventilated from the home, such as attics and detached
garages. Paradichlorobenzene is also the key active ingredient in many
air fresheners (in fact, some labels for moth repellents recommend that
these same products be used as air fresheners or deodorants). Proper
ventilation and basic household cleanliness will go a long way toward
preventing unpleasant odors.
Call the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network (NPTN).
EPA sponsors the NPTN (800-858-PEST) to answer your questions about
pesticides and to provide selected EPA publications on pesticides.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of
building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant.
EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos products. Manufacturers have
also voluntarily limited uses of asbestos. Today, asbestos is most
commonly found in older homes, in pipe and furnace insulation materials,
asbestos shingles, mill board, textured paints and other coating
materials, and floor tiles.
Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos
containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other
remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can
release asbestos fibers into the air in homes, increasing asbestos
levels and endangering people living in those homes.
Health Effects of Asbestos
The most dangerous asbestos fibers are too small to be visible. After
they are inhaled, they can remain and accumulate in the lungs. Asbestos
can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal
linings), and asbestosis (irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal).
Symptoms of these diseases do not show up until many years after
exposure began. Most people with asbestos related diseases were exposed
to elevated concentrations on the job; some developed disease from
exposure to clothing and equipment brought home from job sites.
Reducing Exposure to Asbestos in Homes
Learn how asbestos problems are created in homes. Read the booklet,
Asbestos in Your Home, issued by CPSC, the ALA, and EPA.
To contact these organizations, see the section, Where to Go For More
If you think your home may have asbestos, don t panic!
Usually it is best to leave asbestos material that is in good condition
alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos
fiber. There is no danger unless fibers are released and inhaled into
the lungs.
Do not cut, rip, or sand asbestos containing materials.
Leave undamaged materials alone and, to the extent possible, prevent
them from being damaged, disturbed, or touched. Periodically inspect for
damage or deterioration. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves,
stove top pads, or ironing board covers. Check with local health,
environmental, or other appropriate officials to find out about proper
handling and disposal procedures.
If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going
to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by
a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find
out whether asbestos materials are present.
When you need to remove or clean up asbestos, use a professionally
trained contractor.
Select a contractor only after careful discussion of the problems in
your home and the steps the contractor will take to clean up or remove
them. Consider the option of sealing off the materials instead of
removing them.
Call EPA s TSCA assistance line (2025541404) to find out whether your
state has a training and certification program for asbestos removal
contractors and for information on EPA s asbestos programs.
Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental pollutant. In
late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services
called lead the number one environmental threat to the health of
children in the United States. There are many ways in which humans are
exposed to lead: through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil,
deteriorating paint, and dust. Airborne lead enters the body when an
individual breathes or swallows lead particles or dust once it has
settled. Before it was known how harmful lead could be, it was used in
paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products.
Old lead based paint is the most significant source of lead exposure in
the U.S. today. Harmful exposures to lead can be created when lead based
paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or
open flame burning. High concentrations of airborne lead particles in
homes can also result from lead dust from outdoor sources, including
contaminated soil tracked inside, and use of lead in certain indoor
activities such as soldering and stained glass making.
Health Effects of Exposure to Lead
Lead affects practically all systems within the body. At high levels it
can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can
adversely affect the brain, central nervous system, blood cells, and
The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be
severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ
levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems.
Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than
adults since lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the
tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of
lead. Children may have higher exposures since they are more likely to
get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead
contaminated objects into their mouths.
Get your child tested for lead exposure. To find out where to do this,
call your doctor or local health clinic. For more information on health
effects, get a copy of the Centers for Disease Control s, Preventing
Lead Poisoning in Young Children (October 1991).
Ways to Reduce Exposure to Lead
Keep areas where children play as dust free and clean as possible.
Mop floors and wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as cribs
with a solution of powdered automatic dishwasher detergent in warm
water. (Dishwasher detergents are recommended because of their high
content of phosphate.) Most multipurpose cleaners will not remove lead
in ordinary dust. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly. Make sure
that children wash their hands before meals, nap time, and bedtime.
