Indoor air quality: 7 contaminants to be aware of

In the UK, on average people spend more than 90% of their time indoors.

Indoor air quality is affected by outdoor pollution, but also by indoor sources and inadequate ventilation. Air pollution can have a negative impact on our health; from short term effects such as eye irritation and coughs to long term effects such as respiratory infections and cancer.

Here, we take a look at contaminants commonly found in buildings. For more information on how to manage indoor air quality, please visit the BSRIA Air Quality Hub.

Carbon Dioxide

A colourless and odourless gas resulting from combustion and breathing. At higher concentrations carbon dioxide can cause drowsiness, fatigue, and dizziness as the amount of oxygen per breath is decreased. In an enclosed environment, ventilation is key to reduce carbon dioxide build-up.

Carbon Monoxide

An odourless and colourless gas produced by incomplete combustion of fuels such as oil, wood, and gas. Carbon monoxide binds with haemoglobin in blood cells instead of oxygen, rendering a person gradually unconsciousness even at low concentrations.

Ozone

Whilst beneficial in the stratosphere, when found at ground level, ozone causes the muscles found in the respiratory system to constrict, trapping air in the air pockets, or alveoli. Ozone can be produced by certain air purifiers, laundry water treatment appliances and facial steamers.

Particulate Matter 2.5

A complex mixture of solid and or liquid particles suspended in air, where the diameter of the particles are 2.5 microns or smaller. PM2.5 sources include transportation, power plants, wood and burning and can cause airway irritability, respiratory infections, and damage to lung tissue. 

Particulate Matter 10

A complex mixture of solid and or liquid particles suspended in air, where the diameter of the particles is 10 microns or smaller. PM10 sources include construction sites, industrial sources, and wildfires. These inhalable particulates can obscure visibility, cause nasal congestion, and irritate the throat. 

Formaldehyde

A colourless gas that is flammable and highly reactive at room temperature. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and a strong irritant. Formaldehyde can be found in building materials, resins, paints, and varnishes and can last several months particularly in high relative humidity and indoor temperatures.

Total Volatile Organic Compounds

Carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature, most commonly found in building materials, cleaning products, perfumes, carpets and furnishings. Long term exposure can cause, cancer, liver, and kidney damage whilst short term exposure can cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness.

Find out more about air quality at the BSRIA Air Quality Hub.

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