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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 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?

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
  • 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 effect of secondhand smoke on human health. 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 effect of molds on human health. 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 effect of indoor air pollution on human health. 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, major pollutants and their sources, effects on human health, a glossary of relevant terms, and links to additional information.

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
  • 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 effects of air pollution on human health. 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

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 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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