Reduce the risk from lead based paint.
Most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some homes
built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This paint could
be on window frames, walls, the outside of homes, or other surfaces. Do
not burn painted wood since it may contain lead.
Leave lead based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition do not
sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem except in places
where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust (for
example, opening a window).
Do not remove lead paint yourself.
Individuals have been poisoned by scraping or sanding lead paint
because these activities generate large amounts of lead dust. Consult
your state health or housing department for suggestions on which private
laboratories or public agencies may be able to help test your home for
lead in paint. Home test kits cannot detect small amounts of lead under
some conditions. Hire a person with special training for correcting
lead paint problems to remove lead based paint. Occupants, especially
children and pregnant women, should leave the building until all work is
finished and cleanup is done.
For additional information dealing with lead based paint abatement
contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the
following two documents: Comprehensive and Workable Plan for the
Abatement of Lead Based Paint in Privately Owned Housing: Report to
Congress (December 7, 1990) and Lead Based Paint: Interim Guidelines for
Hazard Identification and Abatement in Public and Indian Housing
(September 1990).
Do not bring lead dust into the home.
If you work in construction, demolition, painting, with batteries, in a
radiator repair shop or lead factory, or your hobby involves lead, you
may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes. You
may also be tracking in lead from soil around your home. Soil very
close to homes may be contaminated from lead paint on the outside of the
building. Soil by roads and highways may be contaminated from years of
exhaust fumes from cars and trucks that used leaded gas. Use door mats
to wipe your feet before entering the home. If you work with lead in
your job or a hobby, change your clothes before you go home and wash
these clothes separately. Encourage your children to play in sand and
grassy areas instead of dirt which sticks to fingers and toys. Try to
keep your children from eating dirt, and make sure they wash their hands
when they come inside.
Find out about lead in drinking water.
Most well and city water does not usually contain lead. Water usually
picks up lead inside the home from household plumbing that is made with
lead materials. The only way to know if there is lead in drinking water
is to have it tested. Contact the local health department or the water
supplier to find out how to get the water tested. Send for the EPA
pamphlet, Lead and Your Drinking Water, for more information about what
you can do if you have lead in your drinking water. Call EPA s Safe
Drinking Water Hotline (8004264791) for more information.
Eat right.
A child who gets enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead. Foods
rich in iron include eggs, red meats, and beans. Dairy products are
high in calcium. Do not store food or liquid in lead crystal glassware
or imported or old pottery. If you reuse old plastic bags to store or
carry food, keep the printing on the outside of the bag.
You can get a brochure, Lead Poisoning and Your Children, and more
information by calling the National Lead Information Center,
Building a new home provides the opportunity for preventing indoor air
problems. However, it can result in exposure to higher levels of indoor
air contaminants if careful attention is not given to potential
pollution sources and the air exchange rate.
Express your concerns about indoor air quality to your architect or
builder and enlist his or her cooperation in taking measures to provide
good indoor air quality. Talk both about purchasing building materials
and furnishings that are low emitting and about providing an adequate
amount of ventilation.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning
Engineers recommends a ventilation rate of 0.35 ach (air changes per
hour) for new homes, and some new homes are built to even tighter
specifications. Particular care should be given in such homes to
preventing the buildup of indoor air pollutants to high levels.
Here are a few important actions that can make a difference:
Use radon resistant construction techniques.
Obtain a copy of the EPA booklet, Radon Resistant Construction
Techniques for Residential Construction, from your state radon office or
health agency, your state homebuilders association, or your EPA
regional office.
Choose building materials and furnishings that will keep indoor air
pollution to a minimum.
There are many actions a homeowner can take to select products that will
prevent indoor air problems from occurring a couple of them are
mentioned here. First, use exterior grade pressed wood products made
with phenolformaldehyde resin in floors, cabinetry, and wall surfaces.
