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What is Indoor Air Pollution?

Most people are aware of the health dangers of outdoor air pollution, but not many realize that air pollution in their homes, offices, and schools can also have significant health effects. As a business owner, you are responsible for maintaining a workplace that is relatively free from indoor air pollution and other such hazards. Common sources of workplace air pollution include certain types of furniture, computer printers, and certain cleaning supplies. It's not always possible to eliminate every source of indoor air pollution, but employers must do their best to alleviate the situation and provide full disclosure of possible toxins.

Indoor air pollution is discussed below, including the health affects and sources of contamination and ways to reduce it in the workplace. See the Environmental Laws and Workplace Safety sections for related articles.

The Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution

Studies have shown that people are exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution for longer periods of time inside buildings that outside. Air pollutant levels may be two to five times -- and occasionally up to 100 times -- higher indoors than outdoors. These indoor air pollution levels are of concern to regulatory agencies because most people spend most of their time indoors, particularly those working full-time in an office or other enclosed workplace.

Indoor air pollution can cause immediate health effects, including headaches, dizziness, fatigue, asthma, hypersensitivity to particular substances, and irritation of the ears, nose, and throat. In the long term, people exposed to indoor air pollution may develop cancer, respiratory diseases, or heart disease.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Exposure to indoor air pollutants has increased over the past several decades because of construction of more tightly sealed buildings; reduced ventilation rates to save energy; use of synthetic building materials and furnishings; and use of chemically formulated personal care products, pesticides, and household cleaners. Sources of indoor air pollution include:

  • Combustion sources such as oil, gas, and wood;
  • Tobacco;
  • Building materials, including asbestos-containing insulation;
  • Furnishings, including flooring, wet or damp carpets, and cabinets or furniture made from certain processed wood products;
  • Household cleaning and personal care products;
  • Central heating and air conditioning equipment that contains microbes and dust;
  • Equipment such as printers;
  • Underground sources such as radon and pesticides; and
  • Outdoor air pollution, including pollen, dust, industrial emissions, and vehicle exhaust.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate pollution sources or reduce their emissions. Some sources, such as those containing asbestos, can be sealed or enclosed. Other sources, like gas stoves and furnaces, can be adjusted to decrease the amount of emissions. Banning smoking and substituting less toxic cleaning supplies, art materials, and paints also can reduce indoor air pollution.

Improving ventilation is another approach to lowering concentrations of indoor air pollutants. Fans that exhaust to the outdoors can be used in bathrooms, kitchens, laboratories, copy and print rooms, and cleaning-supply storage rooms. Some buildings need additional outdoor air brought in by way of fans, open windows, or improved ventilation systems.

Air cleaners also can improve indoor air quality. Furnaces and portable air cleaners can filter particles out of the air in homes. Gaseous contaminants can be removed by more sophisticated filtering.

Indoor Air Pollution and OSHA Regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces regulations meant to ensure the relative health and safety of workplaces. This includes office settings as well as retail stores, farms, factories, and virtually any employment setting. Employees have certain rights under OSHA rules, including the right to call for an inspection of the workplace and the freedom from retaliation for doing so.

As an employer, you are responsible for providing a workplace that is relatively free of health and safety hazards. You are also required to make all applicable workplace health and safety standards available to employees; prominently display a poster with the rights and responsibilities afforded by OSHA; and come up with a comprehensive labeling, storage, and training system for pollutants; among other provisions.

Get Professional Legal Help

Not only does indoor air pollution compromise the health and productivity of your employees, but it also exposes employers to possible legal action for associated injuries. If you would like help coming into compliance with all relevant laws and regulations or need help defending against a claim related to indoor air pollution in the office, consider calling a business and commercial law attorney for help.

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