As we go about our daily routines, we encounter various health risks. These risks include driving or flying, participating in recreational activities, and exposure to environmental pollutants. While some hazards cannot be avoided, others are accepted to preserve our way of life, while some could be avoided if we made informed choices. However, indoor air pollution is a risk that we have the power to address.

Over the past few years, numerous scientific studies have revealed that the air quality inside buildings can be significantly worse than that of the outdoor air, even in heavily industrialized cities. Moreover, research has shown that people spend a considerable portion of their time, roughly 90 percent, indoors. Therefore, individuals may face higher health hazards from indoor air pollution than outdoor air pollution.

Moreover, those individuals who are at the highest risk of being exposed to indoor air pollutants over extended periods are typically the ones who are most vulnerable to the consequences of indoor air pollution. These particular groups entail youngsters, seniors, and people who have chronic illnesses, particularly those with respiratory or cardiovascular disorders.

Individual sources of pollutants may not be a significant health hazard on their own, but indoor air pollution is often the result of multiple sources in most households. The cumulative impact of these sources can pose a serious risk. Fortunately, there are measures that people can take to mitigate existing risks and prevent new ones. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have created this guide to help you determine whether you should take steps to decrease indoor air pollution in your home.

Given that a large number of Americans work indoors in offices equipped with mechanical heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, this document includes a brief segment that explains the root causes of subpar air quality in such settings. It also offers advice on what you can do if you believe that your office may be affected. In addition to this, a glossary and a roster of organizations that can provide supplementary information are included.

What are the reasons for indoor air quality issues?

Amount of Ventilation

The primary reason for poor indoor air quality in buildings is the emission of gases or particles by sources of indoor pollution. The insufficiency of ventilation may cause indoor pollutant levels to rise as there is not enough outdoor air to dilute the emissions from indoor sources or to carry pollutants out of the building. Furthermore, elevated levels of temperature and humidity can lead to an increase in the concentration of certain pollutants.

Indoor air pollution in buildings can come from various sources, including combustion sources like oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products, as well as building materials, furnishings, and household products. Other sources may include central heating and cooling systems, humidification devices, outdoor sources like radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution. The level of pollution emitted by each source and its potential hazard varies. Factors like age and maintenance of the source can also affect the level of pollution emitted. Some sources release pollutants continuously, while others release pollutants intermittently, like smoking, unvented or malfunctioning stoves, furnaces or space heaters, solvents in cleaning and hobby activities, paint strippers, cleaning products, and pesticides. High pollutant concentrations can persist in the air for an extended period even after these activities.

Indoor Air Quality Concerns

Insufficient outdoor air in a building can lead to the accumulation of pollutants, which can cause health and comfort issues. Unless equipped with mechanical ventilation, buildings designed to limit outdoor air "leakage" may have higher pollutant levels than others. Even buildings that are typically considered "leaky" can experience a buildup of pollutants due to certain weather conditions that reduce outdoor air intake.