Indoor Air Quality
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of air within and around buildings and structures, specifically as it relates to the health and comfort of those inside. Air quality impacts our health and wellbeing, understanding and controlling common pollutants can reduce your exposure and risk associated with indoor air pollution.
The average American is indoors nearly 90 percent of the time, and more than half of this time is spent in the home. The health impact from indoor air pollutants can have both immediate and long-term effects.
NOTICE: The Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) is the regulatory authority of outdoor air quality in Lane County. The Oregon Legislature directed the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to establish a public information program to educate the public on indoor air pollutants, their identities, causes and effect, and on effective practical methods for preventing, detecting and correcting the causes of indoor air pollution.
Immediate Effects vs. Long-Term Effects
Immediate impacts on the human body from indoor air pollution include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. But can also include headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Generally, these effects are short-term and treatable. Preexisting medical conditions increase the likelihood of reaction to exposure to indoor pollutants.
Certain immediate effects can be 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 the area, 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 coming indoors or from the heating, cooling, or humidity conditions prevalent indoors.
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.
While pollutants commonly found in indoor air can cause many harmful effects, there is considerable uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems. People also react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants. Further research is needed to better understand which health effects occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations found in homes and which occurs from the higher concentrations that occur for short periods of time.
Improving your Indoor Air Quality
You can improve the air quality in your home and reduce health related risk with little to no cost.
Controlling the sources of pollution: The most effective way to improve indoor air is to eliminate individual sources or reduce their emissions. Ventilation is key. When the weather permits, open windows and doors, or run an air conditioner with the vent control open. Bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust to the outdoors will also increase ventilation and help remove pollutants from you home.
When using a product or appliance that may release pollutants into your indoor air always ventilate the space and follow the manufactures’ instructions.
Changing filters: Central heaters and air conditioners have filters which trap dust and other pollutants in the air. Change or clean these filters regularly and follow the instructions on the package.
Adjust your humidity: The humidity inside your home can affect the concentrations of indoor air pollutants. Higher humidity, for example, increases the likelihood of mold. Work to keep indoor humidity between 30 and 50 percent. A moisture or humidity gauge – available at most hardware stores – will provide vital information on steps you can take to reach these levels. Use vaporizers or humidifies to increase humidity. While turning on the air conditioner or opening doors and windows (weather permitting) will help lower humidity.
Indoor Air Quality During Wildfires
Smoke from wildfires can severely reduce air quality across Lane County. This degraded outdoor air can enter your home and make it unhealthy to breathe indoor air. It may enter your home in a few ways:
- Through open windows and doors, which is known as natural ventilation.
- Through mechanical ventilation devices such as bathroom or kitchen fans that vent to the outdoors, or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems with a fresh air intake.
- Through small openings, joints, cracks, and around closed windows and doors through a process called infiltration.
It is best to prepare for wildfire smoke ahead of wildfire season which us usually spans June through September in Lane County. During a smoke intrusion event from wildfires LRAPA advises the public to:
- Monitor the outdoor Air Quality on LRAPA’s website, or AirNow.
- Avoid outdoor exposure.
- Avoid strenuous activities such as working out, running, or yard work.
- Reduce the smoke that enters your home by:
- If you have an HVAC system with a fresh air intake, set the system to recirculate mode, or close the outdoor intake damper.
- If you have a window air conditioner, close the outdoor air damper. If you cannot close the damper, do not use the window air conditioner. Assure the seal between the air conditioner and the window is as tight as possible.
- If you have a portable air conditioner with a single hose, typically vented out of a window, do not use it in smoky conditions. If you have a portable air conditioner with two hoses, make sure that the seal between the window vent kit and the window is as tight as possible.
- Use a portable air cleaner or high-efficiency filter to remove fine particles from the air.
- If you use a portable air cleaner, run it as often as possible on the highest fan speed.
- If you have an HVAC system with a high-efficiency filter installed, run the system’s fan as often as possible to remove particles while the air quality is poor.
- Avoid activities that create more fine particles indoors, including:
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Using gas, propane or wood-burning stoves and furnaces.
- Spraying aerosol products.
- Frying or broiling food.
- Burning candles or incense.
- Vacuuming (unless you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter).
- Create a Clean Air Room.
- When the air quality improves, even temporarily, air out your home by opening windows.
Primary Causes of Indoor Air Quality Problems
Understanding and controlling some of the common pollutants found in your home may help improve your indoor air and reduce your family’s risk of health concerns related to indoor air quality.
