Indoor Air Quality: Part 1 - What It Is

Ann Pike-Paris


Pediatr Nurs. 2004;30(5) 

In This Article

What It Is: Two Known Indoor Air Contaminants

Although no "master list" exists of indoor air pollutants, a comprehensive list can be compiled from multiple, reliable sources. Wigle (2003) presents three broad categories of indoor contaminants: (a) gases and vapors, (b) particulate matter-large and small, (c) dust (p. 271). These categories provide a useful way to organize the vast array of pollutants. Combustion products and VOC's fall under the category of gases and vapors and are presented below. [Note: Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is considered a combustion product; however, due to the extensive information about its effects, the topic will be treated in future column.] This is an introduction to these pollutants, sources, and general health effects.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in it's collaborative publication "What You Should Know About Combustion Appliances and Indoor Air Pollution" states combustion pollutants are gases or particles that come from burning materials (page 2). These are commonly caused by appliances of the modern day life, e.g., furnaces, dryers, wood stoves. The clinician may often notice symptoms will be seasonal.

These chemical compounds vaporize at room temperature into gases from multiple liquid or solid sources. The individual chemical compounds may differ in level present in any one location; however, the combination of multiple VOC's is of serious concern. These gases emanate from a vast number of items in the home and school and are suspected of causing "sick building syndrome." A few of the common sources are pesticides, solvents, cleaning materials, air fresheners, bleach, household cleaners, spray product propellants such as furniture wax or hair spray, and nail polish and remover. These products contain an array of chemicals such as benzene, chloroform, vinylidene chloride, and formaldehyde, many of which are known carcinogens. VOC's will likely be higher in new construction and indoor air. According to CEHN, 1999 (p. 138), "a strong association between living in a mobile home more than 10 years and developing squamos cell carcinoma of the nasopharynx" has been shown. Because an adequate description of each chemical would be prohibitive for this column, this introduction to VOC's will be limited to formaldehyde, as it is present in so many products of every day life and thus may be applicable to nurses' client population.


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