Relationship to Building Strong Families
Have you ever stopped to think about whether your house and indoor air are healthy? There are clues to look for and questions you can ask to learn if your home has hidden health dangers from pollutants. Many serious health conditions are affected by poor indoor air quality. People who are most susceptible to unhealthy indoor conditions are the ones who are home the most: infants, children, pregnant women, elderly and those with chronic illnesses.

Families who are healthier miss fewer days of work and school. They are better able to handle stresses and are better able to do daily family tasks. If family members feel better, they may interact more positively with each other. These positive interactions help people have stronger, healthier relationships. Safety in the home is important for all members, from keeping poisons away from babies and children to checking for carbon monoxide poisoning for the entire family. People’s actions can make a difference in the quality of where they live.

Brief program description
This program helps participants ask important questions to learn if their home has hidden health dangers from indoor pollutants. The information and activities help people find common sources of pollution, learn how the pollutants get into the home, and learn about the related health effects. The program offers a wide range of easy and inexpensive action steps families can take to reduce their risk of exposure to pollutants and help make their home a Healthy Home.

Research findings
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies indicate that indoor levels of toxins and air pollutants may be five times higher, and occasionally more than 100 times higher, than outdoor levels of pollution in even the most industrialized cities (National Safety Council, n.d.). One EPA study found over 350 household chemicals (volatile organic compounds) in the air of one house. Most people spend about 90% of their time indoors (Environmental Protection Agency, 1995). This combination of more indoor air pollution and more time indoors adds up to a greater health risk from indoor air than outdoor air.

The health and economic consequences of indoor air pollution are a national health concern. Indoor air pollutants cause acute and chronic health effects including lung cancer, asthma and allergies. Carbon monoxide and radon gas cause thousands of deaths each year (EPA, 1995). Secondhand smoke and biological contaminants in our homes are major contributors to asthma.

The number of children with asthma has doubled in the past 10 years with the highest incidence among low income and minority families. EPA estimates up to one million asthmatic children have their conditions made worse by exposure to secondhand smoke (EPA, 1995). Asthma is the leading reason children miss school or end up in the hospital. In 2005, it accounted for over 12 million lost school days in children and 24 million lost work days in adults (American Lung Association, 2005).

In 2002, local poison centers reported over two million poison exposures (American Association of Poison Control Centers, 2007). Most poisonings involve everyday household items such as medicines, cleaning supplies, cosmetics and personal care items. Over half of poisonings (52%) happen in children under the age of six. These children are exposed to cosmetics and personal care products (13.3%), cleaning products (10.3%), pain relief medications (7.4%) and foreign bodies (7.1%).

There are many easy, inexpensive ways to improve the quality of where we live and the indoor air. Three methods to reduce indoor air pollutants, in order of effectiveness, are: removing the source or controlling emissions; increasing the amount of air flowing through the area (ventilation); and filtering some pollutants using certain air cleaners that do not cause indoor air quality problems themselves (United States Department of Agriculture & EPA, n.d.). All homes, even newer, energy efficient homes, can benefit from these steps.

Other strategies for keeping the home healthy are to keep areas dry, clean and well ventilated. Some ways to make the home safer are to keep combustion products out of the house, keep toxic chemicals out or locked away and keep the area smoke free. Adults and children can help in maintaining a safer, healthier place to live.

Goals and objectives

  • Find common sources of pollution in our homes.
  • Recognize what indoor pollutants can do to our health.
  • Learn what it means to have a healthy home.
  • Learn ways to control and get rid of common pollutants to prevent family health problems.

Target audience
Working families with children

Prepared by
Rebecca Blocker, Environmental Design and Housing Specialist
University of Missouri Extension

With contributions and reviews from
Lucy Schrader, former Building Strong Families Program Coordinator
Barbara Buffaloe, former Housing and Environmental Design Extension Associate Specialist
Lisa Hamilton-Hill, former Graduate Research Assistant, Environmental Design
Marilyn Preston, former Extension Associate

November 1997, Revised January 2000, Revised August 2008


If you have any questions or need information, contact:

Kathy Dothage
Building Strong Families Program Coordinator
University of Missouri Extension
1205 University Avenue, Ste. 400
Columbia, MO 65211

Copyright © 2017 Published by University of Missouri

Last updated: 05/16/2017
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