Indoor Air Quality

There is good news and bad news about indoor air: the bad news is that indoor air often contains higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air; however, the good news is that everyone can reduce indoor air pollution.

How can the air inside our homes be so bad for us?

Over the years, buildings have been made more airtight to conserve energy. A variety of methods have been employed to keep the hot or cool air from escaping from our homes: installing storm windows and insulation; applying caulk and weatherstripping to seal cracks and other openings; and heating our homes with kerosene, wood, coal, and natural gas. Unfortunately, when we trap in hot or cool air, we also trap in pollutants and sometimes generate more.

Why is this an issue?

On average, people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. Sixty-five percent of that is spent at home. To make matters worse, those who are most susceptible to indoor air pollution are the ones who are home the most: children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses. Children breathe in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults do. EPA studies have found that pollutant levels inside can be two to five times higher than outdoors. After some activities, indoor air pollution levels can be 100 times higher than outdoors.

What are the sources of pollutants?

There are many sources of pollutants in the home. Obvious ones are chemicals, cleaning products, and pesticides. Less obvious are pollutants caused by such simple tasks as cooking, bathing, or heating the home. Fortunately, there are easy steps that everyone can take to reduce the potential for indoor air pollution and to improve the quality of the air they breathe.

How do you know if the air inside your home is dangerous to your health?

Often, it is difficult to determine which pollutant or pollutants are the sources of a person's ill health, or even if indoor air pollution is the problem. Many indoor air pollutants cannot be detected by our senses (e.g., smell) and the symptoms they produce can be vague and sometimes similar, making it hard to attribute them to a specific cause. Some symptoms may not show up until years later, making it even harder to discover the cause. Common symptoms of exposure to indoor air pollutants include: headaches, tiredness, dizziness, nausea, itchy nose, and scratchy throat. More serious effects are asthma and other breathing disorders and cancer.

How does this affect children?

Children may be more susceptible to environmental exposures than adults and, because of their developing systems, particularly vulnerable to their effects. Asthma is a case in point. About 4.2 million children in the United States, and more than 12.4 million people total, are affected by asthma each year. A recent study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concluded that 65 percent of asthma cases among elementary school-age children could be prevented by controlling exposure to indoor allergens and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). By controlling biological contaminants (e.g., dust mites and cat allergens), asthma cases could be reduced by 55 to 60 percent.


It's no secret that air quality at the quality of the air we breathe could be much better, especially in the Houston Air where pollution and air born mold and other allergens are very common. This inspection collects samples of air at the interior and exterior and has the samples evaluated by an EPA approved lab. 

Research shows that the air inside homes or offices is often more polluted than outdoor air, even in large industrialized cities. Toxic indoor air is potentially a very serious health hazard because we spend approximately 90% of our time indoors.

Although practically everyone is affected by exposure to indoor air pollution, children, pregnant women, elderly and chronically ill people are usually far more susceptible than average persons.

Pollution elements include:

Bacteria, viruses, mold, mildew, mites
Furnishings, building materials, cleaning products
Pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOC's)
Inorganic dust particles


Air Sterilizers

This extraordinary new technology utilizes heat to incinerate airborne germs, mold, mildew and dust mites. By using natural air movements and heat, (convection), contaminated air is drawn into the ceramic core where harmful  microorganisms are destroyed. Independent tests prove the efficiency of AirFree's germ-killing technology...


Electronic Air Cleaners

According to the EPA, whether you live or work in a smog-choked urban environment or enjoy the open spaces of rural living, indoor air has been found to be up to 70 times more polluted than the air outside. Electronic air cleaners can remove over 99% of undesirable airborne particles found in the home ...


HEPA Filter Systems

HEPA is a filtration standard created by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. HEPA filter media is proven to be 99.97% efficient @ 0.3 microns (a micron is 1/1,000,000 of a meter or 1/25,000th of an inch). Due to their extremely high efficiency, HEPA filters have become widely used in medical, electronic and industrial applications...


Negative Ion Generators

Negative ions are electrically-charged particles in the air that remove airborne contaminates from the air we breathe, and have a rejuvenating effect when interacting with physiological systems. Scientific studies have shown that atmospheres charged with negative ions relieve hay-fever and asthma symptoms, seasonal depression, fatigue and headaches...


Personal Air Purifiers

All of us face a variety of risks to our health as we go about our day-to-day lives. Driving in cars, flying in planes, engaging in recreational activities, and being exposed to environmental pollutants all pose varying degrees of risk. Crowded environments like movie theaters, waiting rooms, and conferences, are prime settings for the transference of colds and flu ...


Travel Auto Air Purifiers

Commuters probably get their biggest hit of air pollution every day when they drive to and from work. Why? Because once pollution is sucked inside a car, it tends to stay there in that confined space building up ...


Ultraviolet Air Purifiers

It is well know that ultraviolet germicidal lamps can destroy any microorganism that comes in contact with its powerful UV-C rays. This method is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for its germicidal effects. The destruction of germs and bacteria by germicidal ultraviolet light is accomplished quickly and effectively ...



(NOTE: This publication was produced by the: U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency - Washington, DC 20460 - Office of Air and

Radiation - U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission - Washington,

DC 20207 - For a copy, send your name, address and 50 cents to:

Consumer Information Center - Dept. 436ZZ - Pueblo, CO 81009)

Air Pollution Sources in the Home


Indoor Air Quality in Your Home

What If You Live in an Apartment?

Improving the Air Quality in Your Home

A Look at Source-Specific Controls


Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Biological Contaminants

Stoves, Heaters, Fireplaces, and Chimneys

Household Products





Reference Guide to Major Indoor Air Pollutants in the Home

When Building a New Home

Do You Suspect Your Office Has an Indoor Air Problem?

Where to Go for Additional Information



1. Moisture

2. Pressed Wood Furniture

3. Humidifier

4. Moth Repellents

5. Dry-Cleaned Goods

6. House Dust Mites

7. Personal Care Products

8. Air Freshener

9. Stored Fuels

10. Car Exhaust

11. Paint Supplies

12. Paneling

13. Wood Stove

14. Tobacco Smoke

15. Carpets

16. Pressed Wood Sub flooring

17. Drapes

18. Fireplace

19. Household Chemicals

20. Asbestos Floor Tiles

21. Pressed Wood Cabinets

22. Unvented Gas Stove

23. Asbestos Pipe Wrap

24. Radon

25. Unvented Clothes Dryer

26. Pesticides

27. Stored Hobby Products

28. Lead-Based Paint


All of us face a variety of risks to our health as we go

about our day to day lives. Driving in cars, flying in planes,

engaging in recreational activities, and being exposed to

environmental pollutants all pose varying degrees of risk. Some

risks are simply unavoidable. Some we choose to accept because to

do otherwise would restrict our ability to lead our lives the way

we want. And some are risks we might decide to avoid if we had

the opportunity to make informed choices. Indoor air pollution

is one risk that you can do something about.

In the last several years, a growing body of scientific

evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other

buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in

even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research

indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their

time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be

greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.

In addition, people who may be exposed to indoor air

pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most

susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups

include the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill,

especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular



While pollutant levels from individual sources may not pose

a significant health risk by themselves, most homes have more

than one source that contributes to indoor ar pollution. There

can be a serious risk from the cumulative effects of these

sources. Fortunately, there are steps that most people can take

both to reduce the risk from existing sources and to prevent new

problems from occurring. This booklet was prepared by the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Consumer

Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to help you decide whether to

take actions that can reduce the level of indoor air pollution in

your own home.

Because so many Americans spend a lot of time in offices

with mechanical heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, there

is also a short section on the causes of poor air quality in

offices and what you can do if you suspect that your office may

have a problem. A glossary and a list of organizations where you

can get additional information are listed at the back of this



Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles

into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems

in homes. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant

levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions

from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out

of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also

increase concentrations of some pollutants.

Pollutant Sources

There are many sources of indoor air pollution in any home.

These include combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene,

coal, wood, and tobacco products; building materials and

furnishings as diverse as deteriorated, asbestos containing

insulation, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made

of certain pressed wood products; products for household cleaning

and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies; central heating and

cooling systems and humidification devices; and outdoor sources

such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution.

The relative importance of any single source depends on how

much of a given pollutant it emits and how hazardous those

emissions are. In some cases, factors such as how old the source

is and whether it is properly maintained are significant. For

example, an improperly adjusted gas stove can emit significantly

more carbon monoxide than one that is properly adjusted.

