Studies show how homes can pollute indoor air

Teams examined emissions from cooking, cleaning, furniture and more

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans spend roughly 90 percent of their time indoors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes. During that time, people cook. They clean. They chat, read, play, watch TV and do other things. People also bathe and sleep. And throughout it all, they breathe. New studies find that our activities can pollute the air we breathe indoors. And some of those compounds may harm our health.

Scientists and engineers shared some of their new findings, here, at the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on February 17.

Both indoors and out, “activities can be a main driver of air quality,” observes Marina Vance. She’s an environmental engineer at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Researchers have studied outdoor air pollution for decades. Indeed, many countries have created laws to limit pollution in outdoor air. But researchers know much less about the pollutants that can be created in reactions between chemicals floating around indoors, Vance says.

To learn more, she and other researchers measured how some everyday activities can affect what chemicals end up in indoor air. To do that, they went to a test house at the University of Texas at Austin. This model home is equipped to measure energy use, how much outdoor air comes in to flush out stale air, and other things related to how buildings function. Vance and her team brought in even more equipment. Then the crew got cooking — literally.

Chef scientists and engineers did all the cooking for a typical U.S. Thanksgiving celebration. They started with a hearty breakfast. Then they prepared a large holiday dinner. Team members roasted a turkey. They baked pies. They stirred up side dishes. Friends came over at dinner time to feast and visit. Then came clean-up time. All along, other team members measured chemicals present in the air.

Author: Alison Stevens