When people hear the term air pollution, they often assume it relates solely to the air outside. However, as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies have shown, indoor air can often be more polluted than outside.
While there are laws in place at the federal level to control outdoor air pollution, there is little government regulation of indoor air pollution. When it comes to promoting public health, indoor air pollution has frequently been neglected and is a hidden problem.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
According to US EPA, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is the term used to describe the air quality inside buildings and other structures, particularly concerning how it affects the health and comfort of building occupants.
Needless to say, those exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods are frequently the ones most affected by them. The highest-risk groups include young children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses, particularly those with respiratory or cardiovascular conditions. (EPA, 1995).
The good news is that the risk of experiencing health issues caused by indoor air pollution can be significantly decreased by being aware of and in control of common indoor pollutants.
Common indoor air pollutants
According to the EPA, there are 13 common indoor air pollutant sources. These include:
- Biological pollutants
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Lead (Pb)
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
- Radon (Rn)
- Indoor Particulate Matter
- Secondhand Smoke/Environmental Tobacco Smoke
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Wood Smoke
Mineral fiber, known as asbestos, can naturally be found in rock and soil. For a long time, this material has been used in the construction industry and is present in many homes and workplaces worldwide.
Asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing lung disease, mesothelioma, or asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma.
2. Biological pollutants
Biological pollutants are toxins that are generated by living organisms. As a result, they are frequently found in locations with abundant food or moisture.
Examples of biological pollutants include:
- Pet dander and saliva
These pollutants are typically found in buildings near excessive moisture, such as humidifiers or unvented bathrooms. Excess moisture can be a breeding place for mold, mildew, and bacteria, causing tremendous infections and diseases.
3. Carbon monoxide
An odorless gas called carbon monoxide (CO) is released when fossil fuels are burned. Vehicles are the primary outdoor source of CO. However, the main source of CO indoors comes from various daily-use appliances. These include:
- Water heater
- Clothes dryer
- Gas stove and oven
- Wood-burning stove
- Furnace or boiler
- Tobacco smoke
- Appliances such as grills, generators, lawn equipment and power tools
A carbon monoxide detector should be installed as standard in the same room as any fuel-burning appliances, such as gas boilers and wood-burning stoves.
When inadequate ventilation is combined with the smoke and fumes produced by cooking and heating techniques, severe health and lung issues can occur.
It is essential to consider whether you’re using wood or charcoal for cooking or heating your home.
Many building materials and indoor products contain formaldehyde, such as pressed wood, wallpapers and paint. As formaldehyde is a combustion byproduct, its sources within the home also include smoking tobacco products and burning gas, kerosine or wood.
Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause skin, eye, nose, and throat irritation.
6. Lead (Pb)
Lead is still found in millions of older homes due to its previous use in paints. Some of the most common places to find lead include window sills and frames, door frames and bannisters. Therefore, when remodelling old homes, there is a high risk of lead dust exposure
Lead can build up in the body after inhaling, having various adverse effects throughout the body, including the nervous, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. Other signs of lead exposure include behavioral or learning issues in children.
7. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
Nitrogen dioxide is another substance that results from combustion. Common sources of NO2 release within homes include unvented appliances, vented appliances where the installation is faulty, kerosene heaters and tobacco smoke.
Symptoms of short-term low NO2 exposure include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, coughing and respiratory aggravation – worse for those with existing respiratory conditions. Long-term exposure can cause severe respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis.
Insects, microbes and rodents are all regularly controlled with the help of pesticides. However, treating with pesticides within the home should be considered case by case, as exposure can have a range of short and long-term health effects.
The effects of pesticide exposure include skin irritation, increased risk of cancer, and damage to the nervous system.
9. Radon (Rn)
Radon is a naturally occurring gas, and its primary sources in the home include soil and rocks. The primary cause of radon exposure happens when the gas is trapped inside after entering through cracks and holes in building foundations.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. According to the EPA, lung cancer caused by radon is responsible for approximately 21,000 deaths annually in the United States.
10. Particulate matter (PM)
The mixture of solid particles in the air is known as particulate matter or particle pollution. Some particulate matter (dust, dirt, sand, and smoke) is large enough to be seen by the human eye, while other particles need special devices to monitor and record.
