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Household Air Pollutants


Due to the unnatural increase of greenhouse gasses and how much our society has become so industrialized over the last couple centuries, there’s no question about how polluted our air is. However, did you know that the air in your house can be polluted, as well? In this blog, we’ll go over some indoor air pollutants and what you can do to decrease your exposure to them.


One indoor air pollutant, although occurring naturally in different foods and our bodies, is formaldehyde. Since it is a naturally occurring chemical, it should only be a concern when exposure goes over a certain amount. Formaldehyde is used in many household products, such as [1]:

● Pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard

● Glues and adhesives

● Permanent-press fabrics

● Paper product coatings

● Certain insulation materials


Other sources of formaldehyde exposure can be gas-burning and wood-burning stoves, tobacco smoke, and some cosmetic products [1]. Besides some studies finding possible links to the exposure of formaldehyde and certain cancers, overexposure to formaldehyde (0.1 parts per million) may have other adverse health effects. These health effects include [1]:

● Watery eyes

● Burning sensations of the eyes, nose, and throat

● Coughing

● Wheezing

● Nausea

● Skin irritation


There are several actions you can take to limit your exposure to formaldehyde. For example, “formaldehyde levels in homes can also be reduced by not allowing smoking inside and by ensuring adequate ventilation (such as using your stove vent fan), moderate temperatures, and reduced humidity levels through the use of air conditioners and dehumidifiers” [1]. Another step you could take in preventing the overexposure of formaldehyde in your home could be researching the formaldehyde content in certain household products, like pressed-wood products and cosmetic products, like lotions and nail polish.


Another indoor air pollutant is carbon monoxide (CO). There’s a reason why homes require CO detectors; CO poisoning is no joke, and it is more common than you might think. CO is a colorless and odorless gas, which makes it hard to detect. “Every year, at least 420 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental CO poisoning” [2]. In your home, carbon monoxide can be “found in fumes produced by furnaces, kerosene heaters, vehicles “warmed up” in garages, stoves, lanterns, and gas ranges, portable generators, or by burning charcoal and wood. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces” [2]. There are ways to prevent CO poisoning, though. For the most part, good ventilation is key so that CO that is produced by appliances in your home can also leave your home instead of getting stuck inside. Making sure your CO detector has fresh batteries will best ensure that it’s working properly to alert you so you don’t get CO poisoning.


We spend a lot of time in our homes, so making sure our air is as healthy as possible is important for our own health.


References:

1. Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk. American Cancer Society. (2022, October 24). Retrieved April 13, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/chemicals/formaldehyde.html


2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, January 9). Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 13, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/copoisoning/index.html#:~:text=Every%20year%2C%20at%20least%20420,your%20household%20from%20CO%20poisoning


 

Contributors:

Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Chadwick Huynh

Health scientist: Madonna A. Fekry


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