In 1986 the World Health Organization (WHO) coined the term “sick building syndrome”. It was the dawn of understanding that indoor pollution can have health consequences. WHO has concentrated its research on “the big six”: tobacco smoke, radon gas, carbon monoxide, the volatile organic compounds
(VOC’s) trichloroethylene and benzene and tiny agglomerate particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5). The average American spends 88% of their time indoors. The higher the levels of these pollutants the greater the health consequences. Illnesses linked to indoor pollution include sinusitis, asthma, dermatitis, migraines, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Indoor ozone is generated when sunlight coming through windows reacts with certain VOC’s. Synthetic dyes known as azo dyes can outgas from furniture and drapes, especially ones with darker colors. Formaldehyde is another VOC that creates a toxic environment. It outgasses from new carpet, flooring, pressboard cabinets and new furniture. Another VOC that seems to be particularly irritating is trichloroethylene which outgasses from glues, solvents and cleaning fluids.
Even cooking can be a source of pollution. Frying foods generates acrolein, a chemical also released from E-cigarettes and known to be harmful. A recent study done in gyms found high levels of N-chloraldimines, toxic chemicals generated when bleach cleaners interact with the amino acids found in human sweat. Aerosol deodorants, cleaners and hair sprays add to the morass.
What can be done? Choose safe cleaning products. Stop using aerosols. Stop frying foods or at least have a good exhaust fan running. Allow new carpet and furniture to outgas in the garage before moving indoors. HEPA filters on the HVAC system remove the PM 2.5 particles. Smoke outside. Houseplants help remove a myriad of chemicals. For those who like data, indoor air quality monitors and radon detectors are readily available.