Indoor pollution can stem from a variety of sources. These sources may originate from the air outside of the house, but they can also originate from inside the house. Indoor sources of pollutions may become particularly problematic during colder seasons when we seal up our homes to conserve heat.
Let’s review three of the most common sources of indoor air pollution. We’ll cover how these pollutants can be detected as well as what to do about them if you do detect them.
Gases from combustion
Combustion devices such as cookstoves, heating stoves, fireplaces, and space heaters, can release deadly pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) into the atmosphere. CO can lead to a variety of symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and even death. Around 500 people in the U.S die from exposure to CO every year. Because it is odorless and without color, the best way to detect the gas is by installing CO detectors near bedrooms and near combustion appliances. NO2 can lead to shortness of breath, and long-term exposure can lead to more serious complications such as infection or emphysema.
Unlike CO, NO2 is easier to detect because it has a reddish-brown color and produces an acrid odor. NO2 detectors are useful for detecting the gas when low levels are being emitted and are otherwise difficult to detect through sight or smell.
Radon is another gas difficult to detect because it has no color and it is odorless. Unfortunately, it is also very dangerous, causing lung cancer and responsible for the deaths of around 20 thousand Americans every year. Soil usually contains trace amounts of decaying uranium, which emits radon. Usually, it dissipates in the air, harmlessly, but it can also flow into buildings through gaps and can reach dangerous levels in the lower floors of a building.
Much like radon, asbestos can be found naturally in soil. It was also commonly used as a building material prior to around 1980. This is why if you’re living in an old building it may be a good idea to test for asbestos. Along with causing lung cancer, it can lead to long-term lung scarring and mesothelioma. Because the risks are so high, when you’re checking for asbestos it’s advised that you contact a professional to do the testing for you.
Mold grows in damp, humid conditions and grows across a wide range of organic material such as wood, carpet, upholstery. Mold infestation can also take root in places you’re not able to see, such as behind walls, or beneath floors. Symptoms of exposure to mold can vary from coughing, wheezing, headache, and skin irritation. It can also exacerbate underlying respiratory issues such as for people who suffer from asthma. Be wary of areas in your home that are quick to accumulate moisture, such as around pipes or in bathrooms. Also note that while you may not be able to see mold, you may be able to smell it. If you suspect you have a growth of mold somewhere in your home, contacting a professional is usually your best bet. Be careful of using do it yourself mold testing kits, as they are often inaccurate and are particularly difficult to interpret.