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Causes of air pollution
Detoxify your air - Causes of air pollution - Air filters, purifiers

We live in the ocean of air, the very first necessity supporting our lives. Yet, we managed to have it heavily polluted. Main causes of air pollution, at large, are industrial and vehicular emission. Widely dispersed outdoor air contaminants in any given area easily find their way into closed spaces, where we live and work.

Needles to say, health effects of air pollution are a major concern. Especially so for indoor air pollution, since the outdoor air contaminants are now combined with indoor contaminants, which can be particulates (combustion particles, dust, heavy metals), gaseous (VOC, combustion gasses, cigarette smoke, pesticides, radon) and bio-contaminants (mold spores, animal dander, dust mites and others).

Particulate air-contaminants

These include anything from plain dust to microscopic combustion produced particulates. They can be contaminated with toxic residues, like pesticides and insecticides, led and mercury (in old paints), arsenic in chemically treated lumber, and others.

Consumers in the U.S. buy (and presumably use) hundreds of millions pounds of pesticides every year. Many are not aware of their potential toxicity; it is estimated that as toxic organochlorines as DDT and chlordane - banned decades ago - are still being used in hundreds of thousands of U.S. households. Use of pesticides - even generally less toxic organophosphates - always puts you at risk.

The most vulnerable, as usual, are children. One study has shown that the probability of soft-tissue sarcoma in children from households where lawn pesticides are used is four times higher than in homes not using them. This illustrates well the pesticide danger, especially if it is ignored, or neglected.

Gaseous air-contaminants

Outgassing VOC: Nearly all materials outgas at room temperature. Toxic emission consists mainly from volatile organic compounds (VOC), released by synthetic materials. VOCs levels in an average home are 10-30 times the outdoor level (0.1mg/m3), while some closed spaces (typically stores) can have up to 1000 times the outdoor air VOC saturation.

There is ample evidence that outgassing VOC can cause a wide variety of symptoms, from eye and upper respiratory tract irritation, confusion, dizziness, chest tightness and headache, to skin eruptions, joint and muscle pain, asthma attack, depression, seizures and even death. Besides eliminating worst offenders (carpets, particle boards, soft plastics, rubber and foam) from your home, there are a few more things that you can do.

One is to make sure that your indoor temperature and humidity - they both stimulate VOC outgassing - are at the low optimum.

The other is to make bedrooms in your home as VOC-free as possible. That pretty much means throwing out everything but the bed: carpeting, clothing and shoes, plastics, chemically treated materials, as well as making the bed itself VOC-free (no synthetics, glues, chemicals, VOC-emitting mattresses - and so on). Make sure that no "sink materials" are left behind, to reemit VOCs they absorb and store. If you can't do it 100%, do as close to it as you can. 

This will give to your body much needed toxin-free break, when it helps most. Chances are, you'll notice that you sleep better as well.

Finally, use efficient air-filtration, capable of removing VOCs. If you only can afford a single unit, put it in your bedroom.

Radon, a radioactive gas, can sometimes outgas from building materials, but usually it emanates from the soil, being pulled into a building, or a house, whenever it gets depressurized. Then it accumulates in spaces - mostly basements or ground level - that are not well ventilated.

Most of the U.S. soil outgases radon, although the rate varies significantly. For instance, while it is estimated that 1 in every 15 homes in the U.S. has high radon levels (above 4pCi/L, or 148Bq/m3), there are areas where the majority of homes and buildings have radon accumulation above acceptable level.

Why should you worry about radon? It is linked to lung cancer: EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that it causes some 20,000 lung cancers every year. To assess your risk, have radon levels in your home measured. If it is significant, the easiest way minimize the risk is by ensuring good ventilation. You can also seal off the bottom floor or, if sealing can not be done efficiently enough, build some sort of radon-removal system.

If you are smoker, it is one more good reason for you to quit. Cigarette smoke increases the risk of radon induced lung cancer 15-fold. This is just one example of how synergistic effect of two or more toxic contaminants can create much higher risk of suffering a disease.

Combustion gasses: Most of the common house combustion gases are produced by burning heating materials and fuel (oil, wood, coal, etc.). Specific gases and concentrations depend on the material burned, but mainly include carbon monoxide (from incomplete combustion), carbon dioxide (unvented kerosene space heaters), sulfur dioxide (from sulfur-containing fuels) and nitrogen dioxide (most fuels and cigarettes).

Tobacco smoke contains over 40 carcinogens, and wood smoke is almost as toxic.


Common indoor air bio-contaminants are mold spores, animal dander and dust mites, whose microscopic feces become airborne and, when inhaled, can cause allergic reaction. Biological indoor air contaminants can trigger variety of symptoms, from coughing and sneezing to skin rashes, breathing difficulties (asthma), fatigue and depression. In children, mold sensitivity can cause hyperactivity.

Animal dander is the most obvious, and the easiest contaminant to deal with. It is also limited to households having animals in their living space. Both, mold spores and dust mites is more widespread, and harder to detect.

Use Petri dish (mold plate) to find out how much of fungal growth - and what mold types - you have in your bedroom. Mold will grow on surfaces with relative humidity exceeding 70%. If you identify those surfaces and lower surface humidity - either by lowering humidity level in the whole house, or by increasing the surface temperature, or both - mold will go dormant and will stop producing spores.

Another way to suppress fungal growth is to leave an open bowl with a mixture of 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of Clorox in a closed room for two days (be sure to avoid inhaling the fumes)11.

To inactivate dust mites, relative humidity of indoor air needs to be below 40%.