Beware–The Air You Breathe At Home Could Be Hazardous To Your Health

You may assume that air pollution is what is going on outside your home–smog, gas fumes, pollen, etc.  A number of years back we heard about “sick building” syndrome where some employees got sick working in large windowless, ventilation poor office buildings.  But you probably don’t think of air pollution as something that’s found in your home. The truth is, that you are in far more danger from what you breathe inside your home than outside or at your workplace. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is not something most people think about when they are buying, selling or living in a home.  The health consequences of not being mindful of the quality of the air that family members breathe inside the home are becoming more and more important.


May is Asthma Awareness Month.  More than 20 Million people are affected by Asthma in the US.  Rates have risen steadily over the last 30 years, particularly among children aged five to fourteen.  And believe it or not, many of the environmental triggers are inside your home. Indoor air pollution sources release gases or particles into the air and are the primary sources of IAQ problems. Asthma can be triggered by things like mold on your shower curtain and dust mites in pillows and blankets and even children’s stuffed animals!


Another indoor pollutant that many of us that most people aren’t aware of and that can greatly exaserbate asthma and other allergies is formaldehyde.  Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, and household products.  There are concerns, but inconclusive evidence that formaldehyde may cause cancer.  The EPA points out that:

In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Pressed wood products made for indoor use include: particleboard (used as sub-flooring and shelving and in cabinetry and furniture); hardwood plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering and used in cabinets and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Medium density fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product.


How Radon Gets Into Homes

One of the most dangerous pollutants–one that can’t be seen, smelled or tasted, is radon gas. A little known fact is that radon gas causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.  As a Realtor, I am appalled by the number of agents who do not advise their buyers on the importance of having a radon test at the time of the home inspection.  Some time ago a woman from India who taught Yoga in her basement for years, was diagnosed with lung cancer and eventually died. When she was diagnosed she was mortified and ashamed.  She had never smoked and had been a healthy vegetarian all of her life.  I have always believed that radon gas was responsible.

Radon is a naturally occuring gas formed from the breakdown of uranium found in nearly all soils.  It is estimated that nearly 1 in 15 U.S. homes has elevated levels of radon. Radon can AND SHOUD be mitigated if the levels reach or exceed the current EPA recommended levels of 4 pCi/L. Have your home tested if it hasn’t been.  And test every couple of years.  Here is a link to the EPA’s Home Buyer and Home Seller Guide on radon. The graphic t shows how radon gets into homes:  1. Cracks in solid floors 2. construction Joints 3. Gaps in suspended floors 4. Gaps around service pipes 5. Cavities inside walls 6. Water supply.

In April of this year, the Presidential Cancer Panel called for better action on Radon.  The 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel, entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We can Do Now”  has been released and highlights the risks from radon and states that “the cancer risk attributable to residential radon exposure has been clearly demonstrated and must be better addressed.”

Indoor air quality is such an important topic that I will continue it in my next blog.  Meanwhile check out the interactive  IAQ Tour of a house to see the dangers that lurk in your home.



Gayle Fleming


My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.


2 responses to “Beware–The Air You Breathe At Home Could Be Hazardous To Your Health

  1. Formaldehyde is elevated in ‘green’ homes.

    The California Air Resources Board’s report published December 15, 2009 states:

    “Nearly all homes (98%) had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation…”

    Researcher’s PowerPoint:

    Formaldehyde off gasses from fiberglass wall insulation, is often the largest formaldehyde source and often overlooked. Fiberglass isn’t a manufactured wood, but still uses a formaldehyde resin. Although out of sight, formaldehyde goes right through drywall just like water.

    • Bob, thank you for this article. This proves the point that I try to make that a home is not “green” simply because it’s energy efficient. Unfortunately builders and real estate agents will label a home “green” simply because it has energy efficient appliances, windows, and or because it has good insulation and a tight envelope. I will use this article in a further blog to further educate buyers and sellers.

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