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What is indoor air pollution? PDF Print E-mail

Most of us are familiar with outdoor air pollution because we can often see it as a brown haze hanging in the sky, especially if you live in the city. Outdoor air pollution is measured by a ‘pollution index’ and on high pollution days people are advised to ‘stay indoors’, especially if they have asthma or other respiratory diseases.

Less obvious is the level of air pollution indoors. Studies have shown that the air inside buildings, including our homes, can often be many more times polluted than the air outside. This isn’t surprising when you consider that the air inside is a combination of the air outside with all the pollution generated indoors.

Indoor air pollutants occur within buildings or other enclosed spaces such as cars. Pollutants occur because of the things we do inside like cleaning and pest control as well as what personal care products we might use. These chemical-containing products release their ingredients into the air and create indoor pollution.

Another important source of indoor chemical pollution comes from the very materials our homes and offices are made from like paint and reconstituted timbers, and the furnishings we put inside such as carpets and cabinetry.

Some examples of indoor air pollutants include carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, pesticides, solvents, fragrance and cleaners. Often these chemical pollutants are grouped together and referred to as volatile organic compounds or VOCs for short.

Why should we be concerned?

“The air within homes can be more polluted than the outdoor air. Although we spend most of our time indoors, the focus tends to be on outdoor air quality. Design that is sensitive to air quality issues can have a major impact on our health and wellbeing.” Your Home Technical Manual

In urbanised societies such as Australia, people are spending more and more time indoors whether it’s at home, work or in cars and other transport. On average, the Australian population now spends approximately 57% of its time at home, 14% at work/school, 5% in transit, 2% shopping and 18% recreating. Clearly the air we breathe in these environments needs to be healthy or else we will be constantly breathing in a chemical soup.

Indoor chemical pollution is also recognised as a significant health risk to children by the World Health Organisation. Studies by the US Environment Protection Agency and its Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.

Further information see:

“State of Knowledge Report: Air Toxics and Indoor Air Quality in Australia” , Environment Australia, 2001

Your Home Technical Manual, IAQ Fact Sheet

US Environment Protection Agency, "Targeting Indoor Air Pollution: EPA's Approach and Progress"

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