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Why You Should Be Paying More Attention to Air Quality

Photo: Courtesy of Alexandru G. STAVRICĂ

Scott Loughlin

UL Environment

Why is indoor air quality important?

People spend about 90 percent of their time indoors and according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Modern buildings and homes are also built with energy efficiency in mind, meaning that they are much more insulated and may utilize less ventilation in order to save on energy costs. The US EPA recommends source control as the best way to reduce indoor air pollution. This means that people should use products that have fewer chemical emissions so that you don’t bring chemicals into the home to begin with.

What are some of the main causes of indoor air pollution?

Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) are the most common source of indoor air pollution. Examples of common VOCs are formaldehyde, acetone and benzene.  While many of them have an odor (think of the “new car smell,” many are odorless. VOCs give off gas from a variety of sources including furniture, flooring, paints, cleaning materials and personal care products. 

How can these pollutants affect our health?

Exposure to poor indoor air can lead to headaches, nausea, irritation and dizziness in the short term. And chronic exposure can lead to respiratory diseases such as asthma.  Those with developing or compromised respiratory systems are most vulnerable to health effects from inhaling these pollutants.

What are three pieces of advice you would give parents on protecting their children from indoor air pollution?

Look for products that are certified to have low chemical emissions, such as GREENGUARD Certified products. Avoid using scented cleaners and air fresheners in your house or look for ones that are certified for low chemical emissions. And when you bring new products into your house, allow them to off-gas in an unoccupied ventilated space such as a garage or extra bedroom and when you are renovating, do the work in the fall or spring when you can open windows to provide adequate ventilation.

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