Health Effects of Indoor Pollutants

This page last reviewed November 22, 2013

Sources and Potential Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollutants

Pollutant Major Indoor Sources Potential Health Effects*
Asbestos Damaged or deteriorating insulation, fireproofing, and acoustical materials Asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers
Biological Agents (House Dust Mites, Animal Dander, Mold, Bacteria, Viruses) House dust; pets; bedding; poorly maintained air conditioners, humidifiers and dehumidifiers; wet or moist structures (e.g., due to plumbing leaks) Allergic reactions; asthma symptoms; eye, nose, and throat irritation; humidifier fever, influenza, and other infectious diseases
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Gas stoves, malfunctioning gas appliances, wood stoves, tobacco smoke, car or truck exhaust from attached garages Headache; nausea; angina; difficulty concentrating; death at high concentrations
Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes Respiratory irritation, bronchitis and pneumonia in children, emphysema, lung cancer, and heart disease
Formaldehyde Pressed wood products such as plywood and particleboard, furnishings; wallpaper; durable press fabrics; personal care products Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headache; allergic reactions; cancer
Lead Sanding or open-flame burning of lead paint; house dust Nerve and brain damage, particularly in children; anemia; kidney damage; cardiovascular effects; growth retardation
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) Gas stoves, malfunctioning gas appliances Eye, nose, and throat irritation; lung irritation and damage; increased respiratory infections in children
Organic Chemicals Solvents, glues, cleaning agents, pesticides, paints, moth repellents, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing, and treated water Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; damage to liver, kidney and brain; various types of cancer
Ozone (O3) Ozone-generating indoor air cleaners, hobbies involving soldering or welding Respiratory tract (lung) irritation and inflammation, serious breathing difficulty including asthma, permanent lung damage
Particulate Matter (PM) Cigarettes, wood stoves, fireplaces, cooking, vacuuming, burning candles and incense, products of reactions of ozone with fragrances Eye, nose and throat irritation; worsening of asthma; increased respiratory disease; lung cancer; cardiovascular disease; premature death
Phthalates Used to soften plastics and add flexibility [i.e., polyvinyl chloride (PVC)]; plastic children’s toys; cosmetics and personal care products (i.e., to make fragrances last longer); automotive (e.g., air filters, battery covers) and building/construction products; and food and beverage packaging Associated with asthma and respiratory symptoms, allergies, and rhinitis in some studies; reproductive and developmental problems, especially in children under 3 years of age
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE) Flame retardants in foams in furniture and automobiles, electronic printed circuit boards, electronics casings, carpet backing, upholstery Disrupt thyroid hormones, may cause developmental deficits, may act as a reproductive toxin, and may cause cancer
Radon Soil under buildings, some earth-derived construction materials, and groundwater Lung cancer

*Depends on factors such as the amount of pollutant inhaled, the duration of exposure and susceptibility of the individual exposed.