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Louisiana's Future: Families And Children


Be Aware Of Your Indoor Air

Types of Indoor Air Pollution

Burning Issues: Combustion Pollutants

Pollutants of Choice: Organic Gases and Pesticides

Remodeling Hazards: Lead and Asbestos



Did you know the air inside buildings is nearly always more polluted than outside air?

Did you know most people now spend 80% to 90% of their lives indoors, breathing that more-polluted air?


That's why indoor air pollution is now such a high- ranked health risk. How it affects your health depends on the amounts and types of pollutants in your air and how often you breathe them. Air pollutants can harm some people more than others. The risks are greatest for sick people, the elderly, the very young and people with allergies.

You can't refuse to breathe, but there is a lot you can do to make your home a healthy place to live and breathe.

The first step is to be aware of what might be in your indoor air and how it could harm your health.

Types of Indoor Air Pollution Return to Top

Nature's Revenge: Biologicals and Radon


  • Humid air, wet things and wet ground under your home can lead to mildew, molds, dust mites and bacteria growing in your home.
  • Fine dust in the air you breathe can be bits of animal fur and insects, dust mites and pollen.
  • Radon is a radioactive soil gas that can seep in through cracks and build up in homes. Radon problems are rare in Louisiana.

Health Risk:

Biological pollutants in the air can cause asthma attacks and allergies. Bacteria and viruses can cause diseases. Radon causes lung cancer.

What You Can Do:

  • Use bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to get rid of wet air.
  • Make sure soil under your home stays dry. Rainwater should flow away from your home.
  • If you have a flood or leak, remove soaked carpets and materials right away.
  • Empty and disinfect vaporizers and the drip pans of refrigerators and air conditioners.
  • If your home is made extra energy-efficient and airtight, make sure the air conditioner is not oversized. Get a load calculation from your A/C dealer or electric company. Oversized air conditioners do not take enough moisture out of the air.
  • Mop and wipe away dust often.
  • If anyone has allergies, keep animals outside. Also wash bed sheets in hot water every two weeks, and choose smooth flooring instead of carpeting to reduce dust mites.
  • Get a home test for radon.

Burning Issues: Combustion Pollutants Return to Top

Source #1

Tobacco smoke has more than 4,000 compounds in it, including carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. The air carries these pollutants all over your home. Fabrics and things in your home trap them long after you can't see any smoke.

Health Risk:

About 40 of the compounds in tobacco smoke could cause cancer. Breathing secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year. It also causes a huge number of children to suffer from bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections and asthma attacks.

Source #2

Anything that burns a fuel makes carbon monoxide (CO) and other harmful pollutants. They can build up in indoor air if fuel-burning appliances and heaters have no vent to the outside or have leaky or clogged vents. Wet wood, smoldering fires and yellow gas flames give off more pollution than normal. Car exhaust can seep into homes.

Health Risks:

Breathing carbon monoxide (CO) starves the body of oxygen. You can't see or smell it. Large amounts are deadly. Symptoms are headaches, nausea and flu-like symptoms. Other combustion pollutants can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Over time, they damage your lungs.

What You Can Do:

Don't let anyone smoke in your home. Or, at least limit smokers to one room. Keep the door closed, open a window and put a fan in it to blow air to the outside. That will keep the pollutants from spreading throughout your home.

  • Never smoke around children.
  • Keep gas heaters and appliances correctly adjusted. The flame should be blue.
  • Get your heater, flues and chimneys inspected and cleaned every year.
  • Don't use kerosene heaters indoors. If you must use a gas space heater not vented to the outdoors, open a window a little, keep inside doors wide open and don't fall asleep.
  • Never use a charcoal grill indoors. Use an exhaust fan or open a window when using a gas-cooking stove.
  • Put good weather-stripping around the door to the garage. Never run the car in a closed garage.
  • Get a carbon monoxide alarm for your home.

Pollutants of Choice: Organic Gases and Pesticides Return to Top


Common products used in homes are made of many chemicals. Both natural and artificial chemicals can put harmful organic gases in your air. When you use them indoors, the level of organic gases in the room can get very high. Even when containers are sealed, gases can leak out into your air. Some building materials (like pressed wood) and decorative furnishings (carpets, fabrics, etc.) release organic gases, especially when new and when the air is warm and humid.

Health Risks:

Over time, some organic and pesticide chemicals can cause cancer or damage the central nervous system. Some chemicals are very toxic and can harm you quickly. Some bother only people with allergies. Some have not been found harmful.

Warning labels on products tell you about serious known dangers. Some common symptoms are problems with eyes, nose, throat, vision, memory, and headaches.

What You Can Do:

  • Read labels carefully, and follow the directions. If a label says you need "adequate ventilation," use the product outside if you can. If not, open all windows and use exhaust fans.
  • Store anything that makes fumes outside of your home. Safely get rid of old and unneeded chemicals, fuels, pesticides, paints, etc. (get Extension publication 2567 for disposal advise)
  • If your dry-cleaned clothes have a strong chemical smell, try a different dry cleaner.
  • Don't use outdoor pesticides inside your home. Don't use any more than directed by the label. To cut your need for pesticides, keep your home clean and keep garbage outside. Bathe pets often. Fleas drown in plain water.
  • Shop for less toxic types of products and building materials.
  • When shopping for new carpet, look for labels about carpet emissions. Go outside when carpet is being installed, and air out your home for three days.
  • If your home has a lot of pressed wood, try to keep the indoor air cool and dry.

Remodeling Hazards: Lead and Asbestos Return to Top


Some homes built before 1978 and many homes built before 1960 have lead-based paint and asbestos materials. Floor tiles as recent as 1986 could have asbestos. If they are in good shape, there is usually little danger. Any kind of damage to those materials can put lead or asbestos dust into the air. Soil with lead in it can get inside and add lead dust to the indoor air.

Health Risks:

Breathing asbestos dust over a long time can lead to lung cancer.

Breathing lead dust can harm nearly every system in the body.

Lead is most dangerous to young children. Even very low levels in children can lower intelligence, cause behavior problems and affect hearing. That type of damage can last all their lives.

What You Can Do:

  • Before you remodel or fix up your home, find out if it has any lead-based paint or asbestos in it. Check with your local health department to find labs or contractors that can test for lead or asbestos.
  • Do not sand, scrape, burn or damage lead-based paint or asbestos materials. Leave them alone. If they must be removed, only workers trained and certified in safe removal methods should do the job.
  • Wet mop and wipe away lead dust and loose paint chips with a solution of powdered dishwasher detergent or trisodium phosphate (TSP) in warm water. Wear rubber gloves. Throw away the cleaning rags, or wash and store them separately.
  • Get more information about lead and asbestos in the home.


To learn more about Indoor Air Quality:

Call 1-800-438-4318

for free information from the Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse.

Call the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for information about radon (1-800-256-2494) and how to dispose of toxic products (504-765-0249).

For more information about lead in the home and other healthy home and family topics, contact your parish Cooperative Extension Service home economist.

For blood lead test, medical advice and treatment, visit your doctor or parish health unit.



Louisiana State University

Agricultural Center

Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service

This document was produced under a cooperative agreement of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service (LCES) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 office.

This publication is part of a joint educational outreach program of the LCES and EPA.

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