Indoor air pollution is a much more serious problem than outdoor air pollution. Even when indoor pollution levels are lower than outdoor levels, exposures can be significant because people spend so much time indoors; average Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors.
Indoor pollution levels usually exceed outdoor levels because building materials and consumer products exude chemicals into the air, and because air gets trapped inside buildings. The average American home now uses 45 different products packaged as aerosol sprays. Increasingly, people cook their food and heat their homes with unvented stoves and kerosene heaters. Carpeting, wallboard, paint, and spackling compounds all give off toxic fumes.
Showering, bathing, washing dishes, washing clothes, and flushing toilets can release water pollutants into the air indoors. Air exposure from water-borne chemicals is much greater than from drinking contaminated water. Your lungs are designed to transfer chemicals efficiently between the air and your blood stream. Because of the complex structure of the inner surface of the lungs, they present a very large surface to the atmosphere (an area as large as two tennis courts).
Indoor levels of formaldehyde, radon, asbestos, mercury, and a variety of organic chemicals have been measured in homes at levels exceeding federal standards.
Solutions to these problems require less use of toxics in home products and other changes.
People wanting more information on these subjects should write Dr. Stanley V. Dawson, Research Division,
California Air Resources Board, P.O. Box 2815, Sacramento, CA 95812 requesting a copy of INDOOR AIR
QUALITY AND PERSONAL EXPOSURE, BRIEFING PAPER dated May, 1987. In addition to an intelligent
overview of the problem, this free 70-page report contains an 8-page bibliography for further reading.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: indoor air pollution; ca; formaldehyde; radon; asbestos; mercury; organic chemicals; carb;