HomeHealthArchivesNov 2004


Common Indoor Pollutants

Recurring colds or allergies, chronic headaches, and overall sluggishness may be a symptom that your house is not well-literally. Indoor toxins are prevalent in modern, energy-efficient homes. Pollutants in your house can reach levels up to 100 times higher than those out-of-doors.

Here is a list of common indoor toxins of which to be aware. Most of these do not present eminent danger, but with continued exposure, can affect your health long-term.

        o  Molds, animal hair, dust mites, and other common pollutants can exacerbate allergies and trigger asthma attacks. Old carpeting, dusty window sills, and furniture upholstery can house these irritating toxins.

        o  Lead is one of the most talked about poisonous chemicals, especially if you have kids. Brain injury and slower cognitive skills are often the result of continuous lead exposure. Lead pollution is commonly found in drinking water systems with lead pipes and lead-based paint that is peeling or chipping.

        o  Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that can cause headaches, sluggishness, heart problems, and even death. Gas appliances that fail to burn fuel properly can emit carbon monoxide.

        o  Asbestos, a natural mineral, used to be an ingredient in building materials for houses. Inhalation of this fiber can cause lung cancer. The use of asbestos was prohibited in the late 1980s.

        o  Radon leaks in your house pose the same danger as if you had a nuclear waste site in your basement. Alarmingly high numbers of U.S. homes contain radioactive radon, which is second to smoking as the leading cause of lung cancer.

        o  Nitrates, pesticides, poisonous fertilizers, and bacteria are often found in privately monitored water wells. All of these substances can cause serious illness. Water supplies in shallow, old, or unlined wells are usually targets of contaminated drinking water.

To receive information on testing pollutants in your home, contact the Environmental Protection Agency's Public Information Center, Mail Code PM-211B, 401 M St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20460. Health officials can recommend test kits, complimentary services, and practical steps to take.