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Carcinogens in Your Home’s Air

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You have probably seen in the news or websites about the possibility of carcinogens in your home’s air.  But what exactly does that mean? What are carcinogens? Simply put, a carcinogen is anything that can possibly cause cancer.  It can be something in the air, a product that you use, or a certain type of chemical in your home. For example, lit cigarettes are well known to produce carcinogens and there have been numerous studies to back this up.  But they are just the tip of the iceberg in the cancer-causing world. To be sure, genetics can and does play a big part in getting cancer. But there are many types of carcinogens that can be inhaled in our indoor air and it is a wise idea to identify what they are and how to avoid them.      

Second-Hand Smoke

Anytime we breathe in tobacco smoke, we run the risk of taking in carcinogens into our bodies.  We understand the dangers of being a smoker, but breathing in the smoke of a nearby smoker (aka “second-hand smoke” “environmental tobacco smoke“) has many of the same dangers.  This is a big part of the reason why smoking is mostly banned indoors in Illinois and we now have “No Smoking” signs in most public places. The carcinogens of tobacco are in the smoke and can easily be breathed in.  If you are a non-smoker, it is just as important to be away from these carcinogens “1. If you are a smoker, the best thing that you can do for your health is to just quit. 

Radon

Although it’s naturally occurring, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers and the number two cause overall.  Radon is a dangerous soil gas that makes its way through the ground and the foundation cracks of a home and is then breathed into our lungs.  It is colorless and odorless and the only way to detect it is through appropriate testing. There is no safe amount of radon that is considered acceptable, although the action level for real estate transactions is 4.0 pCi/L.  Fortunately, mitigation systems can easily rectify this if you have a radon problem. Again, the best way to verify that there is a radon problem in your home is to “TEST”

Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral that has been in use for hundreds of years in a wide variety of products.  However, when these fibers break free into the air and are breathed into the lungs, the end result could cause cancer.  The most common diseases from this material are mesothelioma (a cancer of the lung lining), asbestosis, and lung cancer.  Indoor Science has a number of excellent blogs on our website regarding this hazardous carcinogen (https://indoorscience.com/blog/health-effects-associated-with-asbestos-exposure/).  Like radon, the only way to verify if your home has asbestos is to have it checked out by an asbestos professional.

Formaldehyde

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen “2.  Formaldehyde can be found in various wood products, fabrics, adhesives, and many pieces of furniture. Shockingly, you can even find it in baby cribs!  If you are going to purchase any furniture, we recommend checking to see if it has added formaldehyde. If you have recently made a purchase with this product, we highly recommend airing it out in a garage or area of the home that is not often used to allow adequate off-gassing.  

Conclusion

Sadly, this list is far from complete in terms of the carcinogenic compounds that you can find in a home.  Benzene can be found in stored fuels and paint supplies in garages. Methylene chloride can be included in paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints.  What can be especially frightening is when you combine all of the above-mentioned products together, the chances of possible cancer can go even higher! Our exposure to these items are everywhere and diligence must be made to avoid these carcinogens in your home’s air.

  1. https://indoorscience.com/tobacco-smoke-testing/
  2. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol88/index.php

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”