Skip to main content
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 these toxic pollutants can increase the chance of health problems. 

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

See also: Ammonia Arsenic Benzene Cadmium Carbon Dioxide Chromium Diesel Dioxins Endocrine Disruptors Formaldehyde Gasoline Methane Nitrogen Oxides 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)

What is it?

Indoor air pollution can come from: 

  • 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 come 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 is toxic and can poison and kill people who breathe it.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
  • Indoor Air Pollution. Environmental Health Student Portal

    An entry on indoor air pollution from an online portal connecting middle school students and their teachers to environmental health information. This entry includes background information, links to relevant resources, videos, and teaching tools.

  • Asthma

    Curated links to current consumer health information on asthma. These English and Spanish web resources include background information; diagnosis and tests; prevention and risk factors; treatments and therapies; information on living with asthma; related issues; specifics; genetics; images; health check tools; videos and tutorials; statistics and research; clinical trials; journal articles; relevant organizations and agencies; targeted information for children, women and seniors; and patient handouts.

  • Indoor Air Pollution: Health Information Resources

    Links to English and Spanish health resources on indoor air pollution, including background information; glossaries; research; specific environments; biological and chemical agents; topic-related searches from the National Library of Medicine; and blogs, news, podcasts, and videos.

  • Secondhand Smoke

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the health effects of secondhand smoke. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, prevention and risk factors, related issues, statistics and research, clinical trials, journal articles, relevant agencies and organizations, targeted resources for teenagers and women, and patient handouts.

  • Molds

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the health effects of molds. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, related issues, specifics, images, statistics and research, journal articles, relevant organizations and agencies, and patient handouts.

  • Household Products Database

    Database for household products that includes information on manufacturer, ingredients, potential health effects, and how to handle and dispose of them safely.

  • Indoor Air Pollution

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the health effects of indoor air pollution. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, prevention and risk factors, related issues, specifics, statistics and research, clinical trials, journal articles, relevant agencies and organizations, and targeted resources for children.

Additional Resources
  • Mold (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)

    Information on mold, including health effects associated with exposure, tips for removing mold from your home, and links to research efforts and additional resources, from a federal institute that investigates the interplay between environmental exposures, human biology, genetics, and common diseases to help prevent disease and improve human health.

  • The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality (Environmental Protection Agency)

    A booklet on indoor air quality that includes information on causes, sources of major air pollutants, health effects,and their sources, a glossary of relevant terms, and links to additional information.

Science Classroom (Grades 6-8)

Enhance your education on toxic chemicals in our environment using lesson plans, games and activities, videos, informational websites, and more.

Why Study Indoor Air Pollution?
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
A lesson and activities that teach students in middle and high school about health effects associated with indoor air pollution.

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 pulltants in outdoor air 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
  • Outdoor Air Pollution. Environmental Health Student Portal

    An entry on outdoor air pollution from an online portal connecting middle school students and their teachers to environmental health information. This entry includes background information, links to relevant resources, games and activities, videos, experiments and projects, and tools for educators.

  • Outdoor Air: Health Information Resources

    Links to health resources in English and Spanish about outdoor air, including background information; data; laws, regulations, and policy; specific chemicals; topic-related searches from the National Library of Medicine; portals; blogs, news, podcasts, and videos; and selection guidelines.

  • Air Pollution

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the health effects of air pollution. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, prevention and risk factors, related issues, specifics, statistics and research, clinical trials, journal articles, relevant organizations and agencies, and targeted information for children and teenagers.

  • Ozone

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the effect of ozone exposure on human health, including background information, related issues, clinical trials, journal articles, targeted resources for children.

Additional Resources

Science Classroom (Grades 6-8)

Enhance your education on toxic chemicals in our environment using lesson plans, games and activities, videos, informational websites, and more.

Air Pollution and Illness
CK-12
Discussion questions, study guides, and lesson plans that address indoor and outdoor air pollution's effects on human health.
Air Pollution: What's the Solution? For Teachers
Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, Stevens Institute of Technology
 Teachers' materials for a curriculum for students in grades 6-12 that includes lessons about ground-level ozone and particulate matter.
eCYBERMISSION
Army Educational Outreach Program
A web-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) competition to solve an environmental problem in the community, for students in sixth through ninth grade. 
Helping to Find a Solution to Air Pollution!
Pima County, Arizona
An activity in which students write letters about ways that they can reduce air pollution in their communities. 
Kids Environment Kids Health
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
An online repository of digital games and educational materials related to health, science, and the environment for elementary school students, parents, and teachers. 
Lesson: The Air We Breathe
TeachEngineering, University of Colorado Boulder
A lesson plan and accompanying activities that teach students to identify major causes and characteristics of air pollution, and technologies developed by engineers to reduce it. 
Lesson: What's Air Got to Do with It? Properties & Quality
TeachEngineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Lesson plans, worksheets, and activities that teach students to identify causes, effects, and sources of air pollution, and the role of engineers in reducing pollution's harmful impacts.
There's Something in the Air
BioEd Online
A lesson plan and activity that models the movement of various pollutions through the air, for students in third through fifth grade.
Trees and Air Quality
Wisconsin Green Schools Network
A hands-on activity for students in fourth through ninth grade that addresses  how trees benefit air quality. 
Understanding Air: Air Pollution and Modeling Pollutants with LEGO® Bricks
PBS LearningMedia
 A lesson that teaches students how to model pollution and incomplete combustion using LEGO® bricks, and explores how air pollutants affect human health.
Weather's Role - Air Pollution: What's the Solution?
Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, Stevens Institute of Technology
Activity for students in grades 6-12 to determine the role of weather in air pollution, and make comparisons and determinations about ozone levels. 

Reduce your risk

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. 

  • 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 air 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.
Back to top