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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Air Pollution

About

Air pollution is a mixture of solid particles and gases in the air. Some air pollutants are toxic. Inhaling them can increase the chance of health problems. 

Air pollution isn’t just outside. The air inside buildings can also be polluted and affect your health.

See also: Ammonia Arsenic Benzene Cadmium Carbon Dioxide Chromium Diesel Dioxins Gasoline Methane Ozone Particulate Matter Perchlorate Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Pesticides Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) Radon Sulfur Dioxide Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Nitrogen Oxides Endocrine Disruptors Formaldehyde

What is it?

Sources of indoor air pollution include: 

  • Bacteria, molds, and pollen
  • Burning of fuels and tobacco
  • Building materials and furniture
  • Household products
  • Central heating and cooling systems

In addition, outdoor air pollution can make its way indoors through open windows, doors, and ventilation.

Why is it a concern?

Indoor air pollution can increase the risk of illness. Some health effects may show up shortly after exposure to a pollutant. These include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; headaches; dizziness; and fatigue. 

Other health effects may show up later, including respiratory disease, heart disease, and cancer.

What pollutants are of greatest concern and who is at risk?

Everyone living or working in a building risks exposure to indoor air pollution. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children are at greater risk for illness.
Several indoor air pollutants are linked to cancer, including: 

Exposure to carbon monoxide is also dangerous. This gas has no smell or color and is made any time you burn fuel, such as in stoves or fireplaces. When it builds up indoors, carbon monoxide can poison and kill people who breathe it.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

What is it?

Outdoor air can be polluted with chemicals from vehicles, factories, and other sources. Air pollution can also come from natural sources such as forest fires. 
Common outdoor air pollutants include: 

Why is it a concern?

Outdoor air pollution can cause harmful health effects, including asthma and other respiratory illness, heart disease, and cancer.

What pollutants are of greatest concern and who is at risk?

Some outdoor air pollutants can be more harmful to human health than others. Toxic air pollutants include: 

Contaminated air can affect soil, water, and food. Some pollutants build up in the body tissue of fish or animals after exposure. As a result, people who eat contaminated fish or meat are at greater risk for illness.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

Reduce your risk

  • Do you have asthma or allergies?
  • Do you live in a city with a smog problem?
  • Do you, or does anyone in your household, smoke cigarettes or tobacco products?
  • Do you use chemical products?
  • Have you tested your home for radon?
  • Use proper ventilation indoors when using household chemicals.
  • Eliminate mold and mildew in the home.
  • Make sure all combustion sources, such as stoves, furnaces, space heaters, and chimneys, are properly vented and serviced regularly.
  • Minimize pet hair and dander and particulate matter by keeping homes clean.
  • Use low-VOC paints.
  • Test for radon. 
  • If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Follow local advisories when outdoor levels of pollution/pollen are high or when there is pollution from wildfires. Children and the elderly may be especially sensitive to outdoor pollution levels.
  • When the pollen count is high, shower and change clothing when coming indoors.
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