The average American spends approximately 90 percent of his or her time indoors. And while most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health, many do not know that indoor air pollutants can also do the same. Indeed, studies of human exposure to air pollutants by the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor pollutant levels.
Indoor air pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health. Yet because the problems caused are not always easily recognized or produce immediate impacts on health, the general public continues to assume that our homes, offices, schools, day-care and senior centers are safe. If only they were.
Indoor air pollutants originate from many expected sources, such as tobacco, heating and cooking appliances and fireplaces. These can release harmful combustion by-products such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter directly into the indoor environment.
However, few homeowners realize that the chemicals they use to clean and maintain their home also can be killing them. Cleaning supplies, paints, insecticides and other commonly used products introduce volatile organic compounds directly into the indoor air. Building materials, whether through degrading compounds (such as asbestos fibers released from building insulation) or from new materials, contribute to pollutants in the air.
Even the family’s beloved pets and sentimental memorabilia can negatively impact air quality with substances of natural origin such as pet dander and mold.
Such environmental factors during a woman’s pregnancy have long been suspected to play a role in the well-being of her child. Now scientists are offering proof.