Most Common Indoor Air Pollutants and Your Health

indoor air pollutants

Is the Indoor Air You Breathe Healthy?

According to the World Health Organization, 40% of all buildings pose a serious health hazard due to indoor air pollutants. The EPA calls indoor air pollution the #1 pollution problem in America. The following is a list of common indoor air pollutants and some of their sources.



The most common indoor air pollutants are:

  • Dust, Pollen and Other Allergens
  • Chemical Fumes and Vapors
  • Mold and Fungus
  • Toxic Gases
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Smoke
  • Odors
  • Outdoor Pollution


Allergies are a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system, an over-reaction to foreign substances. When the body overreacts to common substances such as dust, fibers, animal dander, pollen, molds etc. it puts undue stress on your immune system. This makes you more susceptible to dangerous attacks by harmful viruses, bacteria, molds, and fungi etc. Many people suffer from allergy symptoms. This can unknowingly drain their energy and take a toll on their immune system.


Indoor air pollutants can sometimes exceed OSHA PELS (permissible exposure limits) established for jobsite safety. Many of the new synthetic fibers and fabrics, plastics, insulation materials, glues and other adhesives, solvents, paints, stains, cleaning substances, plug-in and stand alone chemical deodorizers, and various aerosols have been linked to the “sick building” phenomenon. Building materials such as plywood and particle board as well as carpeting, cabinetry and upholstered furnishings all have that initial “new car” smell. These contain formaldehyde and fire retardants as a built-in component.  Used inside the home or office these materials add potentially harmful chemical fumes and vapors to the indoor air you breathe.


Mold and fungus can be more than an unsightly nuisance indoors.  Some have been shown to be opportunistic pathogens that can cause many ills. These can range from athlete’s foot to potentially deadly Aspergillosis. Many if not most molds are allergenic. Some even produce mycotoxins (fungal poisons) under the right (wrong?) conditions. Molds thrive on moisture and are often visible around bathroom fixtures.  Dangerous molds can grow in unseen places like air conditioners, humidifiers and heat exchangers and find their way into the air you breathe.


Toxic gases like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen can be produced by fireplaces or such appliances as gas stoves, heaters and kerosene heaters, as well as by internal combustion equipment operated in attached garages. These gases can be fatal in large amounts. Such concentrations are generally unlikely in a home.  However, even in small doses they can inhibit healthy respiration and drain your energy.


Bacterial infections are also common indoor air pollutants. This is because bacteria are so abundant in our environment. The over-use and abuse of antibiotics in our society has led to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We will likely see more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the future along with a more careful dispensing of antibiotic medicines.


Viral infections are on the rise for similar reasons to those mentioned above. Viral mutations occur every day. Weakened immune systems provide the means for proliferation of many seemingly new viruses that actually have been around for a long time. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is also known as the mononucleosis virus. It often lies dormant in the body, activating when the immune system is weakened. EBV has been linked to the increasing number of cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and may be evidence of the immunological deficit our society is in from over-exposure to toxins.


350,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses. This includes cancers, emphysema, and heart disease. Cigarette smoke ages the lungs and respiratory system. It contains over 3,000 toxic chemicals and gases. Passive (second-hand) smoking has been linked to increased cancer, heart disease and lung disease. Involuntary smokers have been shown to have decreased respiratory function and increased respiratory illnesses.


Besides being annoying, unpleasant odors have been shown to have a direct affect on emotions. The olfactory nerves are closely tied in with the endocrine system which controls our emotional states. The same way the smell of a particular perfume may bring back the memory of a special night, offensive odors (even ones which you might have become accustomed to) can dramatically influence the way you feel and act. Spray deodorants only cover up odors and often add to indoor air pollution.


If that weren’t enough, most outdoor air pollution finds it way indoors. 98% of our air pollution is made up of five major pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. While outside pollution has diminished in most areas in recent decades, it can still pose health risks for some.


Make a conscious decision to only bring healthy materials into your home.  Remember that fresh air is our ally and open the windows whenever you can.  Keep indoor humidity levels below 60% to minimize chemical off-gassing and prevent mold and bacteria growth.  To monitor humidity, pick up a portable weather station from your local retail or discount stores or online.  They cost as little as $15.00.  You can also bring in outdoor air into your HVAC system using a supplemental dehumidifier and air exchange system.


Indoor Environmental Technologies’ (IET) inspection and testing methods give our clients their baseline indoor air quality (IAQ) levels and the necessary recommendations to make informed decisions on how to maximize the IAQ and building health within their home or office. Our IAQ testing services are provided in the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida. Visit our IAQ Testing service page for more info.


This information was drawn from the German discipline Bau-Biology Building (Biology in English) Course Curriculum of the late 1990’s and is as true today as it was back then.  For more information on Building Biology refer to their website at the Healthy Building Environmental Learning Center at

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