Practical Tips for Reducing Indoor Air Pollution

Did you know that most Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors?1  This percentage may be even higher if you have a chronic illness like COPD. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that indoor air pollutants such as radon, secondhand smoke, combustion pollutants, volatile organic compounds and mold may increase your risk for allergies, respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses.2  How can you protect your health and the health of those you love? Let’s take a look:

Types of Indoor Air Pollutants and What to Do About Them

People who are most susceptible to indoor air pollutants are infants and children, the elderly and people with heart and lung disease, such as COPD.1  Although there are a number of indoor air pollutants, the following list includes those that are most concerning:


Radon is a radioactive, cancer-causing gas that forms in the soil. Although you can’t see, smell or taste it, long-term exposure to this invisible gas can lead to serious health consequences. In truth, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer, overall. Radon enters your home through tiny cracks and crevices in your floors and walls that are in direct contact with the soil.

The EPA strongly recommends that you take measures to reduce radon levels in your home “if the results of one long-term test or the average of two short-term tests show radon levels of 4pCi/L or higher”.3 If your home’s radon level exceeds this standard, the EPA suggests that you hire a contractor who specializes in radon reduction to fix it.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke consists of gases and particles emitted from burning tobacco products. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 50,000 deaths every year.4  In addition, secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous for children; it can cause or worsen breathing problems, including asthma symptoms, and is associated with an increased risk of ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).2

The Surgeon General has concluded that there are NO safe levels of secondhand smoke exposure. To fully protect non-smoking family member and friends who spend time in your home, you MUST completely eliminate smoking in all indoor areas.5

Combustion Pollutants

Gases and particles that are released from burning fuels are referred to as combustion pollutants. Sources of combustion pollutants inside the home include fuel-burning appliances that are either improperly vented or not vented at all. These include wood-burning or gas stoves, fireplaces, dryers, water heaters and space heaters. Of the most common combustion pollutants found in your home, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are the most concerning.1

If your home is equipped with fuel-burning appliances, the EPA suggests that you make sure they are properly installed, used and maintained at all times. This is the most effective way to limit your exposure to them.6

Volatile Organic Compounds

Paint – lacquer – paint stripper – cleaning supplies – what do each of these household products have in common? They contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can do major damage to anyone who’s exposed to them. Not only are VOCs extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, but they can cause breathing problems, headaches, and nausea and lead to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Some may even cause cancer.1

When using products that emit VOCs, the EPA recommends that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely. Keep your home well-ventilated and never mix products together unless instructed to do so. Additionally, store and/or discard product containers safely, away from children and pets.7


It’s hard to think of mold as a living organism, but indeed, it is. And like any organism, it can reproduce and grow. That’s why it has the potential to be so destructive. Mold contains spores that float easily through the air searching for damp surfaces on which to land. Inhaling or touching these spores can cause irritating symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rashes. Exposure to mold can also trigger asthma attacks.1

Mold can grow virtually anywhere – including in your carpet and insulation. The best way to control mold is to control moisture. Remember to inspect your home frequently for mold and water leaks. Clean existing mold with detergent and hot water and repair leaky faucets as soon as possible. Allow areas in your home that have been exposed to water and/or moisture to dry completely.8

For more information about how to protect your home from indoor air pollution and decrease your chance of experiencing breathing problems, visit the Environmental Protection Agency.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


1 The Environmental Protection Agency. Indoor Air: What are the trends in indoor air quality and their effects on human health? Updated March, 2011.
2 The Environmental Protection Agency. Care for Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. Updated April, 2013.
3 The Environmental Protection Agency. Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction. Updated May, 2013.
4 American Lung Association Secondhand Smoke Fact Sheet. Updated 2013.
5 Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke:   A Report of the Surgeon General. January, 2007.
6 The Environmental Protection Agency. Sources of Combustion Pollutants. Updated July, 2012.
7 The Environmental Protection Agency. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Updated July, 2012.
8 The Environmental Protection Agency. Molds and Moisture. Updated August, 2013.

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