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Indoor Air Pollution Top 5 Health Risk

“It’s hard to come up with another problem that affects more people than indoor air pollution.” - Brian Leaderer, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences. Saturday Reader

While SARS, Anthrax and Small Pox get the headlines, indoor air pollution….otherwise known as mold, fungus, dust mites and everyday bacteria have quietly become a major threat to human health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. The EPA rates Indoor Air Quality as one of the top five most urgent environmental risks to public health. And, unlike outdoor air pollution, the problem is not restricted to the large metropolitan areas like New York and L.A. It doesn’t matter whether you live in the country or the city, you are at risk from indoor air pollution. And the culprit is your home.

Home. Sick Home.
Today’s tighter, better-insulated homes limit natural ventilation and trap indoor air contaminants inside. If too little outdoor air enters a dwelling or office, microorganisms can collect to levels that pose health and comfort problems. Without sufficient ventilation or air changes, the environment in homes can reach dangerous pollution levels. Certain types of air pollution thrive indoors and are especially bad for humans. Common airborne contaminants such as bacteria, mold, viruses, fungi, and pet dander can aggravate allergies and asthma and cause illness and disease.

“Homes with hot-air heating and central air have more of a likelihood of creating problems because they circulate the stuff,” says Jeffrey May, author of "My House is Killing Me: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma" and owner of J. May Home Inspections Incorporated in Cambridge, Mass. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Improved building practices are at least partly responsible for the explosion in mold in the U.S. Things like vapor barriers and heavy caulking, now required by building codes, give trapped moisture no way to escape.” As a result, mold-related insurance claims reached a record $2.5 billion last year alone.

You Are What You Breathe.
According to the American College of Allergists, one-half of all illnesses are either caused or aggravated by poor indoor air quality. Effects of poor indoor air quality that may show up after a single exposure include eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Long-term effects include respiratory diseases, heart disease, cancer, severe debilitation or even death. An important fact: Over 65% of all infections and allergies are passed from one person to the other through the air. The Detroit News reports, “Approximately 65 million of us suffer from allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems. Airborne contaminants can cause diseases such as influenza, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.”

Outdoors, the sun’s rays act as a natural outdoor air purification system, inhibiting the growth and reproduction of allergy and disease-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi & molds. Indoors, without fresh air and sunshine, these pollutants flourish, threatening the health and comfort of the inhabitants.

What about filters? Do they help?
Standard fiber filters are designed to trap particulates such as hair and dust and are ineffective in trapping germs, as most particles are simply too small, passing through the porous filter. And new, high efficiency (HEPA) style filters will only capture airborne bacteria down to a certain size. Microorganisms, by definition, are too small to be trapped by most filters and flow through the system undeterred. “Half a million mold spores will fit on the face of a dime,” according to a recent article in the New York Times.

NC/Triangle Air Quality Facts
The Triangle ranks 13th nationally among U.S. Metropolitan areas with the worst ozone air pollution – American Lung Association

The State of North Carolina has an entire division within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that studies and measures outdoor air quality, but no one in that department is charged with the responsibility of monitoring indoor air.

Sources
Epa.gov/iaq. “The Inside Story: A guide to Indoor Air Quality”. Printed March 31, 2003.
Wall Street Journal. “Wet Winter has homeowners scrambling to fight mold: peering behind the walls” by June Fletcher. March 7, 2003.
"UVGI Design Basics" HPAC. January 2000:100
NY Times. “The Turmoil Over Mold in Buildings” by Denis Hevesi. March 23, 2003.
CNN.com. “Air pollution kills but, deaths can be prevented”. August 30, 1999. Printed March 31, 2003.
The Detroit News. “An Air Purification System Could Help Cut Down on Sickness…” by Glenn Haege. October 12, 2002.