Environment and Ecology

Environmental Challenges

What is indoor air pollution, and how is it caused?

Indoor air pollution, also known as “tight building syndrome,” results from conditions in modern, highly energy-efficient buildings, which have reduced outside air exchange or have inadequate ventilation along with chemical contamination and microbial contamination. Indoor air pollution can produce various symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. In addition, houses are affected by indoor air pollution emanating from consumer and building products and from tobacco smoke. Below are some pollutants found in a typical household:





Old or damaged insulation, fireproofing, or acoustical tile

Many years later, chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases

Biological pollutants

Bacteria, mold and mildew, viruses, animal dander and mites, cockroaches, and diseases

Eye, nose, and throat irritation;shortness of breath; dizziness; lethargy; fever; digestive problems; asthma; pollen influenza and other infectious

Carbon monoxide

Unvented kerosene and gas heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; wood stoves and fireplaces; gas stoves; automobile exhaust from garages; tobacco smoke

At low levels, fatigue; at higher levels, impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Fatal at very high concentrations


Plywood, wall paneling, particle board, fiber-board; foam insulation; fire and tobacco smoke; textiles and glues

Eye, nose, and throat irritations;wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions; may cause cancer


Automobile exhaust; sanding or burning of lead paint; soldering

Impaired mental and physical development in children; decreased coordination and mental abilities; kidneys, nervous system and red blood cell damage


Some latex paints

Vapors can cause kidney damage; long-term exposure can cause brain damage

Nitrogen dioxide

Kerosene heaters and unvented gas stoves and heaters; tobacco smoke

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; may impair lung function and increase respiratory infections in young children

Organic gases

Paints, paint strippers, solvents, and wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents; air fresheners; stored fuels; hobby supplies

Eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and nervous system; some organics cause cancer in animals and are suspected of causing cancer in humans


Products used to kill household pests and products used on lawns or gardens that drift or are tracked inside the house

Irritation to eye, nose, and throat; damage to nervous systems and kidneys; cancer


Earth and rock beneath the home; well water, building materials

No immediate symptoms; estimated to cause about 10 percent of lung cancer deaths; smokers at higher risk


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