Your Right to Breathe
Indoor Air Quality
Everyone should have the right to breathe clean, indoor air, but that’s not always the case. Here at Branch Environmental, we believe that nobody should live or work in a building that makes them sick. Most people have no choice about where they spend their time. They must work, or go to school in a specific building. The fact is that not everyone breathes clean, indoor air, and in some cases the indoor air is even more polluted than the air outside the building!
You have a right to breathe clean air! Come learn about indoor air quality: how it affects you, the people you love, and people who are the most vulnerable among us.
Facts about Indoor Air
Nowadays, people spend most of their time indoors, in offices, homes, and schools. 2 Indoor air quality is very important to our health. Indoor air quality is more of a problem now than it was in the past for three reasons: 1. the way buildings are constructed, 2. the lack of ventilation in newer buildings for the sake of energy efficiency, and 3. smaller or inoperable windows. Lack of good ventilation can cause many problems with indoor air quality because indoor air is not circulated as much as outdoor air. The indoor air can retain chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), mold spores, pollen, microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC’s), toxins, and other irritants more easily than outdoor air.
According to the EPA, in the last few years indoor air has become more polluted than outdoor air even in the most industrialized cities! 2 The longer you are exposed to indoor air pollutants, the more likely you will develop health problems such as respiratory diseases (like asthma) and cardiovascular diseases. 2 Young children, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic disease will be the most likely to develop problems due to poor indoor air quality. 2
Energy efficiency has become more important in the recent past, and has begun to come into conflict with clean indoor air. Buildings are being built to reduce air flow both in and out of the building which improves energy efficiency. It is more efficient to heat and cool air that has not been exchanged with outside air. However, when air is not circulated well from inside to outside, pollutants, allergens, irritants, and toxins can build up inside the building. 4 Inadequate ventilation can also cause indoor air quality problems because pollutants can accumulate inside the building. 4
Laws that Affect Indoor Air Quality
The Environmental Protection Agency regulates indoor air quality as it relates to several different air pollutants including: radon, asbestos, and formaldehyde. To learn more about how these pollutants are regulated go to the EPA’s page: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH), there are no current state or federal laws in place for mold inspections, testing, or remediation.1 The GDPH Environmental Health Section is only responsible for regulating complaints about mold for the tourist industry (hotels, motels, etc). 1
Rental property may or may not be subject to a local housing code.1 Mold is generally not part of the enforceable code standard. 1 Therefore, the GDPH can only recommend that you are familiar with the landlord-tenant relationship in your lease to solve disputes. 1
Schools are not required to test indoor air quality by any agency of the state or US government. 1 There are resources for schools through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but they do not have any regulatory authority over indoor air quality at present (2020). 3
As you can see, there are few if any laws regulating indoor air quality related to mold or mycotoxins. You should have a right to breathe clean air! Children in school and the elderly in nursing homes are some of the most vulnerable people who could be affected by mold, but there are few regulations to protect them.
Why Clean Air is Important for Our Health
Indoor air quality is very important to our health. When indoor air quality is poor, people can suffer from asthma, allergies, and recurring illnesses. Over time, poor indoor air quality due to mold can even cause mental health problems. 10,11
There have been many scientific studies that show how moldy buildings can worsen asthma symptoms. Most recently, here in Athens Georgia, a study was published in the Journal of the Georgia Public Health Association describing how improving housing quality can reduce asthma rates. 6 The results of the study show “mold in the home, more so than other factors, is strongly associated with asthma prevalence in ACC.” 6 So if you live in a home with mold, you are more likely to also have asthma. 6 For more information about how mold and asthma are related see our post titled: Asthma and Mold.
Allergies are known to develop over time. 7 People cannot be allergic to something they have never encountered. 7 Your body only recognizes substances (such as mold spores, dust, etc.) as a threat after encountering them many times. 7 The process of becoming sensitive to and then allergic to a substance is called allergy sensitization. 7
In a 2002 study, the risk of allergy sensitization in children was measured by measuring indoor mold exposure in the children’s homes. 9 The study concluded that higher concentrations of mold in the home increased the risk of sensitization to both mold and other allergens including dust mites. 9 So having mold in your home can even contribute to the development of allergies to other allergy causing substances such as dust mite feces. 9 To learn more about how mold affects children’s health see our posts titled: Effects of Mold on Children’s Health and Asthma and Allergy Reduction through Mold Remediation.
Mental Health – Adults
For adults exposed to mold and mycotoxins, scientists have discovered that brain function of adults exposed to mold is abnormal or significantly decreased compared to those who have not been exposed to mold. Adults that have been exposed to mold and mycotoxins can exhibit symptoms such as disordered brain function, changes in balance, slower blink reflexes, slower reaction times, color discrimination problems, and depression. 10 To learn more about the effects of mold on mental health go to our post titled: Mold and Mycotoxins: Effects on the Brain and Nervous System in Adults.
