Published on 10/19/99

Poor Indoor Air Quality a Serious Health Hazard

Mention air pollution, and most people think of factories, freeways and foul-smelling smog. But many pollutants are inside your home.

"Carbon monoxide, radon, lead, asbestos, molds, mildew and tobacco smoke all contribute to poor indoor air quality," said Jorge Atiles of the University of Georgia.

Atiles is an Extension Service housing specialist and assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. He said these indoor health hazards can lead to increased respiratory infections and asthma, and even worse. "People can die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning," Atiles said.

October Emphasis in Georgia

To call attention to indoor-air-related illnesses, Gov. Roy Barnes declared October to be "Home Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month" in Georgia.

Atiles said his college has joined state and federal agencies, and community, industry and environmental groups to help combat the problems.

The goal, he said, is to help people learn how to assess home and office air quality and combat the problems associated with poor air quality. It's part of the national program, "Healthy Indoor Air for America's Homes."

Secondhand Tobacco Smoke

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Photo: Dan Rahn

Parents' commitment to smoke outside can spare their children the respiratory infections related to secondhand smoke.

Some indoor air problems are easy to reduce, Atiles said. Secondhand tobacco smoke is a good example.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 7,500 to 15,000 children under 18 months are hospitalized each year for severe respiratory infections as a result of second-hand smoke," Atiles said.

"If parents would commit to stepping outside when they smoke and not smoke in their cars, we could tremendously reduce these problems," he said.

Allergies, Asthma, Molds & Mildew

Indoor air greatly affects allergies and asthma, too. More than 50 million Americans suffer from these diseases. The EPA figures about 4,000 die each year from asthma.

Pollen and outdoor air pollution influence these diseases, of course. But many problems are found inside homes and schools.

High humidity indoors, for instance, can make molds and mildew grow more, triggering asthma attacks.

"Dealing effectively with allergies and asthma requires a combination of efforts that include appropriate medical care," Atiles said.

People, though, can do much more than just go to the doctor. Atiles cites two things that reduce indoor molds and mildew. One, keep indoor humidity levels low. And two, regularly change or clean heating and air-conditioning filters.

"These simple things can make a tremendous difference in the seriousness of these diseases," he said.

Carbon Monoxide Deadly

Carbon monoxide can be one of the home's deadliest pollutants. But it's one of the easiest to deal with. The colorless, odorless gas kills by blocking the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Fuel-burning furnaces, water heaters, ranges, space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces can produce it.

Here are the best ways to keep carbon monoxide from becoming a problem, Atiles said.

  • Have a qualified technician clean and check your heating system each year.
  • Make sure the chimney flue is open when you start a fire.
  • Maintain a fresh air supply anytime you use fuel-fired space heaters.
  • Use a vent fan whenever you use your kitchen stove top.
  • Never let a car warm up in an attached garage without opening the garage door.

Extension Service Contacts

In Georgia, the UGA Extension Service is the contact for the "Healthy Indoor Air for America's Homes" program. FACS county agents can tell you more about making sure the air in your home is clean and healthy.

Contact your county Extension Service agent. And visit this national Web site: .

Denise Horton is the public relations coordinator for the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.