Some sources, such as building materials, furnishings, and

household products like air fresheners, release pollutants more

or less continuously. Other sources, related to activities

carried out in the home, release pollutants intermittently. These

include smoking, the use of unvented or malfunctioning stoves,

furnaces, or space heaters, the use of solvents in cleaning and

hobby activities, the use of paint strippers in redecorating

activities, and the use of cleaning products and pesticides in

housekeeping. High pollutant concentrations can remain in the air

for long periods after some of these activities.

Amount of Ventilation

If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can

accumulate o levels that can pose health and comfort problems.

Unless they are built with special mechanical means of

ventilation, homes that are designed and constructed to minimize

the amount of outdoor air that can leak into and out of the home

may have higher pollutant levels than other homes. However,

because some weather conditions can drastically reduce the amount

of outdoor air that enters a home, pollutants can build up even

in homes that are normally considered leaky.



Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by: infiltration,

natural ventilation, and mechanical ventilation. In a process

known as infiltration, outdoor air flows into the house through

openings, joints, and cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings, and

around windows and doors. In natural ventilation, air moves

through opened windows and doors. Air movement associated with

infiltration and natural ventilation is caused by air temperature

differences between indoors and outdoors and by wind. Finally,

there are a number of mechanical ventilation devices, from

outdoor vented fans that intermittently remove air from a single

room, such as bathrooms and kitchen, to air handling systems that

use fans and duct work to continuously remove indoor air and

distribute filtered and conditioned outdoor air to strategic

points throughout the house. The rate at which outdoor air

replaces indoor air is described as the air exchange rate. When

there is little infiltration, natural ventilation, or mechanical

ventilation, the air exchange rate is low and pollutant levels

can increase.


Apartments can have the same indoor air problems as single family

homes because many of the pollution sources, such as the interior

building materials, furnishings, and household products, are

similar. Indoor air problems similar to those in offices are

caused by such sources as contaminated ventilation systems,

improperly placed outdoor air intakes, or maintenance activities.

Solutions to air quality problems in apartments, as in homes and

offices, involve such actions as: eliminating or controlling the

sources of pollution, increasing ventilation, and installing air

cleaning devices. Often a resident can take the appropriate

action to improve the indoor air quality by removing a source,

altering an activity, unblocking an air supply vent, or opening a

window to temporarily increase the ventilation; in other cases,

however, only the building owner or manager is in a position to

remedy the problem. (See the section What to Do If You Suspect

a Problem on page 30.) You can encourage building management to

follow guidance in EPA and NIOSH s Building Air Quality: A Guide

for Building Owners and Facility Managers. It is available for

$24 from the Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954,

Pittsburgh, PA 152507954; stock # 055000003904.


Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon

after exposure or, possibly, years later.

Immediate effects may show up after a single exposure or repeated

exposures. These include irritation of the eyes, nose, and

throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Such immediate effects

are usually short term and treatable. Sometimes the treatment is

simply eliminating the person s exposure to the source of the

pollution, if it can be identified. Symptoms of some diseases,

including asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier

fever, may also show up soon after exposure to some indoor air


The likelihood of immediate reactions to indoor air pollutants

depends on several factors. Age and preexisting medical

conditions are two important influences. In other cases, whether

a person reacts to a pollutant depends on individual sensitivity,

which varies tremendously from person to person. Some people can

become sensitized to biological pollutants after repeated

exposures, and it appears that some people can become sensitized

to chemical pollutants as well.

Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds or

other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if

the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution.

For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the time and

place the symptoms occur. If the symptoms fade or go away when a

person is away from the home and return when the person returns,

an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources that may

be possible causes. Some effects may be made worse by an

inadequate supply of outdoor air or from the heating, cooling, or

humidity conditions prevalent in the home.

Other health effects may show up either years after exposure has

occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure.

These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart

disease, and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is

prudent to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home

even if symptoms are not noticeable. More information on

potential health effects from particular indoor air pollutants is

provided in the section, A Look at Source Specific Controls.

While pollutants commonly found in indoor air are responsible for

many harmful effects, there is considerable uncertainty about

what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to

produce specific health problems. People also react very

differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants. Further

research is needed to better understand which health effects

occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations

found in homes and which occur from the higher concentrations

that occur for short periods of time.

The health effects associated with some indoor air pollutants are

summarized in the chart in the middle of this booklet titled

Reference Guide to Major Indoor Air Pollutants in the Home.


Some health effects can be useful indicators of an indoor air

quality problem, especially if they appear after a person moves

to a new residence, remodels or refurnishes a home, or treats a

home with pesticides. If you think that you have symptoms that

may be related to your home environment, discuss the with your

doctor or your local health department to see if they could be

caused by indoor air pollution. You may also want to consult a

board certified allergist or an occupational medicine specialist

for answers to your questions.

Another way to judge whether your home has or could develop

indoor air problems is to identify potential sources of indoor

air pollution. Although the presence of such sources (see

illustration at the beginning of this booklet) does not

necessarily mean that you have an indoor air quality problem,

being aware of the type and number of potential sources is an

important step toward assessing the air quality in your home.

A third way to decide whether your home may have poor indoor air

quality is to look at your lifestyle and activities. Human

activities can be significant sources of indoor air pollution.

Finally, look for signs of problems with the ventilation in your

home. Signs that can indicate your home may not have enough

ventilation include moisture condensation on windows or walls,

smelly or stuffy air, dirty central heating and air cooling

equipment, and areas where books, shoes, or other items become

moldy. To detect odors in your home, step outside for a few

minutes, and then upon reentering your home, note whether odors

are noticeable.


The federal government recommends that you measure the level of

radon in your home. Without measurements there is no way to tell

whether radon is present because it is a colorless, odorless,

radioactive gas. Inexpensive devices are available for measuring

radon. EPA provides guidance as to risks associated with

different levels of exposure and when the public should consider

corrective action. There are specific mitigation techniques that

have proven effective in reducing levels of radon in the home.

(See Radon section on p. 11 of this booklet for additional

information about testing and controlling radon in homes.)

For pollutants other than radon, measurements are most

appropriate when there are either health symptoms or signs of

poor ventilation and specific sources or pollutants have been

identified as possible causes of indoor air quality problems.

Testing for many pollutants can be expensive. Before monitoring

your home for pollutants besides radon, consult your state or

local health department or professionals who have experience in

solving indoor air quality problems in nonindustrial buildings.


The federal government recommends that homes be weatherized in

order to reduce the amount of energy needed for heating and

cooling. While weatherization is underway, however, steps should

also be taken to minimize pollution from sources inside the home.

(See Improving the Air Quality in Your Home for recommended

actions.) In addition, residents should be alert to the emergence

of signs of inadequate ventilation, such as stuffy air, moisture

condensation on cold surfaces, or mold and mildew growth.

Additional weatherization measures should not be undertaken until

these problems have been corrected.

Weatherization generally does not cause indoor air problems by

adding new pollutants to the air. (There are a few exceptions,

such as caulking, that can sometimes emit pollutants.) However,

measures such as installing storm windows, weather stripping,

caulking, and blown in wall insulation can reduce the amount of

outdoor air infiltrating into a home. Consequently, after

weatherization, concentrations of indoor air pollutants from

sources inside the home can increase.


Source Control

Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is

to eliminate individual sources of pollution or to reduce their

emissions. Some sources, like those that contain asbestos, can be

sealed or enclosed; others, like gas stoves, can be adjusted to

decrease the amount of emissions. In many cases, source control

is also a more cost efficient approach to protecting indoor air

quality than increasing ventilation because increasing

ventilation can increase energy costs. Specific sources of indoor

air pollution in your home are listed later in this section.

Ventilation Improvements

Another approach to lowering the concentrations of indoor air

pollutants in your home is to increase the amount of outdoor air

coming indoors. Most home heating and cooling systems, including

forced air heating systems, do not mechanically bring fresh air

into the house. Opening windows and doors, operating window or

attic fans, when the weather permits, or running a window air

conditioner with the vent control open increases the outdoor

ventilation rate. Local bathroom or kitchen fans that exhaust

outdoors remove contaminants directly from the room where the fan

is located and also increase the outdoor air ventilation rate.

It is particularly important to take as many of these steps

as possible while you are involved in short-term activities that

can generate high levels of pollutants for example, painting,

paint stripping, heating with kerosene heaters, cooking, or

engaging in maintenance and hobby activities such as welding,

soldering, or sanding. You might also choose to do some of these

activities outdoors, if you can and if weather permits.