The small size of these particles is what makes them so hazardous to health. Particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers (PM10) or less have the potential to travel deep into your lungs and even enter your bloodstream. The most damaging, however, are those measuring 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) or less.
People who already have respiratory conditions like asthma are more susceptible to the adverse effects of particulate matter.
11. Secondhand smoke
Secondhand smoke is a mixture of smoke released by burning tobacco products. Heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, asthma attacks, and other lung conditions are all caused by secondhand smoke.
12. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Numerous household products contain VOCs, including paints, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, cleaners and disinfectants, mothballs, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing and other household products.
VOCs contain several chemicals that can have both immediate and long-term effects. Health consequences could include headaches, liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.
13. Wood smoke
When wood and other sources of organic matter burn, a complex mixture of gases and tiny microscopic particles (particulate matter) is produced as smoke. The less efficiently the wood is burned, the higher the content of smoke and the pollutants found within it. These pollutants include:
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
How indoor air pollution impacts health
Some health problems may become apparent quickly after a one-time exposure to a pollutant or multiple exposures. These include fatigue, headaches, nausea, and throat, nose, and eye discomfort. You may have experienced these when using substances containing high VOC levels, such as certain paints or cleaning chemicals.
Luckily, these immediate effects are typically transient and manageable. Unfortunately, other health impacts could manifest years after exposure, only after prolonged or recurrent exposure, or both.
These side effects can be fatal or extremely debilitating, including cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses. In addition to lung cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and respiratory conditions (such as asthma), there is growing evidence that air pollution is linked to low birth weight, dementia, and type 2 diabetes.
Due to the severity of these health conditions, even if no symptoms are present, it is wise to attempt to enhance the indoor air quality in your home.
Health effects in pregnant women and children
Early childhood and pregnancy are crucial times for the development of the body and when the maximum change in the body occurs. Air pollution is one such factor that negatively affects human development.
These factors can have short-term and long-term effects on a person’s health. Exposure to indoor air pollutants is linked to low birth weight and premature birth, in addition to its potential effects on fetal growth.
Early-life air pollution exposure may have a lasting impact on lung development. There is proof that the development of normal lung function is suppressed by long-term exposure to air pollutants.
The symptomatic effects of other common indoor air pollutants from gas stoves, fireplaces, and environmental tobacco smoke have been less well studied, despite the abundance of clinical evidence supporting asthmatic responses to indoor aeroallergens.
Many of the pollutants produced by these combustion sources irritate the respiratory system.
Studies have shown that the adverse health impacts of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are closely associated with Ambient air pollution (AAP) and particulate matter (PM).
Also of note is that short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of heart failure, myocardial infarction (heart attacks), stroke, and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), in high-risk groups.
Utilizing biomass fuels, such as wood and coal, can lead to various respiratory issues, such as acute respiratory infections in children and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in nonsmokers.
Many potential carcinogens are present in coal smoke, including:
- Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Trisodium phosphate or TSP (3PO4)
- Benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P)
- Radon (Rn)
- Thoron (Tn)
Conjunctivitis, glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are just a few of the eye conditions linked to indoor air pollution from environmental tobacco smoking, heating, cooking, or poor indoor ventilation.
We’re not always aware that the air quality in our homes or places of employment could harm our skin’s condition. However, more and more evidence suggests that air pollution contributes to the development of our most prevalent skin conditions.
There is now evidence that indoor air pollution affects the occurrence of psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, atopic acne, and hyperpigmentation.
Health impacts of indoor air pollution among pets and animals
You might wonder whether your pets can suffer the same effects from toxic air pollution as your family. The answer to this is yes. Even animals are influenced by indoor air pollution.
Bronchitis and asthma
Constant and prolonged exposure to poor air quality can cause your pets to develop several lung, nose and throat conditions, including bronchitis or asthma.
Lung damage from passive smoking
Your pets will suffer from poor air quality caused by passive smoking. According to a recent study, pets living in non-smoking homes have healthier lungs than those living in smoke prone indoors.
