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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Indoor Air Pollution: Are You at Risk?

Cigarette smoke and other irritants can build up indoors, causing allergic reactions, asthma, even lung cancer.
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Invisible Risks: Bacteria, Molds, Viruses, and Radon continued...

Ventilating your attic and crawl space - and keeping humidity levels below 50% -- can help prevent moisture buildup in walls. Take steps to prevent water from leaking into a home.

Radon is a gas that exists in soil or rock containing uranium. The gas can infiltrate basements and crawl spaces of homes built on these deposits. Without a specific testing device, it's difficult to tell whether a home has a radon problem. This radioactive gas leaves no telltale signs; it is colorless and odorless. But exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

"Typically it's a ventilation issue," says Pacheco. "Improve the ventilation, and you've solved the problem. It's a very fixable problem."

Here are three other key risks you may not be aware of:

Asbestos

This common insulation material was used from the 1950s to 1970s to soundproof and cover floors, ceilings, water pipes, heating ducts, and water heaters.

"If you have asbestos around pipes or a water heater, that should be changed," says Pacheco. "But asbestos in tiles shouldn't bother you at all. It's only when you remove them that they will release airborne fibers - which cause health problems."

People misunderstand asbestos, she adds. "A lot of people have the impression that solid objects like these tiles have a little halo of asbestos around them. But it doesn't work that way. You have very limited exposure to the asbestos fibers until you start messing with them. That's when you release air particles into the air."

Household Products

Household cleaners and hobby supplies can cause you problems -- but mostly, only when you're using them, says Pacheco. "Some glues can be bad for you and should be used only in a well-ventilated area, just like cleaning products. But just sitting there in a bottle or a can, they won't hurt you."

The classic at-home hazard: mixing ammonia and bleach, which produces chlorine gas. "That's really bad for you. It can really damage airways. That tops my list of list of hazards," she notes. "I understand why people want to do that, to clean an area, but it's not a good combination."

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