Advanced designs of new homes are starting to feature mechanical

systems that bring outdoor air into the home. Some of these

designs include energy efficient heat recovery ventilators (also

known as air-to-air heat exchangers). For more information about

air-to-air heat exchangers, contact the Conservation and

Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service (CAREIRS), PO Box

3048, Merrifield, VA 22116; (800) 5232929.



Air Cleaners

There are many types and sizes of air cleaners on the market,

ranging from relatively inexpensive tabletop models to

sophisticated and expensive whole house systems. Some air

cleaners are highly effective at particle removal, while others,

including most tabletop models, are much less so. Air cleaners

are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants.

The effectiveness of an air cleaner depends on how well it

collects pollutants from indoor air (expressed as a percentage

efficiency rate) and how much air it draws through the cleaning

or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute). A very

efficient collector with a low air circulation rate will not be

effective, nor will a cleaner with a high air circulation rate

but a less efficient collector. The long term performance of any

air cleaner depends on maintaining it according to the

manufacturer s directions.

Another important factor in determining the effectiveness of

an air cleaner is the strength of the pollutant source. Tabletop

air cleaners, in particular, may not remove satisfactory amounts

of pollutants from strong nearby sources. People with a

sensitivity to particular sources may find that air cleaners are

helpful only in conjunction with concerted efforts to remove the


Over the past few years, there has been some publicity

suggesting that house plants have been shown to reduce levels of

some chemicals in laboratory experiments. There is currently no

evidence, however, that a reasonable number of houseplants remove

significant quantities of pollutants in homes and offices.

Indoor houseplants should not be over watered because overly damp

soil may promote the growth of microorganisms which can affect

allergic individuals.

At present, EPA does not recommend using air cleaners to

reduce levels of radon and its decay products. The effectiveness

of these devices is uncertain because they only partially remove

the radon decay products and do not diminish the amount of radon

entering the home. EPA plans to do additional research on whether

air cleaners are, or could become, a reliable means of reducing

the health risk from radon. EPA s booklet, Residential Air

Cleaning Devices, provides further information on air cleaning

devices to reduce indoor air pollutants



For most indoor air quality problems in the home, source control

is the most effective solution. This section takes a source by

source look at the most common indoor air pollutants, their

potential health effects, and ways to reduce levels in the home.

(For a summary of the points made in this section, see the chart

in the middle of this booklet titled Reference Guide to Major

Indoor Air Pollutants in the Home. )


The most common source of indoor radon is uranium in the soil or

rock on which homes are built. As uranium naturally breaks down,

it releases radon gas which is a colorless, odorless, radioactive

gas. Radon gas enters homes through dirt floors, cracks in

concrete walls and floors, floor drains, and sumps. When radon

become strapped in buildings and concentrations build up indoors,

exposure to radon becomes a concern.

Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old

homes, well sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without


Sometimes radon enters the home through well water. In a small

number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too.

However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by


Health Effects of Radon

The predominant health effect associated with exposure to

elevated levels of radon is lung cancer. Research suggests that

swallowing water with high radon levels may pose risks, too,

although these are believed to be much lower than those from

breathing air containing radon. Major health organizations (like

the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung

Association (ALA), and the American Medical Association) agree

with estimates that radon causes thousands of preventable lung

cancer deaths each year. EPA estimates that radon causes about

14,000 deaths per year in the United States however, this number

could range from 7,000 to 30,000 deaths per year. If you smoke

and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is

especially high.

Reducing Exposure to Radon in Homes

Measure levels of radon in your home.

You can t see radon, but it s not hard to find out if you have a

radon problem in your home. Testing is easy and should only take

a little of your time.

There are many kinds of inexpensive, do-it-yourself radon

test kits you can get through the mail and in hardware stores and

other retail outlets. Make sure you buy a test kit that has

passed EPA s testing program or is state certified. These kits

will usually display the phrase Meets EPA Requirements. If you

prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire a

trained contractor to do the testing for you. The EPA Radon

Measurement Proficiency (RMP) Program evaluates testing

contractors. A contractor who has met EPA s requirements will

carry a special RMP identification card. EPA provides a list of

companies and individual contractors to state radon offices. You

can call your state radon office to obtain a list of qualified

contractors in your area (call 800-SOS-RADON for a list of state

radon offices).

Refer to the EPA guidelines on how to test and interpret your

test results.

You can learn more about radon through EPA s publications, A

Citizen s Guide to Radon: The Guide to Protecting Yourself and

Your Family From Radon and Home Buyer s and Seller s Guide to

Radon, which are available from state radon offices.

Learn about radon reduction methods.

Ways to reduce radon in your home are discussed in EPA s Consumer

s Guide to Radon Reduction. You can get a copy from your state

radon office. There are simple solutions to radon problems in

homes. Thousands of homeowners have already fixed radon

problems. Lowering high radon levels requires technical

knowledge and special skills. You should use a contractor who is

trained to fix radon problems.

The EPA Radon Contractor Proficiency (RCP) Program tests

these contractors. EPA provides a list of RCP contractors to

state radon offices. A contractor who is listed by EPA will

carry a special RCP identification card. A trained RCP

contractor can study the problem in your home and help you pick

the correct treatment method. Check with your state radon office

for names of qualified or state certified radon reduction

contractors in your area.

Stop smoking and discourage smoking in your home.

Scientific evidence indicates that smoking combined with radon is

an especially serious health risk. Stop smoking and lower your

radon level to reduce lung cancer risk.

Treat radon contaminated well water.

While radon in water is not a problem in homes served by most

public water supplies, it has been found in well water. If

you've tested the air in your home and found a radon problem, and

you have a well, contact a lab certified to measure radiation in

water to have your water tested. Radon problems in water can be

readily fixed. Call your state radon office or the EPA Drinking

Water Hotline (8004264791) for more information.


Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is the mixture of smoke that

comes from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and

smoke exhaled by the smoker. It is a complex mixture of over

4,000 compounds, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer

in humans or animals and many of which are strong irritants.

ETS is often referred to as secondhand smoke and exposure to

ETS is often called passive smoking.

Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke

In 1992, EPA completed a major assessment of the respiratory

health risks of ETS (Respiratory Health Effects of Passive

Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders EPA/600/690/006F). The

report concludes that exposure to ETS is responsible for

approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in non-smoking

adults and impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of

thousands of children.

Infants and young children whose parents smoke in their

presence are at increased risk of lower respiratory tract

infections (pneumonia and bronchitis) and are more likely to have

symptoms of respiratory irritation like cough, excess phlegm, and

wheeze. EPA estimates that passive smoking annually causes

between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in

infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between

7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year. These children may

also have a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, which can lead to

ear infections. Older children who have been exposed to

secondhand smoke may have slightly reduced lung function.

Asthmatic children are especially at risk. EPA estimates that

exposure to secondhand smoke increases the number of episodes and

severity of symptoms in hundreds of thousands of asthmatic

children, and may cause thousands of non-asthmatic children to

develop the disease each year. EPA estimates that between

200,000 and 1,000,000 asthmatic children have their condition

made worse by exposure to secondhand smoke each year.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes eye, nose, and throat

irritation. It may affect the cardiovascular system and some

studies have linked exposure to secondhand smoke with the onset

of chest pain. For publications about ETS, contact EPA s Indoor

Air Quality Information Clearinghouse (IAQ-INFO), 8004384318.

Reducing Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Don t smoke at home or permit others to do so. Ask smokers to

smoke outdoors.

The 1986 Surgeon General s report concluded that physical

separation of smokers and nonsmokers in a common air space, such

as different rooms within the same house, may reduce but will not

eliminate nonsmokers exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

If smoking indoors cannot be avoided, increase ventilation in

the area where smoking takes place.

Open windows or use exhaust fans. Ventilation, a common method

of reducing exposure to indoor air pollutants, also will reduce

but not eliminate exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

Because smoking produces such large amounts of pollutants,

natural or mechanical ventilation techniques do not remove them

from the air in your home as quickly as they build up. In

addition, the large increases in ventilation it takes to

significantly reduce exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can

also increase energy costs substantially. Consequently, the most

effective way to reduce exposure to environmental tobacco smoke

in the home is to eliminate smoking there.

