What’s Your I.A.Q.? (Indoor Air Quality)

If you’ve heard of “sick building syndrome,” you are probably aware that workspaces can contribute to adverse health effects, such as headaches and dizziness, nausea, eye, nose or throat irritation, difficulty concentrating, allergies, long-lasting colds, flu-like symptoms, asthma, and more. But it’s not just office buildings that cause these problems. Apartments and single-family homes can cause similar symptoms. It’s important to know that these health effects may not show up right away; they may be experienced soon after exposure, or years later. And while pollutant levels from one source on its own may not pose a significant health risk, the cumulative effects of multiple pollutants from multiple sources, can be serious. While outdoor air pollution receives plenty of attention — the toxic smog in Beijing, for example — scientific evidence points to a likelihood that indoor air may be more seriously polluted. And with research showing that people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, improving indoor air quality (IAQ) is crucial.

The factors that may be responsible for health risks include: chemical and biological contaminants (everything from volatile organic compounds in carpets and upholstery, combustion by-products such as fireplaces, dryers and stoves, and dust, dust mites and mold); and inadequate ventilation to remove these contaminants. Good indoor air quality, as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, calls for “comfortable temperature and humidity, adequate supply of fresh outdoor air, and control of pollutants from inside and outside of the building.”

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to improve indoor air quality, including eliminating individual sources of pollution, increasing the amount of outdoor air coming indoors (as long as it’s clean), and controlling temperature and humidity levels. An air purifier can help, too. For dealing with particulate matter, such as mold, mildew, dust mites and animal dander, look for a quality HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter and avoid ozone generators. Ozone is an airborne pollutant and can cause respiratory health problems.