Or, as an alternative, consider using solid wood products. Secondly, if
you plan to install wall to wall carpet on concrete in contact with the
ground, especially concrete in basements, make sure that an effective
moisture barrier is installed prior to installing the carpet. Do not
permanently adhere carpet to concrete with adhesives so that the carpet
can be removed if it becomes wet.
Provide proper drainage and seal foundations in new construction.
Air that enters the home through the foundation can contain more
moisture than is generated from all occupant activities.
Become familiar with mechanical ventilation systems and consider
installing one.
Advanced designs of new homes are starting to feature mechanical systems
that bring outdoor air into the home. Some of these designs include
energy efficient heat recovery ventilators (also known as air to air
heat exchangers).
Ensure that combustion appliances, including furnaces, fireplaces, wood
stoves, and heaters, are properly vented and receive enough supply air.
Combustion gases, including carbon monoxide, and particles can be back
drafted from the chimney or flue into the living space if the combustion
appliance is not properly vented or does not receive enough supply air.
Back drafting can be a particular problem in weatherized or tightly
constructed homes. Installing a dedicated outdoor air supply for the
combustion appliance can help prevent back drafting.
Indoor air quality problems are not limited to homes. In fact, many
office buildings have significant air pollution sources. Some of these
buildings may be inadequately ventilated. For example, mechanical
ventilation systems may not be designed or operated to provide adequate
amounts of outdoor air. Finally, people generally have less control over
the indoor environment in their offices than they do in their homes. As
a result, there has been an increase in the incidence of reported health
A number of well identified illnesses, such as Legionnaire s disease,
asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever, have been
directly traced to specific building problems. These are called building
related illnesses. Most of these diseases can be treated nevertheless,
some pose serious risks.
Sometimes, however, building occupants experience symptoms that do not
fit the pattern of any particular illness and are difficult to trace to
any specific source. This phenomenon has been labeled sick building
syndrome. People may complain of one or more of the following symptoms:
dry or burning mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, and throat; sneezing;
stuffy or runny nose; fatigue or lethargy; headache; dizziness; nausea;
irritability an forgetfulness. Poor lighting, noise, vibration, thermal
discomfort, and psychological stress may also cause, or contribute to,
these symptoms.
There is no single manner in which these health problems appear. In some
cases, problems begin as workers enter their offices and diminish as
workers leave; other times, symptoms continue until the illness is
treated. Sometimes there are outbreaks of illness among many workers in
a single building; in other cases, health symptoms show up only in
individual workers.
In the opinion of some World Health Organization experts, up to 30
percent of new or remodeled commercial buildings may have unusually high
rates of health and comfort complaints from occupants that may
potentially be related to indoor air quality.
Three major reasons for poor indoor air quality in office buildings are
the presence of indoor air pollution sources; poorly designed,
maintained, or operated ventilation systems; and uses of the building
that were unanticipated or poorly planned for when the building was
designed or renovated.
Sources of Office Air Pollution
As with homes, the most important factor influencing indoor air quality
is the presence of pollutant sources. Commonly found office pollutants
and their sources include environmental tobacco smoke; asbestos from
insulating and fire retardant building supplies; formaldehyde from
pressed wood products; other organics from building materials, carpet,
and other office furnishings, cleaning materials and activities, rest
room air fresheners, paints, adhesives, copying machines, and
photography and print shops; biological contaminants from dirty
ventilation systems or water damaged walls, ceilings, and carpets; and
pesticides from pest management practices.
Ventilation Systems
Mechanical ventilation systems in large buildings are designed and
operated not only to heat and cool the air, but also to draw in and
circulate outdoor air. If they are poorly designed, operated, or
maintained, however, ventilation systems can contribute to indoor air
problems in several ways.
For example, problems arise when, in an effort to save energy,
ventilation systems are not used to bring in adequate amounts of outdoor
air. Inadequate ventilation also occurs if the air supply and return
vents within each room are blocked or placed in such a way that outdoor
air does not actually reach the breathing zone of building occupants.
