Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution

indoor air pollution - fireplace

Indoor air pollution can come from many different sources. It’s important to understand how to control these risks.

The most common sources for air pollution in the home include the burning of combustible materials, which creates particulates, and gaseous emanations from building materials and products brought into the home for cleaning, grooming, and hobbies. Outdoor contaminants, including radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution, may also enter the home.

Most combustible materials release nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and soot into the air. Heating systems, fireplaces, stoves, candles, and tobacco are all combustibles. NO2 is an odorless and colorless gas that can irritate the eyes and nose and cause shortness of breath. Soot, which is floating particulates in the air, can be inhaled into the lungs, become lodged, and cause irritation and tissue damage. With sporadic exposure, trapped particulates can slowly be cleared. If, however, soot exposure is frequent, the particulates will not be effectively removed. The resulting irritation to the lungs’ airways can lead to infections and diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. Radon, if present in the home’s air, may attach to soot particulates and be inhaled into the lungs, where it can become stuck and potentially cause cancer.

Combustible materials also emit carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas that is particularly dangerous. At lower concentrations, carbon monoxide can cause vague, flu-like symptoms, such as dizziness, headaches, nausea, and fatigue. At higher concentrations, however, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause death. When inhaled, carbon monoxide enters the lungs and passes into the bloodstream where it binds to hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Unlike oxygen and carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide forms a permanent bond with the hemoglobin molecule. The affected blood cell becomes permanently damaged and unable to deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. Carbon monoxide effectively causes suffocation. It is important to install carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your home and to keep batteries properly charged.

See all the posts in this series on airborne toxins in your home:
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Basics of Indoor Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Dangers of Candles
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Reducing Indoor Black Soot
Indoor Air Toxins 101: VOCs, Asbestos and Lead
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health