According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality even in the most industrialized places. What’s more, we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors.
Those who spend a majority of their time indoors are the ones who are the most susceptible to adverse health effects of indoor air pollution. These groups include the elderly, small children and those with chronic illnesses.
Want to learn more about these invisible dangers lurking in your home and what to do about them? Read on to learn about 10 household chemicals you may have in your home.
What Is Indoor Air Pollution?
When we think of pollution, we may think of industrialized cities and visible smoke in the air.
However, indoor air pollution can come from regular activities such as cooking. It may also come from smoking cigarettes. Another reason for poor air quality is from older building materials.
What Are the Effects on Our Health?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 3.8 million deaths per year from indoor air pollution. A whopping 91% of the population live in areas where the air quality exceeds the recommended WHO guidelines.
In fact, indoor air pollution is one of the top causes of disease and premature death in the developing world.
One main danger of indoor air pollution is particulate matter. Studies show a direct connection between exposure to particulate matter and adverse health effects. Smaller-diameter particles can enter in airways of our bodies and deposit on small sacs in our lungs. What’s more, ultrafine particles can enter our tissues and organs.
WHO estimates that 7 million people die each year from these small particles in polluted air.
Among the most common health issues related to indoor air pollution include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Lung cancer
- Cardiovascular disease
10 Household Chemicals You May Have In Your Home
Unfortunately, many household chemicals that can be hazardous to our health seep into the air in our homes from everyday activities. Read on to learn about 10 of these chemicals.
1. Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas and is a byproduct of carbon combustion. This gas comes from sources such as smoking, car exhaust in the garage, and indoor heaters that use fossil fuels. It can also come from heating furnaces and gas ranges that are defective.
High levels of CO can stop oxygen from reaching the brain. Dangerous levels of CO causes nausea, headaches, loss of consciousness, and death.
You should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed in your home to alert you of hazardous levels of the gas.
2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide is a gas emitted from normal human activity. Another source is vehicle exhaust such as cars, trucks or buses.
Although certain levels of carbon dioxide indoors are normal, higher levels result in headaches or drowsiness.
3. Secondhand Smoke
Cigarette smoke is one of the most common air pollutants. The tiny particles and gas from secondhand smoke settle in the home on fabric surfaces such as carpeting and linens.
Those at the highest risks are children since they spent a lot of time on carpeted areas. Also affected are those with lung and heart issues.
Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, and 250 of those chemicals are known to be harmful. At least 69 of those harmful chemicals cause cancer.
4. Household Cleaners
Many of the common household cleaning supplies we use result in indoor air pollution. These pollutants can cause irritation of the lungs and nose. Those who have conditions such as asthma may have worsening symptoms from these chemicals.
Household chemicals can also make symptoms worse for those with allergies. They can even make those with chronic lung issues have trouble healing from infections.
Commonly used chemicals include:
- Ethoxylated nonyl phenol
Harsh cleaners such as toilet bowl and oven cleaners can contain these chemicals. Laundry detergents may also contain VOCs.
5. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs come from commonly used household products such as:
- Craft products
- Cleaning products
- Permanent markers
They may also come from office tools such as copiers and printers, building materials, and pesticides.
Adverse health effects of VOCs include irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat. Other symptoms include nausea and headaches. More serious long-term health effects include liver, central nervous system, or kidney damage, and cancer.
According to the EPA, VOC levels are 2-5 times higher indoors than compared to outdoors.
Radon is a gas present in building materials or rock formations located below buildings. This gas comes from the breakdown of uranium. The gas seeps into homes through openings in the wall, floors and other parts of a building.
At high levels, radon causes cancer. It is an odorless, colorless gas that can be found in homes, schools, and other buildings.
According to the American Lung Association, we can avoid thousands of lung cancer deaths every year if we test for radon in our homes.
Legionella is a bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. This bacteria thrives in warm, moist conditions. The disease spreads through water droplets in the air, such as from cooling towers, whirlpool spas, or showerheads.
Legionnaire’s disease causes pneumonia. Doctors diagnose the disease by finding the legionella bacteria in the affected individual.
Although it is not common for healthy individuals to get Legionnaires’s disease, outbreaks do happen, and those with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible.
8. Biological Contaminants
Common biological contaminants are dust, pollen, mold, pet dander, and viruses. Mold can grow from moisture buildup such as bathroom showers or areas with leaks. Dust can accumulate on carpeted areas and linens.
Biological contaminants trigger asthma attacks and worsen allergy symptoms. Viruses such as influenza can spread through the air and make individuals sick.
Many older buildings built before 1975 contain asbestos. The asbestos fibers do not spread in the air unless the materials are disturbed in cases such as remodeling.
Inhalation of asbestos is connected to lung cancer. The disease does not show up until 20 or 30 years after initial exposure. The cancer risk rises in smokers.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to remove asbestos in buildings. Once construction disturbs the asbestos fibers, they spread into the air.
Lead is an extremely hazardous indoor and outdoor pollutant. The most common exposure to lead indoors is lead-based paint. Another common exposure is when lead in soil enters a home from shoes. The lead in the soil can spread through the air.
In children, lead can cause learning problems, anemia, problems hearing, behavior issues, and lower IQ. In pregnant women, lead can cause a risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, and low birthweight.
In adults, lead can cause reproductive issues, cardiovascular issues, and problems with kidney function.
What You Can Do To Reduce the Harmful Effects of Household Chemicals
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the harmful effects of household chemicals. Read on to see some of the actions you can take.
Open Your Windows
When possible, keep your windows open to ventilate your home.
Install Air Filters
It may not be realistic to keep your windows open 24/7. You can’t open your windows all night long. Also, in the winter it won’t be possible to keep windows open due to cold weather.
You should consider installing air filters in your home to filter out harmful chemicals.
Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture and to stop mold growth. Also, check your exhaust fans in the bathroom and laundry room to make sure they work properly.
If you smoke, don’t smoke indoors to improve air quality and to stop the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. You should also try to quit smoking for countless other health reasons.
House Cleaning and Other Maintenance
Dust regularly and reduce clutter in your home. The more cluttered your house is, the more areas there will be for dust and particles to collect. You should also regularly wash your bed linens and curtains so that they don’t accumulate dust.
Another consideration is to have hardwood floors instead of carpeted.
You should also take your shoes off before entering your home so that you don’t track dirt and chemicals in the dirt.
If you don’t already, have carbon monoxide alarms installed on all floors of your home. Also, have your home tested for radon.
Protecting Yourself from Household Pollutants
By taking these simple steps, you can improve the indoor air quality of your home and protect you and your family’s health.
Want to learn more about protecting yourself from the harmful effects of household chemicals? Read our blog.