Indoor Air Quality Program
- What's all the fuss about "indoor" air pollution? I always thought "outdoor" air pollution was the main problem?
- Are some individuals at greater risk to indoor air pollution than others?
- What causes indoor air quality problems?
- How does indoor air pollution affect your health?
- What are some of the major indoor air pollutants that might be found in a home or office building in Texas?
- How does one go about improving indoor air quality in a home or office building?
- Are there any laws in Texas pertaining to indoor air quality?
1. What's all the fuss about "indoor" air pollution? I always thought "outdoor" air pollution was the main problem?
Scientific evidence indicates the air within homes and other buildings can be two to five times more polluted than the outdoor air, and in some cases 1,000 times more polluted. Today people are spending nearly 90% of their time indoors, a great increase as opposed to twenty years ago. Thus, the "dose" ( i.e. the concentration of pollutants multiplied by the time in that environment) is typically greater indoors than outdoors. This results in a greater health risk due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.
2. Are some individuals at greater risk to indoor air pollution than others?
Yes, individuals who spend the longest periods of time indoors are often those most susceptible to the adverse effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include babies, the elderly, the infirm or bedridden, and those with chronic illnesses, such as respiratory or cardiovascular disease.
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3. What causes indoor air quality problems?
Two main items:
1. Pollutant sources: building materials and furnishings; biologicals; products for household cleaning, personal care, or hobbies; central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; pesticides; oil, gas, kerosene, or wood combustion sources.
2. Poor ventilation: If too little outdoor air enters a building, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and discomfort problems. Indoor air quality began to decline in the 1970's after the "energy crisis" prompted the building of "tight" houses and office buildings. Spaces around doors and windows where outside air might previously have leaked through are now often sealed by caulking and weather-stripping . The introduction of fresh "makeup" air through air handling systems many times is reduced or even eliminated to save the cost of the energy to heat or cool this fresh air. Indoor air pollutants can not easily escape these tightly constructed buildings.
4. How does indoor air pollution affect your health?
Health effects can include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches,dizziness, fatigue, and allergy-type symptoms. Usually these symptoms are short-term, and disappear when the person is away from the source. More serious symptoms such as asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever can also affect some individuals after exposure to certain indoor air pollutants. There is a tremendous amount of variation in the sensitivity among individuals to indoor air pollutants. Some people may never experience any symptoms while others may truly suffer. Because many symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from viruses, or allergies (which are quite common in Texas), care must be taken to determine if symptoms are worse while in a particular building versus outside, or whether they dissipate when a person is away for several days.
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5. What are some of the major indoor air pollutants that might be found in a home or office building in Texas?
Typical pollutants include:
- Environmental Tobacco Smoke
- Biologicals: Bacteria, mold and mildew, viruses, animal dander, pollen, dust mites. These are more likely to be a problem in buildings with high humidity, or water-damage.
- Carbon Monoxide: From unvented gas heaters; leaking chimneys or furnaces; gas stoves; automobile exhaust. Low levels can cause headaches, flu-like symptoms. High levels can be fatal.
- Respirable Particles: From fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters, and smoking.
- Organic Gases: From household products including: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.
- Formaldehyde: Usually from pressed wood products (hardwood plywood paneling, particle board, fiberboard) and furniture made with pressed wood products; or urea-formaldehyde foam insulation.
- Pesticides: Products used to kill household pests, and lawn and garden products that may drift or be tracked into the house.
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6. How does one go about improving indoor air quality in a home or office building?
Indoor air quality problems within a building can generally be resolved by providing sufficient fresh outside air and by eliminating major sources of contamination within the building.
7. Are there any laws in Texas pertaining to indoor air quality?
In 1995, a law was passed by the Legislature, House Bill 2850, which required the Texas Department of State Health Services to set voluntary guidelines for indoor air quality in public schools. The guidelines became effective May 10, 1998.
In 2001, House Bill 2008 was passed, which requires the Texas Department of State Health Service to develop voluntary guidelines for indoor air quality in buildings owned or leased by state or local government.
Texas Administrative Code, Title 25, Part 1, Chapter 297, Subchapter A -- Sections 297.1 - 297.10 refers to indoor air quality in government buildings.
There is very little data regarding "safe" levels of chemicals or biologicals in a home or office setting. Levels that may be bothersome to some people are well below "occupational" levels, which are for industrial settings. This is one of the main reasons why there are no laws mandating strict indoor air standards, and why it will be difficult to enact such laws until much more research has taken place. In the meantime, recommendations based upon the best knowledge at hand are used to encourage improvements in air quality.
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