Indoor air quality and climate change
Climate change means that the frequency or severity of unfavorable outdoor conditions is increasing, and the indoor air we breathe is affected by climate change in various ways.
For instance, warmer temperatures and rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are linked to a long allergy season and an increased pollen count. This then leads to increases in indoor allergens carried in from outside.
Smoke and other particulate pollution from outdoor sources, such as wildfires and dust storms, can also enter homes and raise the level of particulate matter (PM) indoors. Additionally, extreme precipitation, storms and flooding can cause damage to buildings and let water or moisture inside.
These indoor humidity and dampness increases can result in increased dust mites, bacteria, mold, and other biological contaminants. Not only this, but extreme weather conditions can also foster the growth and spread of pests and infectious diseases that can infest indoor spaces—including our homes.
How to measure air pollution at home
Because indoor air quality relates to the health and well-being of the occupants inside the buildings, understanding it and controlling indoor pollutants can help reduce the risks of several health conditions.
To measure the air quality in your home, not only do you need to use professional testing equipment, but you also need to know which pollutants to monitor and what their safe levels are.
Safe indoor air quality levels
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is affected by different pollutants found indoors. These include biological pollutants, chemical pollutants and combustion pollutants.
To help understand safe air quality values, the US EPA established the United States air quality index (AQI) to report air quality.
The AQI is a parameter that has a scale between 0 and 500. The higher the value of AQI, the greater the level of pollution. And as a result, the greater the health concerns would be for those exposed.
AQI values and health concerns
The AQI has six categories corresponding to different health concern levels. The air quality is good if the AQI has a value of 50 or less. When the AQI is 100 or below, it is considered satisfactory. For AQI values of over 100, air quality is considered unhealthy.
However, if the AQI has a value of 300 or more, it means hazardous air.
Besides the AQI, the US EPA has established five major air pollutants with safety standards set by the concerned authority.
US EPA standards for five major air pollutants
|Standards as per the US EPA
|Ground-level ozone (O3)
|0.08 ppm by volume (8 hrs average)
|Particulate matter PM 2.5
Particulate matter PM 10
|65 µg / m3 (24 hrs average)
150 µg / m3 (24 hrs average)
|Carbon monoxide (CO)
|9 ppm (8 hrs average)
|Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
|5 ppm (8 hrs average)
|Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
|100 ppb (1 hr average)
Apart from the airborne pollutants mentioned above, the EPA recommends that American citizens fix their homes if the radon levels are more than 4 picocuries per liter.
Different ways to measure air pollution at home
The first step towards providing quality indoor air while reducing pollution is measuring it correctly. Therefore, having the right tools on hand is invaluable.
With current technology and the desire to produce sophisticated equipment, some companies are providing groundbreaking tools to consumers to help make monitoring indoor air quality easier than ever.
With these tools, people can now monitor air pollution in their homes and keep their families safe.
Let’s discuss some of the best air quality monitoring solutions to help you easily measure air pollution in your home.
1. Airthings Wave Plus
This intuitive device covers everything you should monitor to maintain a healthy environment at home. Equipped with six sensors and an easy installation process, the Airthings Wave Plus is a revolutionary device that makes your home safe.
The six components of indoor air quality the Wave Plus monitors include:
- Air pressure
How Airthings Wave Plus works
The Airthings Wave Plus has a monitoring device that looks like a smoke detector and is mountable on ceilings or walls. This is used with an app to help you easily check your home’s air quality.
The device monitors the air using small air inlets and two recessed areas for motion detection. Using different color codes, you can quickly overview the air quality in your home.
There are two compartments for AA batteries that will keep the device running for up to sixteen months, and data collected locally within the device you can access for up to eighty days.
Additionally, the data gets synchronized with the App, which is available for both Android and iOS devices.
How is the data presented?
Wave Plus provides metrics in the numerical form alongside the status ring you can see after launching the App. When you tap on the measurements, it will show a line graph and data points. The data is also available through a web portal that you can access from a desktop browser.
You can check readings from the previous year, month, week, or even 48 hours.
The best part is that accessing the features and data through the web portal or App doesn’t require a subscription.
