Indoor Air Pollution
Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after
exposure or, possibly, years later.
Immediate effects may show up after a single exposure or repeated
exposures. These include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat,
headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Such immediate effects are usually
short-term and treatable. Sometimes the treatment is simply eliminating the
person's exposure to the source of the pollution, if it can be identified.
Symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis,
and humidifier fever, may also show up soon after exposure to some indoor
The likelihood of immediate reactions to indoor air pollutants depends on
several factors. Age and preexisting medical conditions are two important
influences. In other cases, whether a person reacts to a pollutant depends
on individual sensitivity, which varies tremendously from person to person.
Some people can become sensitized to biological pollutants after repeated
exposures, and it appears that some people can become sensitized to chemical
pollutants as well.
Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds or other viral
diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result
of exposure to indoor air pollution. For this reason, it is important to pay
attention to the time and place symptoms occur. If the symptoms fade or go
away when a person is away from home, for example, an effort should be made
to identify indoor air sources that may be possible causes. Some effects may
be made worse by an inadequate supply of outdoor air or from the heating,
cooling, or humidity conditions prevalent in the home.
Other health effects may show up either years after exposure has
occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects,
which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, can be
severely debilitating or fatal. It is prudent to try to improve the indoor
air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.
Introduction to MOLD - (more about
Black Mold) - Molds produce tiny
spores to reproduce. Mold spores waft through the indoor and outdoor air
continually. When mold spores land on a damp spot indoors, they may begin
growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive.
There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods. When
excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mold growth will often
occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or
un-addressed. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold
spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is
to control moisture.
Homes and Molds
Biological Pollutants in Your Home - This document explains indoor
biological pollution, health effects of biological pollutants, and how to
control their growth and buildup. One third to one half of all structures
have damp conditions that may encourage development of pollutants such as
molds and bacteria, which can cause allergic reactions -- including asthma
-- and spread infectious diseases. Describes corrective measures for
achieving moisture control and cleanliness. This brochure was prepared by
the American Lung Association and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission. EPA Document Reference Number 402-F-90-102, January 1990.
Moisture control is the key to mold control, the Moisture Control Section
from Biological Pollutants in Your Home follows:
Water in your home can come from many sources. Water can enter your home
by leaking or by seeping through basement floors. Showers or even cooking
can add moisture to the air in your home. The amount of moisture that the
air in your home can hold depends on the temperature of the air. As the
temperature goes down, the air is able to hold less moisture. This is why,
in cold weather, moisture condenses on cold surfaces (for example, drops of
water form on the inside of a window). This moisture can encourage
biological pollutants to grow.
Here are some before and after pictures taken. They
clearly illustrates the incredible danger of a unsanitary a/c duct system.
There are many ways to control moisture in your home:
- Fix leaks and seepage. If water is entering the house from the
outside, your options range from simple landscaping to extensive
excavation and waterproofing. (The ground should slope away from the
house.) Water in the basement can result from the lack of gutters or a
water flow toward the house. Water leaks in pipes or around tubs and sinks
can provide a place for biological pollutants to grow.
- Put a plastic cover over dirt in crawlspaces to prevent moisture from
coming in from the ground. Be sure crawlspaces are well-ventilated.
- Use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to remove moisture to the
outside (not into the attic). Vent your clothes dryer to the outside.
- Turn off certain appliances (such as humidifiers or kerosene heaters)
if you notice moisture on windows and other surfaces.
- Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners, especially in hot, humid
climates, to reduce moisture in the air, but be sure that the appliances
themselves don't become sources of biological pollutants.
- Raise the temperature of cold surfaces where moisture condenses. Use
insulation or storm windows. (A storm window installed on the inside works
better than one installed on the outside.) Open doors between rooms
(especially doors to closets which may be colder than the rooms) to
increase circulation. Circulation carries heat to the cold surfaces.
Increase air circulation by using fans and by moving furniture from wall
corners to promote air and heat circulation. Be sure that your house has a
source of fresh air and can expel excessive moisture from the home.
- Pay special attention to carpet on concrete floors. Carpet can absorb
moisture and serve as a place for biological pollutants to grow. Use area
rugs which can be taken up and washed often. In certain climates, if
carpet is to be installed over a concrete floor, it may be necessary to
use a vapor barrier (plastic sheeting) over the concrete and cover that
with sub-flooring (insulation covered with plywood) to prevent a moisture
Moisture problems and their solutions differ from one climate to another.
The Northeast is cold and wet; the Southwest is hot and dry; the South is
hot and wet; and the Western Mountain states are cold and dry. All of these
regions can have moisture problems. For example, evaporative coolers used in
the Southwest can encourage the growth of biological pollutants. In other
hot regions, the use of air conditioners, which cool the air too quickly,
may prevent the air conditioners from running long enough to remove excess
moisture from the air. The types of construction and weatherization for the
different climates can lead to different problems and solutions.
You should consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if:
There is substantial visible dirt or mold on vents and dirt or mold
growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other
components of your heating and cooling system. There are several important
points to understand concerning mold detection in heating and cooling
Many sections of your heating and cooling system may not be accessible
for a visible inspection, so ask the service provider to show you any mold
they say exists.
If you have insulated air ducts and the insulation gets wet or moldy
it cannot be effectively cleaned and should be coated with antimicrobial
coating or removed and replaced.
- If the conditions causing the mold growth in the first place are not
corrected, mold growth will recur.
Reduce Indoor Humidity:
- Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside.
- Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and
- Provide adequate ventilation to maintain indoor humidity levels
- Use exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning in food
- Inspect the building for signs of mold, moisture, leaks, or spills:
- Check for moldy odors.
- Look for water stains or discoloration on the ceiling, walls, floors,
and window sills.
- Look around and under sinks for standing water, water stains, or mold.
- Inspect bathrooms for standing water, water stains, or mold.
- Do not let water stand in air conditioning or refrigerator drip pans.
- Respond promptly when you see signs of moisture and/or mold, or when
leaks or spills occur:
- Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings
within 24-48 hours of occurrence to prevent mold growth.
- Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth.
- Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent, and dry
- Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles, that are moldy, may need to
- Check the mechanical room and roof for unsanitary conditions, leaks,
Prevent moisture condensation: Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e., windows,
piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors) by adding insulation.
Floor and carpet cleaning: (more about
- Remove spots and stains immediately, using the flooring manufacturer's
- Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation
and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly.
- In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install
carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete
floors with leaks or frequent condensation).