Americans now spend on average 90 percent of their time indoors, being exposed to indoor air contaminants,” Bahnfleth notes. “The sheer exposure time amplifies the significance of any harmful substances in indoor air-but indoor concentrations of some contaminants may also be several times higher than outdoors.” These contaminants are many and varied, including off-gassing of toxic chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from building materials and furniture; carbon monoxide; radon; spores and mycotoxins from mold; pesticides; allergens from pets, insects, dust mites and other sources, and tobacco smoke.
Is a building you inhabit at home or work making you sick? The EPA describes Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) as a situation “in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” Says Bahnfleth, SBS symptoms include headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity. “Because, by definition, there is no apparent cause of SBS, the responses to it may be broad brush, including increasing ventilation rates, looking for contaminant sources that might be a specific cause, and removing contaminant reservoirs such as carpets,” he explains. “In the home, the use of scented candles and air fresheners, cleaning fluids, and other chemicals can be removed to see if symptoms diminish.”
Individuals can take some steps themselves that can make a big difference, he suggests. Get your home tested for radon-and have it radon mitigated professionally if needed; consider investing in air purifiers that can filter out VOCs and fine particles that can deposit deep in the lungs, as well as dehumidifiers to reduce the likelihood of moisture condensation indoors, which promotes mold growth. Other simpler steps involve replacing toxic cleaning products with natural alternatives, not letting your car motor run while in the garage, and even just opening windows more often in your home.