Improperly located outdoor air intake vents can also bring in air
contaminated with automobile and truck exhaust, boiler emissions, fumes
from dumpsters, or air vented from rest rooms. Finally, ventilation
systems can be a source of indoor pollution themselves by spreading
biological contaminants that have multiplied in cooling towers,
humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, or the inside surfaces of
ventilation duct work.
Use of the Building
Indoor air pollutants can be circulated from portions of the building
used for specialized purposes, such as restaurants, print shops, and dry
cleaning stores, into offices in the same building. Carbon monoxide and
other components of automobile exhaust can be drawn from underground
parking garages through stairwells and elevator shafts into office
In addition, buildings originally designed for one purpose may end up
being converted to use as office space. If not properly modified during
building renovations, the room partitions and ventilation system can
contribute to indoor air quality problems by restricting air
recirculation or by providing an inadequate supply of outdoor air.
If you or others at your office are experiencing health or comfort
problems that you suspect may be caused by indoor air pollution, you can
do the following:
Talk with other workers, your supervisor, and union representatives to
see if the problems are being experienced by others and urge that a
record of reported health complaints be kept by management, if one has
not already been established.
Talk with your own physician and report your problems to the company
physician, nurse, or health and safety officer.
Call your state or local health department or air pollution control
agency to talk over the symptoms and possible causes.
Encourage building management to obtain a copy of Building Air Quality:
A Guide for Building Owners and Facility Managers. Building Air Quality
(BAQ) is simply written, yet provides comprehensive information for
identifying, correcting, and preventing indoor air quality problems. BAQ
also provides supporting information such as when and how to select
outside technical assistance, how to communicate with others regarding
indoor air issues, and where to find additional sources of information.
BAQ is available for $24 from U.S. GPO, Superintendent of Documents,
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 152507954; stock #055000003904.
Frequently, indoor air quality problems in large commercial buildings
cannot be effectively identified or remedied without a comprehensive
building investigation. These investigations may start with written
questionnaires and telephone consultations in which building
investigators assess the history of occupant symptoms and building
operation procedures. In some cases, these inquiries may quickly uncover
the problem and on site visits are unnecessary.
More often, however, investigators will need to come to the building to
conduct personal interviews with occupants, to look for possible sources
of the problems, and to inspect the design and operation of the
ventilation system and other building features. Because taking
measurements of pollutants at the very low levels often found in office
buildings is expensive and may not yield information readily useful in
identifying problem sources, investigators may not take many
measurements. The process of solving indoor air quality problems that
result in health and comfort complaints can be a slow one, involving
several trial solutions before successful remedial actions are
If a professional company is hired to conduct a building
investigation, select a company on the basis of its experience in
identifying and solving indoor air quality problems in nonindustrial
Work with others to establish a smoking policy that eliminates
involuntary nonsmoker exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
Call the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
for information on obtaining a health hazard evaluation of your office
(800-35-N-EACH), or contact the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration, (202) 2198151.
Federal Information Services
Federal agencies with indoor air quality information may be contacted as
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Public Information Center
401 M St., SW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 260-7751
Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse (IAQ INFO)
P.O. Box 37133
Washington, DC 200137133
(800) 438-4318
(301) 585-9020
Operates Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 Eastern Standard Time (EST).
Distributes EPA publications, answers questions on the phone, and makes
referrals to other nonprofit and governmental organizations.
National Radon Hotline
Information recording operates 24 hours a day.
National Lead Information Center
(800) LEAD-FYI
Operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers may order an
information package. To speak to an information specialist, call
(800)4245323. Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5 EST.
National Pesticides Telecommunications Network
National toll free number: (800) 858-PEST
In Texas: (806) 7433091
Operates Monday to Friday from 8 to 6 Central Standard Time. Provides
information about pesticides to the general public and the medical,
veterinary, and professional communities.
RCRA/Super fund Hotline
National toll free number: (800) 4249346
In Washington, DC area: (703) 4129810
Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 7:30 EST. Provides information on
regulations under both the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act
(including solid and hazardous waste issues) and the Superfund law.
