Researchers uncover air pollution hazards INSIDE carefully monitored homes
12/27/2019 // Janine Acero // Views

The daily commute is stressful in a lot of ways, and at the end of the day, you just can't wait to get home where there are no people in a rush, no noisy cars and most importantly, no deadly fumes from car exhaust. Or so you may think.

A team of researchers from Washington State University (WSU) recently conducted a study on indoor air quality and found that there are alarmingly high levels of air pollutants inside carefully monitored homes. The study was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and was published in the journal Building and Environment.

It's not safer indoors like previously believed

"People think of air pollution as an outdoor problem, but they fail to recognize that they're exposing themselves to much higher emission rates inside their homes," said Tom Jobson, a professor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at WSU. These emissions may come from various sources like chemical products, furniture, building materials and household activities like cooking.

Led by Jobson and graduate student Yibo Huangfu, the WSU researchers investigated a variety of homes that reflect the typical housing styles and age in the US. They found that the levels of pollutants in people's homes varied throughout the day. The researchers recorded the highest levels in the afternoon and the lowest in the early morning.

Formaldehyde levels also increased in a similar manner. The researchers reported that as indoor temperature increased by one degree Celsius, formaldehyde levels also increased by about three to 4.5 parts per billion.


One home, in particular, which was built in the early 1970s, had a gypsum wallboard that emitted high levels of formaldehyde and possibly mercury when heated. The researchers took a sample to the lab for examination. After heating it up, they measured as much as 159 parts per billion of formaldehyde.

Household formaldehyde exposure is not regulated in the U.S., but the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has set four parts per billion as the minimum risk level.

Open your windows

Air pollution is one of the major factors that impact people's health. It has been shown to affect heart, lung, brain and neurological health.

The government has increased regulation of outdoor air pollution, but the same cannot be said regarding air quality inside households.

Construction laws generally require that a house or building be structurally sound, and that odors and humidity should have minimal impact. However, due to the rising problems in air pollution and energy consumption, builders are trying to make homes more airtight, which may be inadvertently contributing to poor indoor air quality.

Inadequate ventilation allows pollutants to reach levels that can pose health problems by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources, and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the area.

"Exposure to these chemicals impacts people's ability to think and learn," said Jobson. "It's important for people to be more cognizant of the risk -- Opening a window is a good thing."

The researchers concluded that builders and manufacturers should find a balance between making energy-efficient homes and protecting people's health. They propose using green building materials to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants.

Causes of poor indoor air quality

There are many sources of indoor air pollution. Those that release gases or particles into the air are the primary contributors to poor indoor air quality. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase the concentration of some pollutants. (Related: The 4 best plants that clean your indoor air.)

Here are some known sources of indoor air pollutants:

  • Tobacco products
  • Fuel-burning combustion appliances (gas stoves, furnace, fireplace, etc.)
  • Building materials and furnishings (asbestos-containing insulation, flooring, upholstery, carpet, furniture, etc.)
  • Household cleaning and maintenance products, personal care products or substances used in hobbies
  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
  • Excess moisture

Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides and outdoor air pollution also contribute to indoor air problems.

Keep a lookout for these sources and start making changes in your home to improve the quality of your indoor air and your health. Visit to learn more.

Sources include: 1 2 3

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