Do not smoke if children are present, particularly infants and


Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of passive

smoking. Do not allow baby sitters or others who work in your

home to smoke indoors. Discourage others from smoking around

children. Find out about the smoking policies of the day care

center providers, schools, and other care givers for your

children. The policy should protect children from exposure to



Biological contaminants include bacteria, molds, mildew, viruses,

animal dander and cat saliva, house dust mites, cockroaches, and

pollen. There are many sources of these pollutants. Pollens

originate from plants; viruses are transmitted by people and

animals; bacteria are carried by people, animals, and soil and

plant debris; and household pets are sources of saliva and animal

dander. The protein in urine from rats and mice is a potent

allergen. When it dries, it can become airborne. Contaminated

central air handling systems can become breeding grounds for

mold, mildew, and other sources of biological contaminants and

can then distribute these contaminants through the home.

By controlling the relative humidity level in a home, the

growth of some sources of biologicals can be minimized. A

relative humidity of 3050 percent is generally recommended for

homes. Standing water, water-damaged materials, or wet surfaces

also serve as a breeding ground for molds, mildews, bacteria, and

insects. House dust mites, the source of one of the most powerful

biological allergens, grow in damp, warm environments.

Health Effects From Biological Contaminants

Some biological contaminants trigger allergic reactions,

including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, and

some types of asthma. Infectious illnesses, such as influenza,

measles, and chicken pox are transmitted through the air. Molds

and mildews release disease causing toxins. Symptoms of health

problems caused by biological pollutants include sneezing, watery

eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever,

and digestive problems.

Allergic reactions occur only after repeated exposure to a

specific biological allergen. However, that reaction may occur

immediately upon re-exposure or after multiple exposures over

time. As a result, people who have noticed only mild allergic

reactions, or no reactions at all, may suddenly find themselves

very sensitive to particular allergens.

Some diseases, like humidifier fever, are associated with

exposure to toxins from microorganisms that can grow in large

building ventilation systems. However, these diseases can also be

traced to microorganisms that grow in home heating and cooling

systems and humidifiers. Children, elderly people, and people

with breathing problems, allergies, and lung diseases are

particularly susceptible to disease causing biological agents in

the indoor air.

Reducing Exposure to Biological Contaminants

Install and use exhaust fans that are vented to the outdoors in

kitchens and bathrooms and vent clothes dryers outdoors.

These actions can eliminate much of the moisture that builds up

from everyday activities. There are exhaust fans on the market

that produce little noise, an important consideration for some

people. Another benefit to using kitchen and bathroom exhaust

fans is that they can reduce levels of organic pollutants that

vaporize from hot water used in showers and dishwashers.

Ventilate the attic and crawl spaces to prevent moisture


Keeping humidity levels in these areas below 50 percent can

prevent water condensation on building materials.

If using cool mist or ultrasonic humidifiers, clean appliances

according to manufacturer s instructions and refill with fresh

water daily.

Because these humidifiers can become breeding grounds for

biological contaminants, they have the potential for causing

diseases such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier

fever. Evaporation trays in air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and

refrigerators should also be cleaned frequently.

Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged carpets and building

materials (within 24 hours if possible) or consider removal and


Water-damaged carpets and building materials can harbor mold and

bacteria. It is very difficult to completely rid such materials

of biological contaminants.

Keep the house clean. House dust mites, pollens, animal dander,

and other allergy causing agents can be reduced, although not

eliminated, through regular cleaning.

People who are allergic to these pollutants should use allergen

proof mattress encasements, wash bedding in hot (130 F) water,

and avoid room furnishings that accumulate dust, especially if

they cannot be washed in hot water. Allergic individuals should

also leave the house while it is being vacuumed because vacuuming

can actually increase airborne levels of mite allergens and other

biological contaminants. Using central vacuum systems that are

vented to the outdoors or vacuums with high efficiency filters

may also be of help.

Take steps to minimize biological pollutants in basements.

Clean and disinfect the basement floor drain regularly. Do not

finish a basement below ground level unless all water leaks are

patched and outdoor ventilation and adequate heat to prevent

condensation are provided. Operate a dehumidifier in the basement

if needed to keep relative humidity levels between 30 50 percent.

To learn more about biological pollutants, read Biological

Pollutants in Your Home issued by the U.S. Consumer Product

Safety Commission and the American Lung Association. For contact

information, see the section, Where to Go For Additional



In addition to environmental tobacco smoke, other sources of

combustion products are unvented kerosene and gas space heaters,

wood stoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves. The major pollutants

released are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles.

Unvented kerosene heaters may also generate acid aerosols.

Combustion gases and particles also come from chimneys and

flues that are improperly installed or maintained and cracked

furnace heat exchangers. Pollutants from fireplaces and wood

stoves with no dedicated outdoor air supply can be back drafted

from the chimney into the living space, particularly in

weatherized homes.

Health Effects of Combustion Products

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that interferes with

the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. At high

concentrations it can cause unconsciousness and death. Lower

concentrations can cause a range of symptoms from headaches,

dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and disorientation, to

fatigue in healthy people and episodes of increased chest pain in

people with chronic heart disease. The symptoms of carbon

monoxide poisoning are sometimes confused with the flu or food

poisoning. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with

anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be

especially sensitive to carbon monoxide exposures.

Nitrogen dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas that irritates

the mucous membranes in the eye, nose, and throat and causes

shortness of breath after exposure to high concentrations. There

is evidence that high concentrations or continued exposure to low

levels of nitrogen dioxide increases the risk of respiratory

infection; there is also evidence from animal studies that

repeated exposures to elevated nitrogen dioxide levels may lead,

or contribute, to the development of lung disease such as

emphysema. People at particular risk from exposure to nitrogen

dioxide include children and individuals with asthma and other

respiratory diseases.

Particles, released when fuels are incompletely burned, can lodge

in the lungs and irritate or damage lung tissue. A number of

pollutants, including radon and benzo(a)pyrene, both of which can

cause cancer, attach to small particles that are inhaled and then

carried deep into the lung.

Reducing Exposure to Combustion Products in Homes

Take special precautions when operating fuel burning unvented

space heaters.

Consider potential effects of indoor air pollution if you use an

unvented kerosene or gas space heater. Follow the manufacturer s

directions, especially instructions on the proper fuel and

keeping the heater properly adjusted. A persistent yellow tipped

flame is generally an indicator of maladjustment and increased

pollutant emissions. While a space heater is in use, open a door

from the room where the heater is located to the rest of the

house and open a window slightly.

Install and use exhaust fans over gas cooking stoves and ranges

and keep the burners properly adjusted.

Using a stove hood with a fan vented to the outdoors greatly

reduces exposure to pollutants during cooking. Improper

adjustment, often indicated by a persistent yellow tipped flame,

causes increased pollutant emissions. Ask your gas company to

adjust the burner so that the flame tip is blue. If you purchase

a new gas stove or range, consider buying one with pilotless

ignition because it does not have a pilot light that burns

continuously. Never use a gas stove to heat your home. Always

make certain the flue in your gas fireplace is open when the

fireplace is in use.

Keep wood stove emissions to a minimum. Choose properly sized

new stoves that are certified as meeting EPA emission standards.

Make certain that doors in old wood stoves are tight fitting. Use

aged or cured (dried) wood only and follow the manufacturer s

directions for starting, stoking, and putting out the fire in

wood stoves. Chemicals are used to pressure treat wood; such wood

should never be burned indoors. (Because some old gaskets in wood

stove doors contain asbestos, when replacing gaskets refer to the

instructions in the CPSC, ALA, and EPA booklet, Asbestos in Your

Home, to avoid creating an asbestos problem. New gaskets are made

of fiberglass.)

Have central air handling systems, including furnaces, flues,

and chimneys, inspected annually and promptly repair cracks or

damaged parts.

Blocked, leaking, or damaged chimneys or flues release harmful

combustion gases and particles and even fatal concentrations of

carbon monoxide. Strictly follow all service and maintenance

procedures recommended by the manufacturer, including those that

tell you how frequently to change the filter. If manufacturer s

instructions are not readily available, change filters once every

month or two during periods of use. Proper maintenance is

important even for new furnaces because they can also corrode and

leak combustion gases, including carbon monoxide. Read the

booklet What You Should Know About Combustion Appliances and

Indoor Air Pollution to learn more about combustion pollutants.

The booklet is available by contacting CPSC, EPA s IAQ INFO

Clearinghouse, or your local ALA. (See Where to Go for

Additional Information for contact information.)


Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household

products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic

solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic,

decreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic

chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds

while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are


EPA s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies

found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2

to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of

whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial

areas. Additional TEAM studies indicate that while people are

using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose

themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated

concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is


Health Effects of Household Chemicals

The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies

greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no

known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and

nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including

level of exposure and length of time exposed. Eye and

respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual

disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms

that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some

organics. At present, not much is known about what health effects

occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes. Many

organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are

suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.

Reducing Exposure to Household Chemicals

Follow label instructions carefully.

Potentially hazardous products often have warnings aimed at

reducing exposure of the user. For example, if a label says to

use the product in a well ventilated area, go outdoors or in

areas equipped with an exhaust fan to use it. Otherwise, open up

windows to provide the maximum amount of outdoor air possible.

Throw away partially full containers of old or unneeded

chemicals safely.

Because gases can leak even from closed containers, this single

step could help lower concentrations of organic chemicals in your

home. (Be sure that materials you decide to keep are stored not

only in a well ventilated area but are also safely out of reach

of children.) Do not simply toss these unwanted products in the

garbage can. Find out if your local government or any

organization in your community sponsors special days for the

collection of toxic household wastes. If such days are available,

use them to dispose of the unwanted containers safely. If no such

collection days are available, think about organizing one.

Buy limited quantities.

If you use products only occasionally or seasonally, such as

paints, paint strippers, and kerosene for space heaters or

gasoline for lawn mowers, buy only as much as you will use right


Keep exposure to emissions from products containing methylene

chloride to a minimum.

Consumer products that contain methylene chloride include paint

strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints. Methylene

chloride is known to cause cancer in animals. Also, methylene

chloride is converted to carbon monoxide in the body and can

cause symptoms associated with exposure to carbon monoxide.

Carefully read the labels containing health hazard information

and cautions on the proper use of these products. Use products

that contain methylene chloride outdoors when possible; use

indoors only if the area is well ventilated.

Keep exposure to benzene to a minimum.

Benzene is a known human carcinogen. The main indoor sources of

this chemical are environmental tobacco smoke, stored fuels and

paint supplies, and automobile emissions in attached garages.

Actions that will reduce benzene exposure include eliminating

smoking within the home, providing for maximum ventilation during

painting, and discarding paint supplies and special fuels that

will not be used immediately.

Keep exposure to perchloroethylene emissions from newly dry

cleaned materials to a minimum.

Perchloroethylene is the chemical most widely used in dry

cleaning. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to cause

cancer in animals. Recent studies indicate that people breathe

low levels of this chemical both in homes where dry cleaned goods

are stored and as they wear dry cleaned clothing. Dry cleaners

recapture the perchloroethylene during the dry cleaning process

so they can save money by re using it, and they remove more of

the chemical during the pressing and finishing processes. Some

dry cleaners, however, do not remove as much perchloroethylene as

possible all of the time. Taking steps to minimize your exposure

to this chemical is prudent. If dry cleaned goods have a strong

chemical odor when you pick them up, do not accept them until

they have been properly dried. If goods with a chemical odor are

returned to you on subsequent visits, try a different dry



Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to

manufacture building materials and numerous household products.

It is also a byproduct of combustion and certain other natural

processes. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations

both indoors and outdoors.

Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building

materials, smoking, household products, and the use of unvented,

fuel burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space

heaters. Formaldehyde, by itself or in combination with other

chemicals, serves a number of purposes in manufactured products.

For example, it is used to add permanent press qualities to

clothing and draperies, as a component of glues and adhesives,

and as a preservative in some paints and coating products.

In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely

to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain

ureaformaldehyde (UF) resins. Pressed wood products made for

indoor use include: particle board (used as sub flooring and

shelving and in cabinetry and furniture); hardwood plywood

paneling (used for decorative wall covering and used in cabinets

and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer

fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Medium density fiberboard

contains a higher resin to wood ratio than any other UF pressed

wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest

formaldehyde emitting pressed wood product.

Other pressed wood products, such as softwood plywood and flake

or oriented strand board, are produced for exterior construction

use and contain the dark, or red/black colored phenolformaldehyde

(PF) resin. Although formaldehyde is present in both types of

resins, pressed woods that contain PF resin generally emit

formaldehyde at considerably lower rates than those containing UF


Since 1985, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

has permitted only the use of plywood and particle board that

conform to specified formaldehyde emission limits in the

construction of prefabricated and mobile homes. In the past, some

of these homes had elevated levels of formaldehyde because of the

large amount of high emitting pressed wood products used in their

construction and because of their relatively small interior


The rate at which products like pressed wood or textiles release

formaldehyde can change. Formaldehyde emissions will generally

decrease as products age. When the products are new, high indoor

temperatures or humidity can cause increased release of

formaldehyde from these products.

During the 1970s, many homeowners had ureaformaldehyde foam

insulation (UFFI) installed in the wall cavities of their homes

as an energy conservation measure. However, many of these homes

were found to have relatively high indoor concentrations of

formaldehyde soon after the UFFI installation. Few homes are now

being insulated with this product. Studies

(continued on page 23)

show that formaldehyde emissions from UFFI decline with time;

therefore, homes in which UFFI was installed many years ago are

unlikely to have high levels of formaldehyde now.

Health Effects of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent smelling gas, can cause watery

eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and

difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels

(above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations may trigger

attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people

can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown

to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans.

Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde in Homes

Ask about the formaldehyde content of pressed wood products,

including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture before you

purchase them.

If you experience adverse reactions to formaldehyde, you may want

to avoid the use of pressed wood products and other formaldehyde

emitting goods. Even if you do not experience such reactions, you

may wish to reduce your exposure as much as possible by

purchasing exterior grade products, which emit less formaldehyde.

For further information on formaldehyde and consumer products,

call the EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) assistance line


Some studies suggest that coating pressed wood products with

polyurethane may reduce formaldehyde emissions for some period of

time. To be effective, any such coating must cover all surfaces

and edges and remain intact. Increase the ventilation and

carefully follow the manufacturer s instructions while applying

these coatings. (If you are sensitive to formaldehyde, check the

label contents before purchasing coating products to avoid buying

products that contain formaldehyde, as they will emit the

chemical for a short time after application.)

Maintain moderate temperature and humidity levels and provide

adequate ventilation.

The rate at which formaldehyde is released is accelerated by heat

and may also depend somewhat on the humidity level. Therefore,

the use of dehumidifiers and air conditioning to control humidity

and to maintain a moderate temperature can help reduce

formaldehyde emissions. (Drain and clean dehumidifier collection

trays frequently so that they do not become a breeding ground for

microorganisms.) Increasing the rate of ventilation in your home

will also help in reducing formaldehyde levels.


According to a recent survey, 75 percent of U.S. households

used at least one pesticide product indoors during the past year.

Products used most often are insecticides and disinfectants.

Another study suggests that 80 90 percent of most people s

exposure to pesticides occurs indoors and that measurable

levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air

inside homes. The amount of pesticides found in homes appears to

be greater than can be explained by recent pesticide use in those

households; other possible sources include contaminated soil or

dust that floats or is tracked in from outside, stored pesticide

containers, and household surfaces that collect and then release

the pesticides. Pesticides used in and around the home include

products to control insects (insecticides), termites

(termiticides), rodents (rodenticides), fungi (fungicides), and

microbes (disinfectants). They are sold as sprays, liquids,

sticks, powders, crystals, balls, and foggers.

In 1990, the American Association of Poison Control Centers

reported that some 79,000 children were involved in common

household pesticide poisonings or exposures. In households with

children under five years old, almost one half stored at least

one pesticide product within reach of children.

EPA registers pesticides for use and requires manufacturers to

put information on the label about when and how to use the

pesticide. It is important to remember that the "cide" in

pesticides means to kill. These products can be dangerous if

not used properly.

In addition to the active ingredient, pesticides are also made up

of ingredients that are used to carry the active agent. These

carrier agents are called "inerts" in pesticides because they are

not toxic to the targeted pest; nevertheless, some inerts are

capable of causing health problems.

Health Effects From Pesticides

Both the active and inert ingredients in pesticides can be

organic compounds; therefore, both could add to the levels of

airborne organics inside homes. Both types of ingredients can

case the effects discussed in this booklet under Household

Products. However, as with other household products, there is

insufficient understanding at present about what pesticide

concentrations are necessary to produce these effects.

