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Poor Quality of Indoor Air Could be Behind Your Health Problems

One of the top five public health risks facing the United States is the air we breathe indoors -- in our homes, schools and businesses.

It's where Americans spend about 90 percent of their time, and where levels of pollution could be two to five times higher than outdoor levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Indoor air pollutants -- such as dust mites, volatile organic compounds (known as VOCs), fibrous particulates, radon, mold and other contaminants -- can trigger short- and long-term health problems ranging from asthma to allergies.

A strong indicator of poor indoor air quality is a person's symptoms dissipating when away from the structure and increasing when one returns to it. The EPA recently announced it would spend $2.4 million on a cooperative to help increase awareness and improve indoor air quality nationwide.

With the varying symptoms and sensitivity levels of people to contaminants, it can be difficult to pinpoint poor indoor air quality without having a test performed by a company that specializes in environmental inspection. Mold, radon and asbestos remediators often can perform the tests, which they send to a lab for analysis.

Recurring health issues that you might not think are serious could be a signal that you're suffering from indoor air quality issues.

"If (you) have chronic headaches, chronic illness and have gone to the doctor three or four times in a year, then usually the problem is much greater than just a virus," said Bill Nicoll, vice-president of American Mold Experts.com in Plainfield. "(The illnesses could be) caused by mold or some kind of indoor air-quality problem that works on their immune system. If there are no visible signs of mold, we would take a sampling of the indoor air."

Ty Nuckols, a certified indoor environmentalist at Homeworx Inc. in Indianapolis, also recommends a visual inspection of the home before spending money on an indoor air-quality test, which generally costs around $200 to $300.

"Air-quality tests are a snapshot in time," Nuckols said. "If someone is having what they think is an allergic reaction, or they have some kind of symptoms, and after a visual inspection we can't identify what it is, that's when I consider testing something worthwhile to do."

Here are some things homeowners can do to help improve indoor air quality:

Make sure you have adequate ventilation. If an insufficient amount of outdoor air is entering the home or you have poor mechanical ventilation, indoor pollutants can rise to levels that pose health problems, especially during colder months when windows and doors are sealed to keep out cold air.

Adding an indoor air quality room sensor and indoor air cleaners can help you monitor the air quality in a room and filter particulates in the air.

Equip your home with a carbon monoxide detector, which can alert you to the presence of the deadly colorless and odorless gas.

Reduce contaminants. If you're building a new home, talk with your builder about ways to reduce off-gassing from new building materials by using low-volatile organic compounds products.

Test your home's air. Over-the-counter indoor air-quality tests are available that homeowners can perform themselves and send off to a lab for analysis, but Nicoll cautions that those tests can often yield inaccurate results if not properly controlled. For example, if doors are opened or the heating and cooling system is left on, the test may not be correct. "It's a non-controlled environment, so it doesn't give you an accurate test," Nicoll said.

To view this article, visit http://www.indystar.com/article/20101211/LIVING02/12110303/1084/LIVING02/Poor-quality-of-indoor-air-could-be-behind-your-health-problems.