Sources which release gasses or particles into your home can degrade the quality of the air you breathe. This can be worsened by inadequate ventilation. Good ventilation will dilute indoor air emissions by introducing cleaner outdoor air into your home as well as carry these emissions out of the area. High temperatures and high humidity can also increase concentration of some pollutants.
Common pollutants found in the home:
- Secondhand smoke
- Combustion Pollutants
- Volatile Organic Compounds
- Asthma Triggers
Residential buildings may contain asbestos in their walls, ceilings, floors, roofs, siding, HVAC systems, insulation, pipes and more. There are three primary diseases associated with asbestos exposure:
- Lung Cancer
Asbestos containing material is not considered to be harmful unless it is releasing dust or fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Asbestos-containing material will not release asbestos fibers unless they are disturbed or damaged in some way.
It is important homeowners identify asbestos and have it properly removed before beginning remodeling projects. LRAPA is the regulatory authority on asbestos in Lane County.
Read more about asbestos on our Asbestos webpage.
If the asbestos-containing material isn’t broken, worn, damaged or disturbed, it poses little or no danger. Asbestos removal involves disturbing the material and possibly releasing asbestos fibers into the air.
LRAPA recommends you hire a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to ensure asbestos removal is performed properly by trained professionals. Removing asbestos-containing materials properly requires special equipment and training. LRAPA strongly recommends against repairing or removing asbestos-containing materials yourself. Improperly handling asbestos-containing materials could put your family and community at risk of exposure to hazardous asbestos fibers.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is formed in the soil. It can enter indoors through cracks and openings in floors and walls that are in contact with the ground. Radon is a colorless and odorless gas found in homes. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall.
Read more about Radon from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Test your home with a do-it-yourself radon kit. If the test result indicates you have elevated radon, call a qualified radon mitigation specialist. Ask your builder about including radon-reducing features in your new home at the time of construction.
Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars or pipes and the smoke exhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Exposure to secondhand smoke is sometimes called involuntary or passive smoking. It can cause cancer and serious respiratory illnesses. Children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. It can cause or worsen asthma symptoms and is linked to increased risks of ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Read more about secondhand smoke and smoke-free homes from the Environmental Protection Agency.
To help protect children from secondhand smoke, do not smoke or allow others to smoke inside your home or car.
Combustion Pollutants are gases or particles that come from burning materials. In homes, the major source of combustion pollutants are improperly vented or unvented fuel-burning appliances such as:
- Space heaters
- Gas stoves
- Water heaters
The types and amounts of pollutants produced depends on the type of appliance, how well the appliance is installed, maintained, and vented and the kind of fuel it uses. Common combustion pollutants include:
Carbon monoxide (CO): A colorless, odorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. It can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea and even death.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2): A colorless, odorless gas that causes eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, and an increased risk of respiratory infection.
Ventilate rooms where fuel-burning appliances are used. Use appliances that vent to the outside whenever possible. Ensure that all fuel-burning appliances are properly installed, used, adjusted, and maintained.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds evaporate into the air when these products are used or sometimes even when they are stored. VOCs irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some of them can cause cancer.
VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products used in homes including:
- Paints and lacquers
- Paint strippers
- Cleaning supplies
- Varnishes and waxes
- Building materials and furnishings
- Office equipment
- Moth repellents
- Air fresheners
- Dry-cleaned clothing
Read more about volatile organic compounds from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Read and follow all directions and warnings on common household products. Assure there is fresh air and ventilation when painting, remodeling, or using other products that may release VOCs. Never mix products, such as household cleaners, unless directed to do so on the label. Store household products that contain chemicals according to manufacturers’ instructions. Keep all products away from children.
Asthma triggers are commonly found in homes, schools and offices and include mold, dust mites, secondhand smoke, and pet dander. Other common asthma triggers include some foods and pollutants in the air.
Asthma triggers cause symptoms including coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and breathing problems. An asthma attack occurs when symptoms keep getting worse or are suddenly very severe. Asthma attacks can be life threatening. However, asthma is controllable with the right medicines and by reducing asthma triggers.
Read more about asthma triggers from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmental asthma triggers are found around the home and can be eliminated with these simple steps:
- Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.
- Dust and clean your home regularly.
- Clean up mold and fix water leaks.
- Wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water.
- Use allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom and off soft furniture.
- Control pests—close cracks and crevices and seal leaks; don’t leave food out.
Children are especially sensitive to secondhand smoke, which can trigger asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Molds are living things that produce spores. Molds produce spores that float in the air, land on damp surfaces, and grow.
Inhaling or touching molds can cause hay fever-type symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rashes. Molds can also trigger asthma attacks.
Read more about molds from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The key to mold control is moisture control. If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and fix the water problem. It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.