The term ‘air pollution’ likely conjures images of industrial smokestacks and billowing plumes rising into the atmosphere. While outdoor air quality (IAQ) has captured a lot of attention, the worst air quality you experience every day just might be in your living room. Trapped, stagnant air and poor ventilation combine to create a toxic cloud inside the home. Here’s 10 facts everyone should know about indoor air pollutants and how to protect children, the elderly, and everyone else from the serious health dangers they cause.
Fact #1. IAQ is a Top 5 Health Risk
The United States EPA ranks indoor air quality (IAQ) as a top five environmental risk to public health. EPA studies found indoor air pollutants were generally 2 to 5 times greater than outdoor pollution levels. In some cases, indoor air pollution was 100x greater.  There are many reasons to why this is the case, including poor ventilation, the burning of toxic candles, use of air fresheners, beauty products, etc.
Fact #2. Your Furniture May be the Most Dangerous Culprit
Furniture purchased prior to 2006 contained toxic PBDEs, chemicals used as flame retardants. These flame retardants have the possibility of spewing toxins into the air. Even after 2006, flame retardants continue to be used. Chlorinated tris (a known carcinogen banned from children’s pajamas in 1977) was reintroduced, and new flame retardant chemicals appear to create the same dangers. Inhalation has been noted as the primary route to exposure.
Fact #3. Air Fresheners are Poison
The NRDC determined most air fresheners contain phthalates, noxious chemicals known to disrupt hormone function in babies and children, interfere with reproductive development, and aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma.  A recent study found the terpenes released by air fresheners interact with ozone to form compounds like formaldehyde and acetone at concentrations which can cause respiratory sensitivity and airflow limitation. 
Fact #4. Candles are No Better than Air Fresheners
Most candles, especially the scented ones made with paraffin wax, contain the carcinogens benzene and toluene. Other hydrocarbons called alkanes and alkenes are often present. These last two are chemicals are found in cars and are often spewed through their tailpipes. If you purchase candles, choose soy- or beeswax-based varieties scented with only pure essential oils.
Fact #5. Inkjet Printers Release Fertility-Robbing Chemicals
Printing inks, like those used in home printers, contain glymes. These industrial chemicals have been linked to developmental and reproductive damage. The EPA has expressed concern about their safety, especially in regards to repeat long-term exposure.  It may be better to print your photos at the store.
Fact #6. School Air Quality is Some of the Worst
Schools accommodate up to 4x more occupants (students) than a regular office building with the same amount of floor space. What makes this alarming is that children often breathe more air relative to their body weight than adults. The EPA specifically identifies air quality in schools as a point of concern.
Fact #7. Poor Quality Air Exacerbates Asthma
Since the early 1980s, the occurrence of asthma has been on the rise for individuals of all races, classes, and ages. In 1999, about 20 million Americans suffered from asthma, or about 1 in 14.  In 2011, the number had increased to around 25 million Americans, or 1 in 12. 
Fact #8. The Elderly Suffer Most
Many elderly spend the majority of their day inside, whether in their own homes or in elderly care centers. Some estimates suggests time spent indoors at 19-20 hours a day. A Portuguese study found elderly patients in elderly care centers faced exposure to high concentrations of fungus which could negatively affect their respiratory health. 
Fact #9. Indoor Air Contaminants Damage More than Respiratory Health
The range of indoor air pollutants includes VOCs, phthalates, PBDEs, mold, pollen, pet dander, radon, and more. Most of these qualify as fine or ultrafine particulate matter. Particles like these are easily inhaled and can pass into the bloodstream, and some can even cross the blood-brain barrier. Dry eyes, headaches, nasal congestion, fatigue, and even nausea are common symptoms. Health problems such as asthma, lung infections, or even lung cancer have been linked to exposure. Particles which enter the bloodstream have been associated with stroke and depression in adults, and children have shown increased systemic inflammation, immune dysfunction, and neural distress. 
Fact #10. Wood Smoke Slows Immune Response
Regular inhalation of wood smoke has been found to limit immune activity and function. While this is a greater concern for many individuals who depend on wood burning for cooking and heat, anyone who burns wood indoors should be aware of the potential health risks. Many of the particles in wood smoke collect and gather in dust long after the fire is extinguished. There may be no aroma as comforting as that of the home fire, but it’s one which should be enjoyed sparingly.
A Final Thought
An indoor space can experience pollution from naturally-occurring substances, such as radon, mold, or even smoke from a wood-burning fire, or from industrially-created chemicals such as phthalates, PBDEs, and other VOCs. The best way to keep air clean is to:
- Improve ventilation
- Clean the air using air filters
- Dust with a damp cloth to remove particulate matter
- Remove sources of air contaminants (i.e., buy furniture not treated with chemicals, air fresheners)
- Get outside regularly–the fresh air and sunlight will do wonders!
Have you struggled with indoor air quality? What did you do to improve it? Share your thoughts and experiences with us.
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
This article first appeared at GlobalHealingCenter.com.
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