Indoor Air Pollution Fact Sheet
Air pollution contributes to lung disease, including respiratory tract infections,
asthma, and lung cancer. Lung disease claims close to 335,000 lives in America
every year and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Over the last
decade, the death rate for lung disease has risen faster than for almost any other
• Poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute to the development of chronic
respiratory diseases such as asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. In
addition, it can cause headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea and
fatigue. People who already have respiratory diseases are at greater risk.
• Biological pollutants, including molds, bacteria, viruses, pollen, dust mites,
and animal dander promote poor indoor air quality and may be a major cause
of days lost from work and school. In office buildings, heating, cooling, and
ventilation systems are frequent sources of biological substances that are
inhaled, leading to breathing problems.
• To help prevent growth of mold when humidity is high, make sure bathrooms,
kitchens and basements have good air circulation and are cleaned often. The
basement in particular may need a dehumidifier. And remember, the water in
the dehumidifier must be emptied and the container cleaned often to prevent
• An estimated one out of every 15 homes in the United States has radon levels
above 4pci/L, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency-recommended
action level. Radon, a naturally occurring gas, can enter the home through
cracks in the foundation floor and walls, drains, and other openings. Indoor
radon exposure is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer. A
recent report by the National Research Council estimates that radon is
responsible for between 15,000 and 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in
the United States.
• Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) also called "secondhand smoke," a major
indoor air pollutant, contains about 4,000 chemicals, including 200 known
poisons, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, as well as 43
• ETS causes an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 35,000 to 50,000
heart disease deaths in non-smokers, as well as 150,000 to 300,000 cases of
lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months of age each
• Formaldehyde is a common chemical, found primarily in adhesive or bonding
agents for many materials found in households and offices, including carpets,
upholstery, particle board, and plywood paneling. The release of
formaldehyde into the air may cause health problems, such as coughing; eye,
nose, and throat irritation; skin rashes, headaches, and dizziness.
• Asbestos is the name given to a group of microscopic mineral fibers that are
flexible and durable and will not burn. Asbestos fibers are light and small
enough to remain airborne; they can be inhaled into the lungs and can cause
asbestosis (scarring of the lung tissue), lung cancer and mesothelioma, a
relatively uncommon cancer of the lining of the lung or abdominal cavity.
• Many asbestos products are found in the home, including roofing and flooring
materials, wall and pipe insulation, spackling compounds, cement, coating
materials, heating equipment, and acoustic insulation. These products are a
potential problem indoors only if the asbestos-containing material is disturbed
and becomes airborne, or when it disintegrates with age.
• Heating systems and other home appliances using gas, fuel, or wood, can
produce several combustion products, of which the most dangerous are
carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Fuel burning stoves,
furnaces, fireplaces, heaters, water heaters, and dryers are all combustion
• Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the
distribution of oxygen to the body. Depending on the amount inhaled, this gas
can impede coordination, worsen cardiovascular conditions, and produce
fatigue, headache, confusion, nausea, and dizziness. Very high levels can
• Nitrogen dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas that irritates the mucous
membranes in the eye, nose and throat and causes shortness of breath after
exposure to high concentrations. Prolonged exposure to high levels of this gas
can damage respiratory tissue and may lead to chronic bronchitis.
• Household cleaning agents, personal care products, pesticides, paints, hobby
products, and solvents may be sources of hundreds of potentially harmful
chemicals. Such components in many household and personal care products
can cause dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions, eye/skin/respiratory tract
irritation, and cancer.