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Monitoring the air quality in your home

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According to the EPA, up to 85% of our exposure to pesticides comes from indoor sources.

By Kate Callander Posted Jan 28, 2009

When you think about air pollution, what comes to mind? Smog? Brown Cloud? Cars? How about “home”? Recent studies by the EPA show that the air inside homes and buildings is on average two to five times more polluted than the air in even the most industrial cities (1). With North Americans spending an average of 90% of their time inside, indoor air pollution can pose a serious health risk.

So what’s causing this toxic indoor environment? The culprits run the gamut from mold to invisible gases to household cleaning products. Let’s take a look at some common indoor air pollutants and how to eliminate them from your home.

Biological Pollutants

Not only do household allergens like mold, mildew, animal dander, and dust mites cause common irritations like sneezing and headaches, these biological contaminants have also been estimated to lead to 200,000 emergency room visits per year by asthma patients (2).

Biological pollutants can be reduced through regular household cleaning, removing mold and mildew from damp areas, washing bedding and pillows, and changing humidifier water regularly.


This colorless, odorless gas is actually the second leading cause of lung cancer, implicated in anywhere from 7,000-30,000 deaths every year (3). Radon gas naturally rises from the ground and dissipates into the air. The problem arises when structures such as homes are built over “hot spots,” thereby trapping the gas inside. When breathed in, radon reacts with lung tissue, causing damage that over time can lead to lung cancer.

The only way to know if your home has high levels of radon is to test for it. Radon test kits are now available for homeowners to check radon levels in the home.

Carbon Monoxide

There’s yet another colorless and odorless gas besides radon that may be lurking in your home, but this one could be far more dangerous. Carbon monoxide gas is a deadly indoor air pollutant and can be generated from the incomplete combustion of fuel in household devices like gas stoves, furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, and cars. Carbon monoxide inhibits the transport of oxygen through the body. At low levels of exposure, it may cause dizziness, vomiting, muscle aches, and general weakness. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to death.

The number-one way to protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning is to purchase a carbon monoxide detector. These units function like smoke detectors and go off when carbon monoxide levels get too high. In addition, it’s wise to have a professional check all fuel burning devices in your home (the flames should be blue), never bring burning charcoal indoors, never leave cars running in an enclosed or attached garage, and always open the flue before starting a fire.

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  • royce

    It's a good idea, but can I use this tips to monitor the air in office?

    • Greg Seaman

      You probably wouldn't be concerned with carbon monoxide in an office setting. The other tips do apply for the most part in both homes and offices.

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