The indoor air environment has been mostly an after-thought in the regulation of products used around the home and workplace. However, the recent litany of concerns involving Chinese dry wall products suggests a need for ongoing vigilance. This article provides a reminder of common indoor air contaminants that may present a risk to companies, workers and consumers as well as suggested actions for mitigation of the risk.

CHINESE DRYWALL

The most recent indoor air concern involves dry wall imported from China. The safety issue involves the presence of volatile chemicals that off-gas from the dry wall. According to the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the dry wall may contain several chemicals of concern, including gases such as hydrogen sulfide. The off-gassing has an unpleasant odor and can corrode copper pipes, wiring, air conditions, and other metals, causing health and safety concerns.

Standard: No specific standards have been established for dry wall. Contact your local health department or pollution control agency to discuss local standards and electrical/fire safety regulations.

Source: Dry wall materials. Off-gassing can worsen as temperature and humidity increase.

Health Effects: Respiratory and lung disease. Can also present a electrical and fire safety risk

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Remove and replace dry wall.

-Inspect electrial piping and metal conduits.

-Take preventive actions for electrical and fire safety.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has set up a Drywall Information Page, which can be found by clicking here: www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall/index.html:

MOLD/BIOLOGICS

Standard: There are no specific standard for most mold, pollen, fungi, dust mites at this time for private residences.

Source: Wet or moist walls, ceilings, carpets, and furniture; poorly maintained humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners; bedding; household pets.

Health Effects: Irritants, allergic response, lung disease.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Install fans and vents in high moisture areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.

-Make sure vents are cleaned out frequently (e.g., clothes dryer vents).

-Maintain proper humidity levels and change filters on humidifiers. Humidifiers are generally set between 30 and 50% for comfort.

-Do not let water collect inside the house.

-Clean, dry or remove water-damaged areas and carpets.

CARBON MONOXIDE

Standard: No specific standard applies. CPSC promotes carbon monoxide safety by raising awareness of CO hazards and the need for correct use and regular maintenance of fuel-burning appliances. CPSC staff also works with stakeholders to develop voluntary and mandatory standards for fuel-burning appliances and consumer products in the home.

Sources: Unvented furnaces; back-drafting, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces; car exhaust, fires.

Health Effects: Know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning: fatigue, impaired vision; headache; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Can cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving home. Can be fatal at very high concentrations.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Properly operate and maintain appliances.

-Vent heating systems, water heaters, stoves, and fireplaces.

-Purchase a carbon monoxide detector.

-Don’t idle car inside a garage.

VOLATILE CHEMICALS

Standard: The are no specific standards for most volatile chemicals in consumer products, although some products, such as dry-cleaning fluids, freons, and others have become subject to greater regulation.

Sources: Paints, strippers, glues, solvents; preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleaners, disinfectants; dry-cleaned clothing.

Health Effects: Irritants, allergic response, lung disease.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Use household products according to label directions.

-Maintain good ventilation.

-Keep tightly capped when not in use.

FORMALDEHYDE

Standard: Check federal and state regulations for specific standards. Some standards have been adopted for pressed woods, cartons, containers, paneling, carpets, etc. Standards are typically below 0.1 parts per million.

Sources: Pressed woods, cartons, containers, paneling, carpets particleboard, furniture, foam insulation

Health Effects: Irritants, allergic response, lung disease.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Use products that do not contain formaldehyde.

-Use ventilation.

PESTICIDES

Standard: Check federal and state regulations for specific standards. Pesticide products must be registered and approved under Federal law. Some states, such as California, also require pesticide product registration and regulate pesticide usage and application.

Sources: Products contain ingredients approved as pesticides, insecticides, termiticides, sterilants and disinfectants.

Health Effects: Irritants, allergic response, lung disease.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Use only in accordance with label directions.

-Use is the least volume needed as recommended.

-Increase ventilation.

-Use non-pesticide alternatives, if available.

-Use only certified and licensed applicators.

-Store pesticide products safety and out of the reach of children.

ASBESTOS

Standard: Check federal and state regulations for specific standards. Asbestos has been banned from most household products.

Sources: Insulation, fireproofing, ceiling and floor tiles, soundproofing, glues and mastics, bonded material on old piping, gaskets, brake pads, flues, sinks.

Health Effects: Lung disease.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Use a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to remove or manage asbestos in place so it is not disturbed.

-Do not generate friable fibers that can become airborne.

-Follow proper procedures in replacing products that may contain asbestos.

-Properly dispose of asbestos containing materials.

RADON

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive element that can seep into a home from earth and rock, water wells, or building materials.

Standard: Check federal and state regulations for specific standards. EPA recommends a maximum exposure limit of 4 Pico curies per liter or air.

Reported Health Effects: Lung disease.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Contact your local pollution control agency or health department to determine if radon is a problem in your area.

-Test your home for radon; radon test kits may be available from your health department or at your local store.

Seal off basement floors and mechanical areas that may be a conduit for radon exposure.

-Building materials (e.g., concrete) may contain high radon levels. Consider testing before or obtain certifications before your build.

-Add ventilation or other mitigation to reduce high radon levels in your home.

ENVIRONMENTAL TOBACCO SMOKE

Standard: There is no specific standard at this time for private residences. Public spaces may be subject to clean indoor air laws and regulations in your community.

Source: Cigarette, pipe and cigar smoke.

Health Effects: Lung diseases.

Suggested Steps to Reduce Exposure:

-Eliminate smoking in your home.

-Increase ventilation in the area where smoking takes place through open windows or exhaust fans.