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Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month

Due to some technical difficulties, we’re reposting some old blogs. This one is somewhat timely since January is Radon Action Month. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that can impact indoor air quality.

October is Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month. Why are we bringing this up? Americans, on average, spend about 90% of their time indoors. Indoor concentrations of some pollutants are often 2-5x higher than typical outdoor concentrations. People who are often most susceptible to the adverse effects of pollution tend to spend even more time indoors. (Think: very young, older adults, people with cardiovascular or respirator disease.)1

What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?1

  • Combustion sources: carbon monoxide, particulate matter, or secondhand smoke
  • Natural substances: radon, pet dander, and mold
  • Biological agents: mold, cockroaches, dust mites/dust, and bacteria
  • Pesticides, lead, and asbestos
  • Ozone: some air cleaners can increase ozone
  • Volatile organic compounds: paint, cleaning supplies, and insecticides

Where do Indoor Air Pollutants Come from?1

Most pollutants affecting indoor air quality come from sources inside buildings? Examples include:

  • Cigarette and marijuana smoke or e-cigarette vapor
  • Wood and coal heating and cooking appliances
  • Fireplaces
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Paints
  • Insecticides
  • Building materials
  • Natural occurring, like radon, mold, and pet dander

However, not all comes from the indoors. Outdoor air pollutants can enter buildings through doors, windows, ventilation systems, and cracks in structures.  For example, if a neighbor smokes, secondhand smoke can travel from their unit to yours through an open window or a shared vent.

Health Impacts1,2

General health impacts associated with indoor air pollutants include:

  • Irritation of eyes, nose, and throat
  • Headaches, dizziness, and fatigue
  • Respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer

Specific links between common air pollutants include:

  • Radon is a known human carcinogen. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer – cigarette smoke, another pollutant – is the leading cause of cancer.
  • Radon exposure increases the risk of lung cancer among those who smoke more than if they were to just smoke.
  • Short term exposure to elevated carbon monoxide indoors can be lethal
  • Legionnaire’s Disease (a form of pneumonia) has been associated with buildings with poorly maintained air conditioning and heating systems
  • Secondhand smoke exposure can cause
    • Lung cancer
    • Impaired lung function
    • Coronary heart disease
    • Stroke
    • Trigger asthma
    • Reproductive issues, like low birth weight
    • Sudden infant death syndrome
  • Known asthma triggers include
    • Dust mites
    • Mold
    • Pet Dander
    • Secondhand smoke
    • Cockroach
    • Particulate matter

Reducing Indoor Air Pollutants at Home3,4

  • Make your home (single or multiunit!) smokefree. Ask people who smoke or vape to take it outside. Marijuana should be included in your policy as well as it contains some of the same toxins and carcinogens as cigarettes.
  • Test your home for radon. All homes should be tested. Even if your neighbor’s home doesn’t have high radon levels, yours still may.
    • Fast fact: Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula, Ketchikan Gateway, the Matsu Borough, and Southeast Fairbanks are all areas that may have elevated indoor radon levels.
    • Those outside of these communities should still test their homes. Your home may have elevated radon levels despite being in the lower tier based on the EPA’s measurements. (Note: the EPA uses multiple data points to categorize communities. Your home may meet those increased risk factors even though your community doesn’t).
  • Keep humidity levels under 50%. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner, as needed.
  • Fix all leaks and drips. Standing water and high humidity encourage the growth of mold and other pollutants.
  • Put away food, cover trash, and use baits to control pests, like cockroaches.
  • Avoid burning wood. This includes things like wood-burning stoves and outdoor wood boilers.
  • Use cleaning, household and hobby products that are less toxic.

General Indoor Air Quality Resources

Smoking and Radon Resources


  1. Indoor Air Quality | US EPA
  2. Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke | CDC
  3. Keep Pollution Out Of Your Home | American Lung Association
  4. pdf (

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