Everyone has seen mold on a piece of old bread, but the airborne mold spores that affect indoor air quality are far less visible. That’s why it is important to use a professional service that offers observation, data collection and testing with an experienced interpreter.
Healthy, comfortable indoor air is all about balance. Chemical and biological pollutants, building pressurization and ventilation, temperature and humidity all play a role.
Allergens are substances that trigger an immune response in a susceptible individual. When someone with allergies inhales an allergen, his or her immune system will react to the foreign substance by secreting antibodies that attack it and cause irritation in the body’s tissues, skin, airways and mucous membranes. Some of the most common allergens are pollen, fungus spores, dust mites, animal epithelial materials, chemicals and some drugs and insect venoms.
If you’re prone to allergic reactions, your symptoms may start within hours of exposure to an allergen. Your allergy symptoms might be mild or severe and can interfere with your daily life. It’s important to identify the source of your allergy problems so you can take preventive measures and limit exposure to allergens in the future.
When you’re not sure what’s causing your health symptoms, an expert in indoor air quality testing can help. A professional will not only collect samples and use testing equipment, but they’ll also assess potential problem areas in your home and provide you with a comprehensive assessment of the situation and recommendations on how to address it. A trained and experienced professional can spot a lot of things that untrained individuals might miss, like storing bleach and ammonia next to each other (which creates an unpleasant odor).
Indoor pollution comes from many sources. Emissions from fireplaces and stoves, radon gas, cleaning products, newer building materials and even secondhand smoke from cigarette smoking are all common causes of indoor air pollution. When these pollutants are not properly ventilated, they can lead to health issues for older adults and children, especially those with respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. You breathe between 17,280 and 23,040 breaths every day, so it’s vital to understand the importance of proper ventilation and identifying air pollutants before they can affect your health. That’s why it’s so important to have a trained and knowledgeable professional conduct an indoor air quality test for you. An independent contractor who only offers testing and assessment services, not remediation or repairs, will ensure that you’re getting unbiased information. Whether you’re concerned about allergies, VOCs or other contaminants, a professional will be able to pinpoint the problems and give you the advice and tools you need to fix them.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemical vapors that off-gas from a variety of common household and office products. They can be found in paints and varnishes, degreasers, cleaning and cosmetic products and even in some building materials and furnishings. Inhaling VOCs can cause a number of short-term symptoms including eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, headache and nausea. They may also be linked to long-term liver, kidney and central nervous system damage.
These toxic vapors are found throughout the house and workplace, but concentrations tend to be higher indoors than outdoors. That’s because they are released when these products and materials are used, as well as when they are exposed to sunlight or if the products or materials are stored for long periods of time. VOCs are often odorless, so it is difficult to know how much is present.
Many of these chemicals are emitted from dry cleaners, auto-body shops and painting and coating facilities. They are also a frequent pollutant at sites where chemical spills have contaminated soil and groundwater, where they leach into the water supply wells and degrade indoor air quality through a process called vapor intrusion.
VOCs are a large part of the pollution that makes up photochemical smog. This is the kind of pollution that can contribute to asthma and other respiratory illnesses, especially in children and adults with underlying health conditions.
There are a number of ways to reduce the presence of VOCs in your home and workspace. You can choose to use only products that are labeled as low in VOCs, such as natural latex paints. You can also ensure that the products you do use are diluted with water or another solvent, and that they are properly stored after each use.
The best way to avoid high levels of VOCs is to ensure that the area where you work or play is well ventilated. This can be done by opening windows and doors, using exhaust fans, and using a humidifier when the air is very dry. It’s also important to ensure that any damp areas are dried promptly to prevent mold from growing.
A variety of fungal species produce microscopic spores that waft through the air and settle on damp spots or surfaces. If not cleaned up or prevented, they can grow and digest whatever they touch — including the air — creating toxic compounds called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including respiratory distress and immunological disorders like CIRS.
Using a test kit that includes mold swabs or tape strips, a trained indoor environmental professional will collect potential contaminants from surfaces in your home. This may include counters, floors, walls, or furnishings. These tests are relatively quick and easy to perform, though they won’t tell you the exact type of mold present in your home. Air samples are also taken to determine the number and types of mold spores in your home’s atmosphere. These samples are typically compared to outdoor samples from the same area. If the spore counts are different or the type of spores is toxigenic, this indicates an abnormal indoor fungal ecology that needs to be assessed and remedied.
Mold spores can trigger symptoms in people of all ages, but they are particularly dangerous for those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing respiratory conditions. These people can experience a wide array of physical complaints, from respiratory distress to neuropsychological dysfunction and even cancer.
Whether or not you believe that there is a serious problem, the nose is a good indicator of the presence of mold and other air pollutants. Musty, mildewy, and other strange smells may indicate a build-up of fungi or a specific type of mold. These odors may also suggest that moisture or condensation is present, which can cause significant damage to building materials over time and lead to the growth of other toxins. Air testing can help to identify serious pollutants, but it is important to always combine this with a visual inspection and an assessment of your home’s underlying condition. The combination of these steps will provide you with a complete picture of your indoor environment and how it affects your health.
While mold, radon and VOCs get most of the attention when it comes to home air quality issues, it’s not just these specific pollutants that have an effect. Other factors such as humidity can directly impact your health.
Indoor humidity affects how much moisture is in the air and how comfortable your environment feels. It also plays a role in the level of particulate matter in the air. Particulate matter consists of tiny, invisible particles like pollen, dust, ash, spores and smoke. These particles can get past our natural defense systems and be breathed deep into the lungs. Over time, these particles can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches, fatigue and itchy red skin.
Humidity also impacts the function of chemical pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone, environmental tobacco smoke and radon. The relative humidity of the air has an important influence on these chemicals’ concentrations and how they interact with each other and water vapor to create respiratory and dermal irritants. Water vapor interactions with these contaminants start to become a problem above 30% RH.
High humidity can also increase the amount of allergens and other airborne pollutants in your home. It increases the risk of mold, mildew and dust mites and can cause many different respiratory problems, allergies and asthma. Humid air also reduces air circulation and traps pollutants and other harmful particles inside, making it harder to clean your home properly.
Many home improvement and building contractors are now incorporating various practices that decrease the chance of poor indoor air quality in new homes or buildings. For example, builders can use proper ventilation practices, seal foundations and include radon-reducing features. They can also install mechanical ventilation systems that introduce fresh air into spaces using ducts and fans, rather than relying on gaps in doors and windows to bring in the outside.
As a homeowner, you should consider all the factors that impact your home’s indoor air quality and take preventive measures to improve it. Consider an indoor air quality test kit or monitor to determine if you need further testing for specific pollutants. It’s estimated that each person takes 17,280 to 23,040 breaths every day, so it’s worth taking the time to ensure that your air is healthy.