Why consider buying the Airthings Wave Plus
If you’re looking for an ultimate home monitor, you should consider buying the Wave Plus. The device is easy to set up and has reliable connectivity. Besides, it comes with a smart design, a user-friendly App, and can also detect radon.
Overall, it’s a fantastic addition to a smart home.
2. Airthings House Kit
The Airthings House Kit has everything you need to maintain good quality indoor air for a healthier home. This kit includes Airthings Wave Radon, Wave Mini, and Airthings Hub. All you have to do is connect to the Hub via the internet and set up the devices using the Wave App.
By using this multi-room House Kit, you’ll be able to monitor the following indoor air pollutants:
How Airthings House Kit works
Using the Airthings House Kit gives you insight into the indoor air pollution in all your rooms regardless of where you are. Within the kit, you’ll have three primary devices for monitoring air contaminants in your home.
Wave Radon – A wireless, battery-operated smart radon detector with both long and short-term values your smartphone receives.
Wave Mini – Comes with humidity and temperature sensors and monitors safe levels of these variables, along with airborne chemical pollution (VOCs) and mold risk.
Airthings Hub – The epicenter that brings all the supported devices online that you can access from any location whenever you choose.
To check the quality of the air in each room, simply wave at the sensors. They will then illuminate to give you a summary of the air quality.
You can also access the latest updates and receive alerts on collected data through the Wav App, which is available for both iOS and Android devices. This gives you access to the Airthings Dashboard with intuitive analysis options.
And here’s the intelligent part – the whole system can connect with your smart home. This means you’ll be able to receive live updates and control all your products. The system also integrates with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for issuing voice commands.
This smart home system means you can control not only your Airthings Home Kit but thermostats, humidifiers and more.
How is the data presented?
The Airthings system takes about seven days to calibrate when adding a new sensor. Live data is viewable from these sensors, such as humidity and temperature, during this time.
To get the most accurate data on the quality of air, you have to wait until the calibration completes. After that, the App will show you the metrics that the sensors collected over time.
The air quality data is represented as graph lines that turn from red to orange and green, indicating high to low pollution levels, respectively. The data is available to view for the previous 48 hours, week, month or year. However, dashboard customizations are possible.
Each room will have its own sensors, and the various air contaminant levels can be viewed for each room, along with an average measurement for the timeframe selected.
Why consider buying the Airthings House Kit
Airthings House Kit is worth considering if you want to build a system of sensors for all the rooms in your house. Not only does this kit allow you to monitor for five significant pollutants, but the smart sensors allow you to connect additional devices via smart plug technology.
Monitoring common indoor pollutants and ensuring safe levels are maintained will help reduce ailments caused by asthma, allergies and overall health.
With the technology and connectivity of the Airthings House Kit, you can monitor the air in multiple rooms whilst using smart controls to adjust your air purifier, heating and more.
If you’re looking for a multi-room smart home monitoring system with flexible controls, the Airthings House Kit is an intelligent choice.
3. Aranet4 Home
The Aranet4 Home is an innovative wireless, battery-operated carbon dioxide monitor. It’s small in size, making it perfectly designed for being transported to more than one location for reading air quality.
With findings that show how harmful CO2 can be when it comes to drowsiness and cognitive performance levels, people are interested in monitoring this air pollutant in their local environment.
This is not, however, the only parameter this versatile device monitors. All air quality components it monitors include:
- Carbon dioxide
- Relative humidity
- Atmospheric pressure
How Aranet4 Home works
The front of the device has a screen that features a few readings. The device keeps track of atmospheric pressure levels, relative humidity, and temperature in a room using sensors.
However, the most notable reading is the CO2 ppm reading that dominates the center of the screen with its large font size. This reading has an accuracy of ±30 ppm, making it one of the most accurate on the market.
In short, the Aranet4 Home is a device with one primary feature: to monitor carbon dioxide levels in the surrounding air and quickly communicate them to the user.
How is the data presented?
The Aranet4 Home seamlessly connects to your iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth. Although the data will update once every 5 minutes, you can adjust the time for when you need the readings.
Analyzing the data within the App is also easy.
