Common Indoor Air Pollutants

Sources and Health Impacts

Pollutants From Natural Sources

Pollutant

Major Sources in the Home

Possible Health Impacts

Radon – Colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas that comes from the radioactive decay of uranium or radium
  • Earth and rock under buildings
  • Some earth-derived building materials
  • Groundwater; well-water from private supplies
  • No Immediate symptoms.
  • Lung cancer. Causes an estimated
  • 20,000 lung cancer deaths yearly.
  • Smokers are at higher risk of developing radon induced lung cancer.
Biological Contaminants – Molds, mildews and fungi, bacteria, viruses, dust mites
  • House dust
  • Infected humans or animals
  • Bedding
  • Poorly maintained humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and air-conditioners
  • Wet or moist surfaces
  • Carpets and home furnishings
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Headaches
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Colds, flu, and pneumonia

 

Pollutants From Combustion (Burning)

Pollutant

Sources

Health Effects

Carbon Monoxide (CO) – Colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of all carbon fuels.
  • Heating equipment (furnaces, water heaters, fuel-fired space heaters) natural gas, kerosene
  • Wood or coal stoves
  • Fireplaces
  • Cook tops and ovens
  • Charcoal grills
  • Engines (gasoline and diesel
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Headaches, drowsiness, dizziness
  • Impairment of human respiration, vision and brain function
  • Symptoms often mistaken for the flu
  • Very high levels can cause death
Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide – Gases formed by incomplete combustion of all carbon fuels.
  • Same as for carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen Dioxide – Damage to respiratory tract and lungs
  • Sulfur Dioxide – Irritation of eyes, nose, and respiratory
Respirable Suspended Particulates (RSP) – Particles small enough to inhale that come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and levels of toxicity.
  • Wood burning stoves, fireplaces
  • Unvented kerosene space heaters
  • Gas fired ranges, furnaces, water heaters
  • Vacuum cleaning and house dust
  • Soap powders, pollen, lint, dust, cleaning and cooking sprays
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Respiratory infections and bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
Environmental Tobacco Smoke – Secondhand smoke exhaled by smokers, also called side stream smoke.
  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars
  • Pipes
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Respiratory irritation (wheezing and coughing)
  • Bronchitis and pneumonia (particularity in children)
  • Increased risk of emphysema, lug cancer, and heart disease

 

Pollutants from Man-Made Sources

Pollutant

Sources

Possible Health Effects

Asbestos – A natural mineral fiber used in various building materials. Most homes built prior to 1980 are likely to have some asbestos.
  • Damaged or deteriorating ceiling,
    wall, and pipe insulation
  • Vinyl asbestos floor materials
  • Fireproof gaskets in heat shields, wood
    stoves, and furnaces
  • Acoustical materials
  • Thermal insulation
  • Exterior siding
  • No immediate symptoms
  • Chest, abdominal and lung cancers and asbestosis
  • Asbestos can cause lung cancer, especially among smokers
  • 600 to 1,000 U.S. deaths yearly are asbestos related, mostly from workplace exposure
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – Airborne chemicals contained in many household products
  • Aerosol sprays, hair sprays, perfumes, solvents, glues, cleaning agents, fabric softeners, pesticides, paints, moth repellents, deodorizers, and other household products
  • Dry cleaned clothing
  • Moth balls
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Damage to liver, kidneys, and brain
  • Various types of cancer
Formaldehyde – Pungent gas released into the air
  • Presses wood products (plywood, paneling, particle board)
  • Urea-formaldehyde foam wall insulation
  • Carpets, draperies, furniture, and fabrics
  • Paper products, glues, adhesives
  • Some personal care products
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Allergic reactions
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, dizziness, coughing
  • Cancer is a possibility
  • Sensitivity varies widely
Lead – Natural element once used as a component in gasoline, house paint, solder, and water pipes.
  • Household dust from lead paint
  • Lead based paint
  • Water from lead or lead soldered pipes or brass fixtures
  • Soil near highways or manufacturing facilities
  • Hobbies such as working with stained glass and target shooting
  • Children toys
  • Lead glazed ceramic ware
  • Some folk medicines
  •  Damage to brain, kidneys, and nervous system
  • Behavioral and learning problems
  • Slowed growth in children
  • Anemia
  • Hearing loss
  • Large does can be fatal

 

References:
Indoor Air Quality and Your Home. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany, NY.
Home Indoor Air Quality Assessment. Michael P. Vogel, Ed.D., Extension Housing Specialist, Montana State
University Extension Service.
Quick IAQ Facts for the Community Educator. Joseph T. Ponessa, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Housing & Energy
Specialist, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service, New Jersey.