Exposure to high levels of cyclodiene pesticides, commonly

associated with misapplication, has produced various symptoms,

including headaches, dizziness, muscle twitching, weakness,

tingling sensations, and nausea. In addition, EPA is concerned

that cyclodienes might cause long term damage to the liver and

the central nervous system, as well as an increased risk of


There is no further sale or commercial use permitted for the

following cyclodiene or related pesticides: chlordane, aldrin,

dieldrin, and heptachlor. The only exception is the use of

heptachlor by utility companies to control fire ants in

underground cable boxes.

Reducing Exposure to Pesticides in Homes

Read the label and follow the directions. It is illegal to use

any pesticide in any manner inconsistent with the directions on

its label.

Unless you have had special training and are certified, never use

a pesticide that is restricted to use by state certified pest

control operators. Such pesticides are simply too dangerous for

application by a non certified person. Use only the pesticides

approved for use by the general public and then only in

recommended amounts; increasing the amount does not offer more

protection against pests and can be harmful to you and your

plants and pets.

Ventilate the area well after pesticide use.

Mix or dilute pesticides outdoors or in a well ventilated area

and only in the amounts that will be immediately needed. If

possible, take plants and pets outside when applying pesticides

to them.

Use nonchemical methods of pest control when possible.

Since pesticides can be found far from the site of their original

application, it is prudent to reduce the use of chemical

pesticides outdoors as well as indoors. Depending on the site and

pest to be controlled, one or more of the following steps can be

effective: use of biological pesticides, such as Bacillus

thuringiensis, for the control of gypsy moths; selection of

disease resistant plants; and frequent washing of indoor plants

and pets. Termite damage can be reduced or prevented by making

certain that wooden building materials do not come into direct

contact with the soil and by storing firewood away from the home.

By appropriately fertilizing, watering, and aerating lawns, the

need for chemical pesticide treatments of lawns can be

dramatically reduced.

If you decide to use a pest control company, choose one


Ask for an inspection of your home and get a written control

program for evaluation before you sign a contract. The control

program should list specific names of pests to be controlled and

chemicals to be used; it should also reflect any of your safety

concerns. Insist on a proven record of competence and customer


Dispose of unwanted pesticides safely.

If you have unused or partially used pesticide containers you

want to get rid of, dispose of them according to the directions

on the label or on special household hazardous waste collection

days. If there are no such collection days in your community,

work with others to organize them.

Keep exposure to moth repellents to a minimum.

One pesticide often found in the home is paradichlorobenzene, a

commonly used active ingredient in moth repellents. This chemical

is known to cause cancer in animals, but substantial scientific

uncertainty exists over the effects, if any, of long term human

exposure to paradichlorobenzene. EPA requires that products

containing paradichlorobenzene bear warnings such as avoid

breathing vapors to warn users of potential short term toxic

effects. Where possible, paradichlorobenzene, and items to be

protected against moths, should be placed in trunks or other

containers that can be stored in areas that are separately

ventilated from the home, such as attics and detached garages.

Paradichlorobenzene is also the key active ingredient in many air

fresheners (in fact, some labels for moth repellents recommend

that these same products be used as air fresheners or

deodorants). Proper ventilation and basic household cleanliness

will go a long way toward preventing unpleasant odors.

Call the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network (NPTN).

EPA sponsors the NPTN (800-858-PEST) to answer your questions

about pesticides and to provide selected EPA publications on



Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a

variety of building construction materials for insulation and as

a fire retardant. EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos

products. Manufacturers have also voluntarily limited uses of

asbestos. Today, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes,

in pipe and furnace insulation materials, asbestos shingles, mill

board, textured paints and other coating materials, and floor


Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after

asbestos containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding

or other remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these

materials can release asbestos fibers into the air in homes,

increasing asbestos levels and endangering people living in those


Health Effects of Asbestos

The most dangerous asbestos fibers are too small to be visible.

After they are inhaled, they can remain and accumulate in the

lungs. Asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of

the chest and abdominal linings), and asbestosis (irreversible

lung scarring that can be fatal). Symptoms of these diseases do

not show up until many years after exposure began. Most people

with asbestos related diseases were exposed to elevated

concentrations on the job; some developed disease from exposure

to clothing and equipment brought home from job sites.

Reducing Exposure to Asbestos in Homes

Learn how asbestos problems are created in homes. Read the

booklet, Asbestos in Your Home, issued by CPSC, the ALA, and EPA.


To contact these organizations, see the section, Where to Go For

More Information.

If you think your home may have asbestos, don t panic!

Usually it is best to leave asbestos material that is in good

condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not

release asbestos fiber. There is no danger unless fibers are

released and inhaled into the lungs.

Do not cut, rip, or sand asbestos containing materials.

Leave undamaged materials alone and, to the extent possible,

prevent them from being damaged, disturbed, or touched.

Periodically inspect for damage or deterioration. Discard damaged

or worn asbestos gloves, stove top pads, or ironing board

covers. Check with local health, environmental, or other

appropriate officials to find out about proper handling and

disposal procedures.

If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if

you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it,

repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have

your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are


When you need to remove or clean up asbestos, use a

professionally trained contractor.

Select a contractor only after careful discussion of the problems

in your home and the steps the contractor will take to clean up

or remove them. Consider the option of sealing off the materials

instead of removing them.

Call EPA s TSCA assistance line (2025541404) to find out

whether your state has a training and certification program for

asbestos removal contractors and for information on EPA s

asbestos programs.


Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental

pollutant. In late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of

Health and Human Services called lead the number one

environmental threat to the health of children in the United

States. There are many ways in which humans are exposed to lead:

through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil,

deteriorating paint, and dust. Airborne lead enters the body when

an individual breathes or swallows lead particles or dust once it

has settled. Before it was known how harmful lead could be, it

was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other


Old lead based paint is the most significant source of lead

exposure in the U.S. today. Harmful exposures to lead can be

created when lead based paint is improperly removed from surfaces

by dry scraping, sanding, or open flame burning. High

concentrations of airborne lead particles in homes can also

result from lead dust from outdoor sources, including

contaminated soil tracked inside, and use of lead in certain

indoor activities such as soldering and stained glass making.

Health Effects of Exposure to Lead

Lead affects practically all systems within the body. At high

levels it can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower

levels of lead can adversely affect the brain, central nervous

system, blood cells, and kidneys.

The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children

can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental

development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and

increased behavioral problems. Fetuses, infants, and children

are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults since lead is

more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of

small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of

lead. Children may have higher exposures since they are more

likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers

or other lead contaminated objects into their mouths.

Get your child tested for lead exposure. To find out where to do

this, call your doctor or local health clinic. For more

information on health effects, get a copy of the Centers for

Disease Control s, Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children

(October 1991).

Ways to Reduce Exposure to Lead

Keep areas where children play as dust free and clean as


Mop floors and wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as

cribs with a solution of powdered automatic dishwasher detergent

in warm water. (Dishwasher detergents are recommended because of

their high content of phosphate.) Most multipurpose cleaners

will not remove lead in ordinary dust. Wash toys and stuffed

animals regularly. Make sure that children wash their hands

before meals, nap time, and bedtime.

Reduce the risk from lead based paint.

Most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some

homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This

paint could be on window frames, walls, the outside of homes, or

other surfaces. Do not burn painted wood since it may contain


Leave lead based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition do

not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.

Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem except in

places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create

dust (for example, opening a window).

Do not remove lead paint yourself.

Individuals have been poisoned by scraping or sanding lead paint

because these activities generate large amounts of lead dust.

Consult your state health or housing department for suggestions

on which private laboratories or public agencies may be able to

help test your home for lead in paint. Home test kits cannot

detect small amounts of lead under some conditions. Hire a

person with special training for correcting lead paint problems

to remove lead based paint. Occupants, especially children and

pregnant women, should leave the building until all work is

finished and cleanup is done.

For additional information dealing with lead based paint

abatement contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development

for the following two documents: Comprehensive and Workable Plan

for the Abatement of Lead Based Paint in Privately Owned Housing:

Report to Congress (December 7, 1990) and Lead Based Paint:

Interim Guidelines for Hazard Identification and Abatement in

Public and Indian Housing (September 1990).

Do not bring lead dust into the home.

If you work in construction, demolition, painting, with

batteries, in a radiator repair shop or lead factory, or your

hobby involves lead, you may unknowingly bring lead into your

home on your hands or clothes. You may also be tracking in lead

from soil around your home. Soil very close to homes may be

contaminated from lead paint on the outside of the building.