Why you should consider buying the Aranet4 Home
With the Aranet4 Home, you can have a healthier environment indoors with more comfort. Ensuring effective monitoring of air quality also leads to significant health benefits.
When you measure the CO2 levels, it helps improve your thinking, learning, focus, memory, and other cognitive abilities to a great extent.
The Aranet4 Home is no all-in-one indoor air pollution device. However, for monitoring CO2 levels, its accuracy is among the best on the market.
How to reduce indoor air pollution
Using multiple strategies to eliminate impurities and reduce indoor pollutants is essential. Some strategies are natural, and you can implement them as quickly as incorporating them into your daily routine. Others will require the use of equipment designed specifically to remove pollution from indoor air.
Opening windows is a simple way to promote a good exchange of indoor and outdoor air. Although, it is always best to note the outdoor conditions before using this method, particularly for allergy sufferers. For example, if the pollen count is high, it may be better not to use this strategy!
Simply opening windows is the best method for bringing fresh air into enclosed living areas, and adequate ventilation is essential to promoting healthy indoor air.
If ventilation systems are not used, short-term indoor activities like painting, soldering, welding or sanding may produce high levels of toxic pollutants that could persist in the air for a long time.
Natural ventilation enables the exchange of stale air for fresh air, which helps to regulate the temperature of a space, replenish oxygen, eliminate malodors and dangerous airborne pollutants, and release carbon dioxide.
There should be no cigarette smoke at all. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke damages respiratory health and causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths yearly in nonsmokers.
Bathe your pet
It is essential to bathe your pets frequently and wash their bedsheets to lessen the pet dander that can trigger allergies.
Plants are efficient at purifying and absorbing air pollutants, making them cheap and effective natural air purifiers.
Formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene are a few common chemical compounds that houseplants remove and trap.
The rubber tree, snake plant, spider plant, peace lily and weeping fig are a few common indoor plants known for purifying the air.
[Please always check that these are safe for your home when you have pets, as some are poisonous to certain animals!]
Indoor air quality is significantly influenced by humidity. In addition to raising the concentration of VOCs, high humidity promotes the growth of bacteria, dust mites, pollen, and mold.
A dehumidifier’s goal is to lower the moisture content (between 35 and 50%), enhancing indoor air quality.
There are various air purifiers available, and their abilities depend on the number and complexity of filters they use. The simplest models may only extract larger particles, such as pet hair, from indoor air. Whereas more sophisticated models can filter smoke and odors by using HEPA filters.
Some models may even use activated carbon to trap and remove chemical pollutants such as VOCs, and others may use UV lights that kill biological pollutants in the air.
Run fans in the kitchen and bathrooms to remove steam and cooking odors. To reduce lint, ensure your dryer vents to the outside.
Don’t mask odors
Scented and other odor-masking items should be avoided as they are asthma-provoking. Items that may include these scents are scented candles and air fresheners.
Safely store chemicals
We often store harmful chemicals in our homes. These are hazardous to anyone, but some people may be more sensitive than others.
It’s best to keep pesticides, glues, and solvents out of the vicinity of homes where possible. Additionally, switching to homemade cleaning products whenever possible will reduce the risk of these items.
Pollutants like pet dander, dust mites, mold and mildew, and other dust and dirt can be captured and held within carpets. If you or a family member suffer from allergies, it would be best to pick hard-surface flooring where possible. If you do have carpets or rugs, be sure to vacuum regularly to remove any build-up of pollutants.
Most people don’t know that the biggest health impacts from air pollution are found indoors. Although government policies exist to tackle air pollution, this is for outdoor air only.
If you want to ensure the air quality in your home is at safe levels, it’s up to you to take action and monitor the air you and your family are breathing. After all, continuous exposure to common pollutants can cause severe health conditions such as respiratory illness, heart disease, and even cancer.
Measuring air pollution at home to keep your family safe is best achieved using the right equipment to detect common indoor air pollutants. If you find levels of airborne contamination in your home are high or causing health impacts, then plenty of options are available to reduce these.
Start by being aware, monitor then take action. That’s all you need to keep your home and family safe from indoor air pollution.