Mental Health – Children
Fewer studies have been undertaken studying the effects of mold on children’s mental health. A group from Poland studied the effects of mold on children’s IQ development from birth to six years old. 11 IQ scores were used to determine intelligence level at 6 years old. 11 Study participants were compared to children who lived in homes without mold. 11 They found that children who lived in homes with mold, especially those who were exposed to mold for longer periods of time, had triple the risk of low IQ scoring. 11 Even accounting for differences in maternal education level, students who had lived in homes with mold for longer periods of time had a much higher risk of having lower IQ scores. 11
As you can see, mold can cause major health problems for people of all ages! Mold is just one factor affecting indoor air quality. Other pollutants that affect indoor air quality include: asbestos, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, cigarette smoke, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), household cleaners and air fresheners, and the list goes on!
Who is affected by poor indoor air quality?
In short, everyone who lives or works indoors. Whether from mold or other indoor pollutants, your home or building’s air may not be as safe to breathe as you thought! Children, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions are the most at risk to suffer from poor indoor air quality. To learn more about clean indoor air advocacy, see our list of associations that advocate for clean air at the end of this post.
What can I do to improve indoor air quality in my home or office?
- Improve ventilation. Improving indoor air quality can be as simple as opening a window. Even if you only open the window or door for 5 minutes a day, air quality can improve by increasing air circulation. Caution: This may not be the best plan during pollen season if you are allergic! Changing your home’s air filter on a regular basis can help the system run more efficiently, keep it cleaner, and keep more indoor air pollutants out of the HVAC system.
- Take your shoes off. While this seems like a way to keep floors clean, taking your shoes off at the door prevents the pollutants on your shoes, like pollen, pesticides, bacteria, fungi, and dirt from entering your home. Not only will the floors stay cleaner, so will the air you breathe.
- Clean with non-toxic chemicals. Most of the household cleaners and air fresheners we use are full of toxins. These products are not regulated by any branch of the government, and can contain almost any chemical they desire for ‘fragrance.’ ‘Fragrance’ is an umbrella term used to describe any chemical that has a smell, whether it is safe or not. For more information on how to clean your home safely see our post Branch’s Non-Toxic Spring Cleaning Guide. To find some easy DIY recipes for homemade cleaners and some safer off the shelf cleaners see our post Cleaning Products Homemade vs. Store Bought.
- Get rid of mold. Mold is an indoor air pollutant that can irritate the lungs and over time cause problems with mental health. If you smell a musty smell or can see mold growing you have a problem! Mold grows anywhere there is a moisture source and food. So likely locations include: basements or crawl spaces, bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. For more information about how to clean mold yourself go to our post A Simple Guide To Cleaning Mold.
When to Clean. When to Call.
It’s always a good idea to know when to call in the pros. If an area of mold covers more than about 10 square feet, there is a good chance the mold problem is more than an isolated issue. Mold is great at hiding in hard to detect locations. A mold inspection by Branch Environmental can help you get to the bottom of the problem.
As you can see clean indoor air quality is important for everyone’s health, and there are few regulations that require clean indoor air. We hope that you have learned more about indoor air quality through this article, and that perhaps you would like to help those affected. Below are some associations that advocate for clean air.
Call to Action.
We ask you to consider:
- Clicking on one of the links below to learn more about how to keep our air clean
- Join a non-governmental organization that advocates for clean air
- Write a letter (email) to your state and federal representatives about why clean indoor air quality is important to you.
Branch Environmental – Because nobody should live or work in a building that makes them sick.
Associations that Advocate for Clean Air
- US Environmental Protection Agency – Our Nation’s Air
- Centers for Disease Control – Air Quality
- Indoor Environmental Quality – National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic
- Safety and Health Topics | Indoor Air Quality – US Department of Labor – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
For even more information go to:
- Indoor Air Quality | Georgia Department of Public Health
- The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality | US EPA
- Indoor Air Quality in Schools | US EPA
- Introduction to Indoor Air Quality | US EPA
- Summary of the Clean Air Act | US EPA
- Harris, S. et. al. (2019). Improving Housing Quality to Reduce Asthma Rates and Healthcare Costs in Athens-Clarke County, GA. Journal of the Georgia Public Health Association: Vol. 7 : No. 2 , Article 1. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/jgpha/vol7/iss2/1
- Understanding Sensitization and True Allergy – Very Well Health, By Daniel More, MD
- Asthma and Mold – Branch Environmental
- Jacob, B. et.al. (2002). Indoor Exposure to Molds and Allergic Sensitization. Environmental Health Perspectives. Volume 110, No.7, p647-653. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/pdf/10.1289/ehp.02110647
- Ratnaseelan, A. M. et. al. 2018. Effects of Mycotoxins on Neuropsychiatric Symptoms and Immune Processes. Clinical Therapeutics V40, number 6, p903-917. https://www.clinicaltherapeutics.com/article/S0149-2918(18)30229-7/pdf
- Jedrychowski, W., Maugeri, U., Perera, F., Stigter, L., Jankowski, J., Butscher, M., Mroz, E., Flak, E., Skarupa, A., & Sowa, A. (2011). Cognitive function of 6-year old children exposed to mold-contaminated homes in early postnatal period. Prospective birth cohort study in Poland. Physiology & behavior, 104(5), 989–995. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.06.019 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3758954/
- Environmental Protection Agency – Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
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