Soil by roads and highways may be contaminated from years of

exhaust fumes from cars and trucks that used leaded gas. Use door

mats to wipe your feet before entering the home. If you work with

lead in your job or a hobby, change your clothes before you go

home and wash these clothes separately. Encourage your children

to play in sand and grassy areas instead of dirt which sticks to

fingers and toys. Try to keep your children from eating dirt,

and make sure they wash their hands when they come inside.

Find out about lead in drinking water.

Most well and city water does not usually contain lead. Water

usually picks up lead inside the home from household plumbing

that is made with lead materials. The only way to know if there

is lead in drinking water is to have it tested. Contact the

local health department or the water supplier to find out how to

get the water tested. Send for the EPA pamphlet, Lead and Your

Drinking Water, for more information about what you can do if you

have lead in your drinking water. Call EPA s Safe Drinking Water

Hotline (8004264791) for more information.

Eat right.

A child who gets enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead.

Foods rich in iron include eggs, red meats, and beans. Dairy

products are high in calcium. Do not store food or liquid in

lead crystal glassware or imported or old pottery. If you reuse

old plastic bags to store or carry food, keep the printing on the

outside of the bag.

You can get a brochure, Lead Poisoning and Your Children,

and more information by calling the National Lead Information

Center, 800-LEAD-FYI.

Building a new home provides the opportunity for preventing

indoor air problems. However, it can result in exposure to

higher levels of indoor air contaminants if careful attention

is not given to potential pollution sources and the air exchange


Express your concerns about indoor air quality to your

architect or builder and enlist his or her cooperation in taking

measures to provide good indoor air quality. Talk both about

purchasing building materials and furnishings that are low

emitting and about providing an adequate amount of ventilation.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air

Conditioning Engineers recommends a ventilation rate of 0.35 ach

(air changes per hour) for new homes, and some new homes are

built to even tighter specifications. Particular care should be

given in such homes to preventing the buildup of indoor air

pollutants to high levels.

Here are a few important actions that can make a difference:

Use radon resistant construction techniques.

Obtain a copy of the EPA booklet, Radon Resistant Construction

Techniques for Residential Construction, from your state radon

office or health agency, your state homebuilders association, or

your EPA regional office.

Choose building materials and furnishings that will keep indoor

air pollution to a minimum.

There are many actions a homeowner can take to select products

that will prevent indoor air problems from occurring a couple of

them are mentioned here. First, use exterior grade pressed wood

products made with phenolformaldehyde resin in floors, cabinetry,

and wall surfaces. Or, as an alternative, consider using solid

wood products. Secondly, if you plan to install wall to wall

carpet on concrete in contact with the ground, especially

concrete in basements, make sure that an effective moisture

barrier is installed prior to installing the carpet. Do not

permanently adhere carpet to concrete with adhesives so that the

carpet can be removed if it becomes wet.

Provide proper drainage and seal foundations in new


Air that enters the home through the foundation can contain more

moisture than is generated from all occupant activities.

Become familiar with mechanical ventilation systems and consider

installing one.

Advanced designs of new homes are starting to feature mechanical

systems that bring outdoor air into the home. Some of these

designs include energy efficient heat recovery ventilators (also

known as air to air heat exchangers).

Ensure that combustion appliances, including furnaces,

fireplaces, wood stoves, and heaters, are properly vented and

receive enough supply air.

Combustion gases, including carbon monoxide, and particles can be

back drafted from the chimney or flue into the living space if

the combustion appliance is not properly vented or does not

receive enough supply air. Back drafting can be a particular

problem in weatherized or tightly constructed homes. Installing

a dedicated outdoor air supply for the combustion appliance can

help prevent back drafting.

Indoor air quality problems are not limited to homes. In fact,

many office buildings have significant air pollution sources.

Some of these buildings may be inadequately ventilated. For

example, mechanical ventilation systems may not be designed or

operated to provide adequate amounts of outdoor air. Finally,

people generally have less control over the indoor environment in

their offices than they do in their homes. As a result, there

has been an increase in the incidence of reported health



A number of well identified illnesses, such as Legionnaire s

disease, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier

fever, have been directly traced to specific building problems.

These are called building related illnesses. Most of these

diseases can be treated nevertheless, some pose serious risks.

Sometimes, however, building occupants experience symptoms

that do not fit the pattern of any particular illness and are

difficult to trace to any specific source. This phenomenon has

been labeled sick building syndrome. People may complain of one

or more of the following symptoms: dry or burning mucous

membranes in the nose, eyes, and throat; sneezing; stuffy or

runny nose; fatigue or lethargy; headache; dizziness; nausea;

irritability an forgetfulness. Poor lighting, noise, vibration,

thermal discomfort, and psychological stress may also cause, or

contribute to, these symptoms.

There is no single manner in which these health problems appear.

In some cases, problems begin as workers enter their offices and

diminish as workers leave; other times, symptoms continue until

the illness is treated. Sometimes there are outbreaks of illness

among many workers in a single building; in other cases, health

symptoms show up only in individual workers.

In the opinion of some World Health Organization experts, up to

30 percent of new or remodeled commercial buildings may have

unusually high rates of health and comfort complaints from

occupants that may potentially be related to indoor air quality.


Three major reasons for poor indoor air quality in office

buildings are the presence of indoor air pollution sources;

poorly designed, maintained, or operated ventilation systems; and

uses of the building that were unanticipated or poorly planned

for when the building was designed or renovated.

Sources of Office Air Pollution

As with homes, the most important factor influencing indoor air

quality is the presence of pollutant sources. Commonly found

office pollutants and their sources include environmental tobacco

smoke; asbestos from insulating and fire retardant building

supplies; formaldehyde from pressed wood products; other organics

from building materials, carpet, and other office furnishings,

cleaning materials and activities, rest room air fresheners,

paints, adhesives, copying machines, and photography and print

shops; biological contaminants from dirty ventilation systems or

water damaged walls, ceilings, and carpets; and pesticides from

pest management practices.

Ventilation Systems

Mechanical ventilation systems in large buildings are designed

and operated not only to heat and cool the air, but also to draw

in and circulate outdoor air. If they are poorly designed,

operated, or maintained, however, ventilation systems can

contribute to indoor air problems in several ways.

For example, problems arise when, in an effort to save

energy, ventilation systems are not used to bring in adequate

amounts of outdoor air. Inadequate ventilation also occurs if the

air supply and return vents within each room are blocked or

placed in such a way that outdoor air does not actually reach the

breathing zone of building occupants. Improperly located outdoor

air intake vents can also bring in air contaminated with

automobile and truck exhaust, boiler emissions, fumes from

dumpsters, or air vented from rest rooms. Finally, ventilation

systems can be a source of indoor pollution themselves by

spreading biological contaminants that have multiplied in cooling

towers, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, or the

inside surfaces of ventilation duct work.

Use of the Building

Indoor air pollutants can be circulated from portions of the

building used for specialized purposes, such as restaurants,

print shops, and dry cleaning stores, into offices in the same

building. Carbon monoxide and other components of automobile

exhaust can be drawn from underground parking garages through

stairwells and elevator shafts into office spaces.

In addition, buildings originally designed for one purpose

may end up being converted to use as office space. If not

properly modified during building renovations, the room

partitions and ventilation system can contribute to indoor air

quality problems by restricting air recirculation or by providing

an inadequate supply of outdoor air.


If you or others at your office are experiencing health or

comfort problems that you suspect may be caused by indoor air

pollution, you can do the following:

Talk with other workers, your supervisor, and union

representatives to see if the problems are being experienced by

others and urge that a record of reported health complaints be

kept by management, if one has not already been established.

Talk with your own physician and report your problems to the

company physician, nurse, or health and safety officer.

Call your state or local health department or air pollution

control agency to talk over the symptoms and possible causes.

Encourage building management to obtain a copy of Building Air

Quality: A Guide for Building Owners and Facility Managers.

Building Air Quality (BAQ) is simply written, yet provides

comprehensive information for identifying, correcting, and

preventing indoor air quality problems. BAQ also provides

supporting information such as when and how to select outside

technical assistance, how to communicate with others regarding

indoor air issues, and where to find additional sources of

information. BAQ is available for $24 from U.S. GPO,

Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA

152507954; stock #055000003904.

