Health Effects

People spend about 90% of their time indoors and therefore their exposure to indoor air pollutants is considerable. The effects of the indoor air pollutants may be immediate with eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, or it may be long term with increased symptoms of asthma, pneumonitis (lung inflammation), various types of sensitivities to biological and chemical substances, cancer or damage to various organs. The most vulnerable people are those with chronic illnesses and the elderly, especially those already suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. A separate discussion of indoor air pollution problems concerning children including mold, may be found in Chapter 4, “Children’s Environmental Health Issues.”

Indoor air pollutants add to the problems of short- and long-term health issues including allergic reactions, congestion, eye and skin irritation, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. The pollutants can reduce the individual’s ability to perform certain mental tasks. The pollutants will increase the speed of building deterioration and the decay of the contents.

People may become ill from diseases such as humidifier fever and sick building syndrome. Humidifier fever is caused by toxins from microorganisms that grow in ventilation systems in large buildings, home heating and cooling systems, and humidifiers. Sick building syndrome is a situation where occupants of the building experience acute health effects that seem to be linked to being within the building. The individuals complain of acute discomfort, headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, dry coughs, dry skin, dizziness, nausea and fatigue, and being sensitive to odors. The causes of the symptoms are not known, but individuals seem to be suffering in increasing numbers as buildings have become airtight to be more energy efficient.

General Best Practices for Indoor Air Quality (also see Chapter 4 on “Children’s Environmental

Health Issues”)

  • • Determine the source and nature of the indoor air pollutant and use source control procedures such as reduction of the emissions, and sealing or enclosing the area or equipment.
  • • Improve ventilation by opening windows and doors, using attic fans and local exhaust for contaminated areas, and vent these areas directly to the outside while frequently changing filters in the air systems.
  • • Use short-term immediate ventilation techniques when painting, welding, sanding, cleaning with solvents, etc.
  • • Use air-cleaning devices such as air cleaners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and clean them or change them frequently.
  • • Request help from local and state health authorities if symptoms of disease are present among the individuals within the enclosed environment.
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