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Indoor Air Pollution

Describes chemical and biological indoor air pollutants.

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How do you paint safely?

If you are painting indoors, there are more important concerns than just getting messy. You should also be concerned about breathing in the fumes from the paints. Making sure to get plenty of fresh air while painting is very important. Paint fumes can have serious health effects. Paint fumes are just one example of indoor air pollution.

Indoor Air Pollution

Recall that air pollution is due to chemical substances and particles released into the air mainly by human actions. When most people think of air pollution, they think of the pollution outdoors. But it is just as easy to have indoor air pollution. Your home or school classroom probably doesn't get much fresh air. Sealing up your home reduces heating and cooling costs. But this also causes air pollution to stay trapped indoors. And people today usually spend a majority of their time indoors. So exposure to indoor air pollution can become a significant health risk.

Indoor air pollutants include both chemical and biological pollutants. Chemical pollutants include the following:

  • Radon, a radioactive gas released from the Earth in certain locations. It can become trapped inside buildings and increase your risk of cancer.
  • Formaldehyde, a toxic gas emitted from building materials, such as carpeting and plywood.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are given off by paint and solvents as they dry. They can cause cause long-term health effects.
  • Secondhand smoke, which comes from breathing the smoke release from tobacco products. Secondhand smoke is also the smoke exhaled by a cigarette smoker. This smoke is extremely dangerous to human health.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO), a toxic gas released by burning fossil fuels. It is often released indoors by faulty chimneys, gas-powered generators, or burning charcoal; it can be extremely dangerous.
  • Dry cleaning fluids, such as tetrachloroethylene, which can be released from clothing days after dry cleaning.
  • The past use of asbestos in factories and in homes. Asbestos is a very dangerous material, and it was used in many buildings (Figure below). Asbestos can cause cancer and other lung diseases. The use of asbestos is not allowed today.

The use of asbestos in industry and domestic environments in the past, as in the asbestos-covered pipes in the oil-refining plant pictured here, has left a potentially very dangerous material in many businesses.

Biological sources of air pollution are also found indoors. These are produced from:

  • Pet dander.
  • Dust from tiny skin flakes and decomposed hair.
  • Dust mites.
  • Mold from walls, ceilings, and other structures.
  • Air conditioning systems that can incubate certain bacteria and mold.
  • Pollen, dust, and mold from houseplants, soil, and surrounding gardens.

Limiting Exposure

Can you avoid indoor air pollution? You can't go to school outside. But it is possible to reduce your exposure to air pollution. Some tips to decrease indoor air pollution include:

  • Using less toxic chemicals when possible.
  • Limiting your exposure to pesticides and cleaning fluids by keeping them in a garage or shed.
  • When using toxic chemicals, allowing fresh air to circulate through open windows and doors.
  • Having detectors for radon and carbon monoxide in your home.

What else could you do to reduce your exposure to air pollution?


  • air pollution: Pollution caused by chemical substances and particles released into the air mainly by human actions, such as the burning of fossil fuels.
  • asbestos: Material used as insulation in older buildings; increases risk of cancer.
  • carbon monoxide: Toxic gas released from burning fossil fuels; can accumulate indoors when using gas-powered generators or burning charcoal.
  • indoor air pollution: Chemical substances and particles released into the inside air.
  • radon: Radioactive gas released from the Earth in certain locations; can become trapped inside buildings and increase your risk of cancer.
  • secondhand smoke: Smoke given off by a burning tobacco product, and the smoke exhaled by a smoker.
  • volatile organic compounds: Chemicals that can have long-term health effects such as those given off from paint and solvents as they dry.


  • Sources of indoor air pollution can include radon gas, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compound (VOCs).
  • Biological sources of air pollution include molds, pollen, and pet dander.


Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. How does the way most Americans spend their time make indoor air quality a pertinent health concern? What other countries do you think share this problem?
  2. How do you think geographic latitude affects concerns about indoor air quality?
  3. What are the for "P's" in indoor air quality investigations? How does this information help solve problems with indoor air quality?


  1. What are some sources of indoor air pollution?
  2. List two things you could do to minimize your exposure indoor air pollution.

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