Safe Drinking Water Hotline
(800) 4264791
Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5 EST. Provides information on
regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act, lead and radon in
drinking water, filter information, and a list of state drinking water
TSCA Assistance Information Service
(202) 5541404
Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5 EST. Provides information on
regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act and on EPA's asbestos
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
Washington, DC 202070001
Product Safety Hotline: (800) 638-CPSC
Teletypewriter for the hearing impaired (outside Maryland): (800)
638-8270; Maryland only: (800) 492-8104. Recorded information is
available 24 hours a day when calling from a touch tone phone. Operators
are on duty Monday to Friday from 10:30 to 4 EST to take complaints
about unsafe consumer products.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Office of Energy and the Environment
Washington, DC 20410
HUD USER National toll free number: (800) 245-2691
In Washington, DC area: (301) 251-5154.
U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Conservation and Renewable Energy
1000 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20585
Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service
PO Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116; (800) 523-2929.
Operates Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 EST. Provides consumer information
on conservation and renewable energy in residences.
U.S. Public Health Service
Division of Federal Occupational Health
Office of Environmental Hygiene, Region III, Room 1310
3535 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 596-1888; fax: 215-596-5024
Provides indoor air quality consultative services to federal agency
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch
4770 Buford Highway, NE (F42), Atlanta, GA 30341-3724
(800) 488-7330
Office on Smoking and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
4770 Buford Highway, NE (K50), Atlanta, GA 30341-3724
(404) 488-5701
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Office of Information and Consumer Affairs
Room N-3647
200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210
(202) 219-8151
Bonneville Power Administration
Portland, OR 97208
General Services Administration
18th and F Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20405
Tennesee Valley Authority
Industrial Hygiene Branch
Multipurpose Building (1B), Muscle Shoals, AL 35660
State and Local Organizations
Your questions or concerns about indoor air problems can frequently be
answered by the government agencies in your state or local government.
Responsibilities or indoor air quality issues are usually divided among
many different agencies. Calling or writing the agencies responsible for
health or air quality control is the best way to start getting
information from your state or local government. To obtain state agency
contacts, write or call EPA s IAQ Information Clearinghouse, (800)
Eastern Regional Center
6 World Trade Center
Vesey Street, 3rd Floor Room 350
New York, NY 10048-0950
(212) 466-1612
Central Regional Center
230 South Dearborn Street Room 2944
Chicago, IL 60604-1601
(312) 353-8260
Western Regional Center
600 Harrison Street Room 245
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 744-2966
States in Region
Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida,
Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire,
New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia,
Vermont, West Virginia
Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky,
Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota,
Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin
Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho,
Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas,
Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Address inquiries to the Indoor Air Coordinators in the EPA
regional offices at the following addresses:
Region 1
John F. Kennedy Federal Building
Boston, MA 02203
Region 2
26 Federal Plaza
New York, NY 10278
Region 3
841 Chestnut Building
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215-597-4084 (radon)
Region 4
345 Courtland Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30365
Region 5
77 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60604
Region 6
First Interstate Bank Tower
1445 Ross Avenue
Dallas, TX 75202
Region 7
726 Minnesota Avenue
Kansas City, KS 66101
Region 8
EPA 999 18th Street, Suite 500
Denver, CO 80202-2466
The following organizations have information discussed in this booklet.
EPA s IAQ Information Clearinghouse, (800)438-4318, can provide the
names of a variety of organizations that have information on all of the
issues discussed in this publication.
American Association of Poison Control Centers
3800 Reservoir Rd., NW
Washington, DC 20007
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning
1791 Tullie Circle NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
World Health Organization
Publications Center
49 Sheridan Avenue
Albany, NY 12210
Your local American Lung Association (ALA)
1740 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
(800) LUNG-USA
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
Animal dander
Tiny scales of animal skin.
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
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).
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
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.
A unit for measuring radioactivity, often expressed as picocuries per
liter 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 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
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 )

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