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Indoor air pollution is a threat to the health of anyone who spends most of their time indoors. According to recent studies, people in industrialized countries, especially the United States & Europe, are spending as much as 90% of their time inside buildings and homes.
Indoor air pollution is created by substances that naturally release contaminants into the air or as a byproduct of combustion. For example, tobacco smoke is released by combustion--the burning of tobacco in cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Other sources of combustion byproducts that contribute to indoor air pollution include unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces, and gas cooking stoves. These sources are responsible for releasing carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles into the air.
If your home has a fireplace, you should know that improperly installed chimneys and flues can contribute gases and particles to your indoor air pollution mix.
Combustion byproducts can have serious health effects. Carbon monoxide gas is colorless and odorless. It interferes with oxygen delivery in your body and is lethal at high concentrations. Even low concentrations cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea and other flu-like symptoms. Infants, the elderly, people who are anemic, and people with heart or respiratory diseases are particularly sensitive.
Nitrogen dioxide gas, also colorless and odorless, is responsible for eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as shortness of breath. Long-term exposure may result in lung diseases. Particles released by the combustion process can be inhaled deeply into your lungs, where they can lodge and irritate or damage sensitive lung tissue.
It is possible to reduce your exposure to combustion product components of indoor air pollution. if you use an unvented, fuel-burning space heater, make sure you have it properly adjusted. A yellow-tipped flame is your clue to improper adjustment and increased emissions. Never close off a room with an operating space heater. Open a door to the rest of the house, and keep a window slightly opened.
Emissions from cooking stoves can be reduced by using exhaust fans that are vented to the outdoors. Make sure the burners are properly adjusted. Like space heaters, you goal is a persistently blue flame. If you use a woodstove, verify that the doors fit tightly and use only dried wood. Never use pressure treated lumber for burning indoors. Inspect your central air systems every year and repair as necessary. Change your filters frequently. Overall, proper maintenance and adjustment is the best insurance against the threat of dangerous combustion byproducts.