Indoor Air Quality: Creating Safe, Healthy Environments

By Nussbaumer, Linda L. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Indoor Air Quality: Creating Safe, Healthy Environments

Nussbaumer, Linda L., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

To create healthy environments, designers and consumers should become knowledgeable about multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). MCS is a condition in which a person reports sensitivity to various chemicals and other irritants at very low concentration levels. Individuals have become ill from chemicals emitted from materials within interior spaces, and some used in building construction, interior finishes, and furnishings. Products for installations may contain chemicals that trigger MCS. Therefore, to prevent or lessen MCS, designers should specify safe, healthy materials, and family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals can provide education for consumers in purchasing materials for healthy environments.

For 60 years, people have been experiencing health problems and becoming ill from poor indoor air quality (IAQ) (Randolph, 1945, 1947). This illness is commonly known as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a condition in which an individual becomes sensitive to numerous chemicals and other irritants at very low concentration levels (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2003). People with MCS experience various symptoms caused by chemicals in their environments.

Though many designers (architects and interior designers) create safe, healthy environments for clients, due to lack of education, not all specify products and materials that promote good IAQ (Haberle, 2003). This is a concern because furnishings such as carpet and synthetic textiles specified for interior environments may contain chemicals that emit toxic fumes into the interior. These toxins may affect IAQ and thus people with MCS (American Institute of Architects Colorado, 1997; Anderson, 1997; Riggs, 2003; Williams, 2001).

FCS professionals educate consumers on products and materials for homes. However, they may not be educating consumers on the purchase of materials that promote a safe, healthy environment and prevent indoor air pollution. Both designers and FCS professionals should become familiar with the causes and symptoms of MCS to avoid triggers and decrease exposures to toxic chemicals. A safe and healthy environment with good IAQ improves quality of life for families.


MCS describes numerous symptoms related to environmental factors (Barrett & Gots, 1998). Symptoms of MCS may be triggered by exposure to one or more chemicals (Gist, 1999; Thivierge, 1999). One group of chemicals that triggers symptoms is volatile organic compounds (VOC), which vaporize or become a gas at room temperature (EPA, 2003). VOCs may be either natural or synthetic organic compounds (Godish, 2001) and include formaldehyde, pesticides, solvents, and cleaning agents (EPA, 1994; Wittenberg, 1996).

VOCs are found in products such as adhesives, sealants, solvents, and lubricants used in the construction and installation process; in some pressed wood products used in cabinetry or furniture; and in products for housekeeping and maintenance (EPA, 1995; Wasley, 2000; Wittenberg, 1996). Formaldehyde-based resins are found in home construction materials (e.g., particleboard, fiberboard, paneling, plywood) and formaldehyde can be found in finishes on permanent press fabrics (clothing, draperies, mattress ticking) (EPA, 1994). Pesticides may exist in building construction materials (EPA, 1994; Wasley, 2000), and asbestos-containing insulation is still found in some buildings.

Other irritating chemicals are available in synthetic textiles, tobacco smoke, petroleum products, food additives and preservatives, food sweeteners, medicines such as aspirin and synthetic vitamins (Meggs, 1999; Miller, 1994), personal care, crafts, and hobby products. Pollutants also may be emitted through mechanical and electrical systems, and allergens and biological contaminants-mold, mildew, and dust-may be trapped in carpet (EPA, 1994; Tremblay, Peng, Kreul-Froseth, & Dunbar, 1999). In addition, radon and outdoor air pollution can affect indoor air quality (EPA, 1995).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Indoor Air Quality: Creating Safe, Healthy Environments


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?