Frequently, indoor air quality problems in large commercial

buildings cannot be effectively identified or remedied without a

comprehensive building investigation. These investigations may

start with written questionnaires and telephone consultations in

which building investigators assess the history of occupant

symptoms and building operation procedures. In some cases, these

inquiries may quickly uncover the problem and on site visits are


More often, however, investigators will need to come to the

building to conduct personal interviews with occupants, to look

for possible sources of the problems, and to inspect the design

and operation of the ventilation system and other building

features. Because taking measurements of pollutants at the very

low levels often found in office buildings is expensive and may

not yield information readily useful in identifying problem

sources, investigators may not take many measurements. The

process of solving indoor air quality problems that result in

health and comfort complaints can be a slow one, involving

several trial solutions before successful remedial actions are


If a professional company is hired to conduct a building

investigation, select a company on the basis of its experience in

identifying and solving indoor air quality problems in

nonindustrial buildings.

Work with others to establish a smoking policy that eliminates

involuntary nonsmoker exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

Call the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

(NIOSH) for information on obtaining a health hazard evaluation

of your office (800-35-N-EACH), or contact the Occupational

Safety and Health Administration, (202) 2198151.

Federal Information Services

Federal agencies with indoor air quality information may be

contacted as follows:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Public Information Center

401 M St., SW

Washington, DC 20460

(202) 260-7751

Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse (IAQ INFO)

P.O. Box 37133

Washington, DC 200137133

(800) 438-4318

(301) 585-9020

Operates Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 Eastern Standard Time

(EST). Distributes EPA publications, answers questions on the

phone, and makes referrals to other nonprofit and governmental


National Radon Hotline


Information recording operates 24 hours a day.

National Lead Information Center

(800) LEAD-FYI

Operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers may order an

information package. To speak to an information specialist, call

(800)4245323. Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5 EST.



National Pesticides Telecommunications Network

National toll free number: (800) 858-PEST

In Texas: (806) 7433091

Operates Monday to Friday from 8 to 6 Central Standard Time.

Provides information about pesticides to the general public and

the medical, veterinary, and professional communities.

RCRA/Super fund Hotline

National toll free number: (800) 4249346

In Washington, DC area: (703) 4129810

Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 7:30 EST. Provides

information on regulations under both the Resources Conservation

and Recovery Act (including solid and hazardous waste issues) and

the Superfund law.

Safe Drinking Water Hotline

(800) 4264791

Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5 EST. Provides

information on regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act,

lead and radon in drinking water, filter information, and a

list of state drinking water offices.

TSCA Assistance Information Service

(202) 5541404

Operates Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5 EST. Provides

information on regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act

and on EPA's asbestos program.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Washington, DC 202070001

Product Safety Hotline: (800) 638-CPSC

Teletypewriter for the hearing impaired (outside Maryland): (800)

638-8270; Maryland only: (800) 492-8104. Recorded information is

available 24 hours a day when calling from a touch tone phone.

Operators are on duty Monday to Friday from 10:30 to 4 EST to

take complaints about unsafe consumer products.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Office of Energy and the Environment

Washington, DC 20410

HUD USER National toll free number: (800) 245-2691

In Washington, DC area: (301) 251-5154.

U.S. Department of Energy

Office of Conservation and Renewable Energy

1000 Independence Ave., SW

Washington, DC 20585

Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service


PO Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116; (800) 523-2929.

Operates Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 EST. Provides consumer

information on conservation and renewable energy in residences.

U.S. Public Health Service

Division of Federal Occupational Health

Office of Environmental Hygiene, Region III, Room 1310

3535 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 596-1888; fax: 215-596-5024

Provides indoor air quality consultative services to federal

agency managers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch

4770 Buford Highway, NE (F42), Atlanta, GA 30341-3724

(800) 488-7330

Office on Smoking and Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

4770 Buford Highway, NE (K50), Atlanta, GA 30341-3724

(404) 488-5701

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Office of Information and Consumer Affairs

Room N-3647

200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210

(202) 219-8151

Bonneville Power Administration

Portland, OR 97208

General Services Administration

18th and F Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20405

Tennesee Valley Authority

Industrial Hygiene Branch

Multipurpose Building (1B), Muscle Shoals, AL 35660

State and Local Organizations

Your questions or concerns about indoor air problems can

frequently be answered by the government agencies in your state

or local government. Responsibilities or indoor air quality

issues are usually divided among many different agencies. Calling

or writing the agencies responsible for health or air quality

control is the best way to start getting information from your

state or local government. To obtain state agency contacts, write

or call EPA s IAQ Information Clearinghouse, (800) 4384318.


Eastern Regional Center

6 World Trade Center

Vesey Street, 3rd Floor Room 350

New York, NY 10048-0950

(212) 466-1612

Central Regional Center

230 South Dearborn Street Room 2944

Chicago, IL 60604-1601

(312) 353-8260

Western Regional Center

600 Harrison Street Room 245

San Francisco, CA 94107

(415) 744-2966

States in Region

Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida,

Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire,

New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia,

Vermont, West Virginia

Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky,

Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota,

Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin

Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho,

Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas,

Utah, Washington, Wyoming



Address inquiries to the Indoor Air Coordinators in the EPA

regional offices at the following addresses:

Region 1


John F. Kennedy Federal Building

Boston, MA 02203


Region 2


26 Federal Plaza

New York, NY 10278


Region 3


841 Chestnut Building

Philadelphia, PA 19107


215-597-4084 (radon)

Region 4


345 Courtland Street NE

Atlanta, GA 30365


Region 5


77 W. Jackson Blvd.

Chicago, IL 60604


Region 6


First Interstate Bank Tower

1445 Ross Avenue

Dallas Inspections75202


Region 7


726 Minnesota Avenue

Kansas City, KS 66101


Region 8

EPA 999 18th Street, Suite 500

Denver, CO 80202-2466


The following organizations have information discussed in this

booklet. EPA s IAQ Information Clearinghouse, (800)438-4318, can

provide the names of a variety of organizations that have

information on all of the issues discussed in this publication.

American Association of Poison Control Centers

3800 Reservoir Rd., NW

Washington, DC 20007

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning


1791 Tullie Circle NE

Atlanta, GA 30329

World Health Organization

Publications Center

49 Sheridan Avenue

Albany, NY 12210

Your local American Lung Association (ALA)

1740 Broadway

New York, NY 10019

(800) LUNG-USA


Acid aerosol

Acidic liquid or solid particles that are small enough to become

airborne. High concentrations of acid aerosols can be irritating

to the lungs and have been associated with some respiratory

diseases, such as asthma.

Animal dander

Tiny scales of animal skin.


A substance capable of causing an allergic reaction because of an

individual s sensitivity to that substance.

Allergic rhinitis

Inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose that is caused

by an allergic reaction.

Building-related illness

A discrete, identifiable disease or illness that can be traced to

a specific pollutant or source within a building. (Contrast with

Sick building syndrome ).

Chemical sensitization

Evidence suggests that some people may develop health problems

characterized by effects such as dizziness, eye and throat

irritation, chest tightness, and nasal congestion that appear

whenever they are exposed to certain chemicals. People may react

to even trace amounts of chemicals to which they have become


Environmental tobacco smoke

Mixture of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or

cigar and smoke exhaled by the smoker (also secondhand smoke or

passive smoking).


Any of a group of parasitic lower plants that lack chlorophyll,

including molds and mildews.

Humidifier fever

A respiratory illness caused by exposure to toxins from

microorganisms found in wet or moist areas in humidifiers and air

conditioners. Also called air conditioner or ventilation fever.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis

A group of respiratory diseases that cause inflammation of the

lung (specifically granulomatous cells). Most forms of

hypersensitivity pneumon-itis are caused by the inhalation of

organic dusts, including molds.

Organic compounds

Chemicals that contain carbon. Volatile organic compounds

vaporize at room temperature and pressure. They are found in

many indoor sources, including many common household products and

building materials.


A unit for measuring radioactivity, often expressed as picocuries

per liter of air.

Pressed wood products

A group of materials used in building and furniture construction

that are made from wood veneers, particles, or fibers bonded

together with an adhesive under heat and pressure.

Radon and radon decay products

Radon is a radioactive gas formed in the decay of uranium. The

radon decay products (also called radon daughters or progeny) can

be breathed into the lung where they continue to release

radiation as they further decay.

Sick building syndrome

Term that refers to a set of symptoms that affect some number of

building occupants during the time they spend in the building and

diminish or go away during periods when they leave the building.

Cannot be traced to specific pollutants or sources within the

building. (Contrast with Building related illness ).

Ventilation rate

The rate at which indoor air enters and leaves a building.

Expressed in one of two ways: the number of changes of outdoor

air per unit of time (air changes per hour, or ach ) or the rate

at which a volume of outdoor air enters per unit of time (cubic

feet per minute, or cfm )

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