Many people are surprised to learn that there are very few federal, state or local regulations regarding indoor air quality (IAQ), whether it is in the home or the workplace. Although IAQ may not be regulated, we try to provide you with the information and guidance necessary on how to best proceed with indoor air problems.
What is Indoor Air Quality
Any type of building or home can have issues related to IAQ. New homes, offices, and schools are built to be tight and solid in order to conserve energy. This can lead to inadequate ventilation and less ventilation may lead to higher concentrations of indoor pollutants. Owners of existing buildings and homeowners are attempting to increase energy-saving and decrease heating and cooling costs by installing storm windows and insulation, caulking and weather stripping, and heating through natural resources. All buildings and homes need regular maintenance as they age. Paint and caulking deteriorate, pipes break, roofs leak, and so on, which can lead to problems with indoor air quality.
Indoor pollutants may cause discomfort and illness. People with lung problems, such as asthma or emphysema, are the most sensitive and may become affected before an otherwise healthy person would even notice there was a problem. At extreme levels, they can even be fatal. IAQ pollutants have many sources and may include combustion sources such as solvents, oil, gas, and tobacco products; building materials that contain asbestos; carpet, furnishings or structural elements on which mold and mildew have grown; products for cleaning, personal care, and hobbies; chemicals such as pesticides; gases such as radon; and heating and cooling systems.
The "Big Three" in IAQ are asbestos, radon, and mold.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used in the past for many building materials for the purpose of insulation and fire-retardation. It can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. Several asbestos products have been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). Today, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes and buildings. It can be found in pipe and furnace insulation, shingles, millboard, textured paints, and floor tiles. It can still be found in new products, such as wallboard or tile flooring that are made outside of the U.S. but imported here. Asbestos is not always considered hazardous. Even if asbestos is in your home, this is usually NOT a serious problem. The mere presence of asbestos in good condition in a home or a building is not hazardous. The danger is that asbestos materials may become damaged over time. Damaged asbestos may release fibers and become a health hazard. The best thing to do with asbestos material in good condition is to leave it alone! Disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before.
Radon is a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that you can't see, smell or taste. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer in this country. Every year, about 20,000 people die due to radon. In Johnson County, extensive testing has shown that roughly 40% of the homes in the county will have elevated levels of radon. Radon is found in all types of soil, from clay to sand to rich loam. Since it found in the soil, it can be a problem for any structure in contact with the ground. Radon does not discriminate; it can infiltrate any home whether large or small, new or old, drafty or well-insulated, basement or no basement. Testing is the only way to determine the existence of radon in any particular home. You can hire a contractor to test your home or you can do it yourself. There is no way to test a vacant lot for radon prior to new construction. The house must be in place before a valid radon test can be performed.
Molds are a natural part of our environment. They reproduce by means of tiny spores which are invisible to the naked eye and float through the air continually. Mold may begin to grow indoors when the spores land on wet surfaces. There are many types of mold. People who have serious mold allergies have severe reactions and people with chronic lung illness may develop mold infections in their lungs. Mold can primarily cause respiratory health problems such as allergies, inflammation, and infections. Coughing, sneezing, eye irritation, sore throat, skin rashes and shortness of breath are some of the symptoms. While much of the media attention has been focused on "stachybotrys" or the "black mold," any excess mold, no matter the color, can be a problem. Mold problems are not regulated by the federal Clean Air Act. There are no established maximum exposure levels of mold as there are with the criteria pollutants in outside air. There is a great deal of research being done on the subject to try and establish standards, but as there are thousands of types of molds, this will take time. As a result, there are few, if any, local or state regulations specifically addressing mold problems.
More Information on Indoor Air Quality Issues--PDF files