Recent studies suggest that chemical reactions may be an important determinant of indoor air quality. This article describes the role that chemistry plays in degrading indoor air quality and provides guidance to homeowners and commercial building managers on how to prevent indoor chemistry from polluting the air they breathe.
It is becoming clear that for many airborne pollutants, indoor exposure outweighs outdoor exposure. Consider the fact that most people spend the majority of their time indoors; by some estimates, the “average” American spends 90–95% of his or her time indoors.1 Furthermore, indoor levels of many airborne pollutants are as great or greater than outdoor levels of the same pollutants. Most people now recognize that buildings are not always a refuge from polluted outdoor air. Indeed, the term “sick building syndrome” (SBS) is now a familiar part of our lexicon. Common symptoms associated with SBS include stinging, itchy eyes; throat and nasal membrane irritation; and the perception of odors. These sensory irritations may lead to headaches, lethargy, and fatigue.2 However, the causes of SBS still elude researchers, and there is growing evidence that there are some chemicals that may be responsible for SBS that are not routinely identified, or even considered, in sick building investigations.