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What Nobody Tells You About Indoor Air Pollution & Your Health

Did you know that the air inside your home can easily become contaminated with various pollutants? As a matter of fact, the EPA reports that indoor air quality is up to five times more toxic than outside air! These toxins circulating indoors can lead to life-threatening diseases like cancer, heart disease, and lung cancer. They are also responsible for many eye, throat, and nose problems.

It is only natural to feel discouraged after learning about the proven negative health effects of indoor air pollution. However, I believe that we can choose to use this type of information as a tool to drastically lower the risk for certain diseases. 


Air Pollution the silent killer

Simply put, air pollution is composed of various particles and chemicals that may damage the health of plants, animals, and/or people. This can occur both indoors and outdoors. Even though it is often invisible, air pollution is all around us. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. Furthermore, an estimated 7 billion deaths occur as a direct result of exposure to both outdoor and indoor air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution

You are probably familiar with how pollution damages the outside air. Certain types of pollutants can even cause changes in mass, discoloration, and degradation on the surfaces of common building materials like metal or stone. Power plants, waste treatment systems, and large industrial processes such as agricultural, mining and chemical industries also contribute to outside air pollution. You might have also heard about Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF), which is an invisible type of radiation that scientists have linked to several health issues. 

Not only does beef farming lead to a huge leap in greenhouse gases, but this type of mammalian agriculture threatens mass extinction of biological wildlife. According to Joseph Poore of The University of Oxford, leading researcher of air and water pollution, becoming a vegan is likely the most effective step you can take to reduce excess water use, greenhouse gases, eutrophication, global acidification, and destruction of natural land.

Indoor Air Pollution

Now that we’ve reviewed the catastrophic effects of the more widely-known outdoor air pollution, let’s take some time to understand common sources of indoor air pollution.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

One common source of indoor air pollution is present in the paint, fabrics, carpeting, industrial glue, and plastics used in the construction of your home. This is because these products contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), or “compounds that easily become vapors or gases.” VOCs are linked to higher incidences of allergies and headaches. They also irritate the eyes, ears, and throat. Even worse, VOC levels are as much as five times higher indoors as opposed to outdoors.

Be wary of using synthetic air fresheners in your home, because they also contain a number of dangerous VOCs. These often include a specific type of VOC called p-Dichlorobenzene (PDCB), which is a chlorine-infused VOC used as an ingredient in various pest repellants. According to one study published in the HHS Public Health Access Publication, PDCB is the VOC most likely to cause cancer.  

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Another common source of indoor air pollution is a substance called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These poisonous, man-made toxins range in viscosity from oily liquids to solids, and they may be colorless or have a yellowish tint. Unlike formaldehyde, PCBs are odorless.

They are frequent ingredients in everyday household appliances like sealants, wood finishes, and industrial adhesives. Your body also absorbs them and stores them in fatty tissues.

PCBs can also enter the environment as a result of oil spills and electrical leaks. Consequently, PCBs disperse themselves all throughout the environment. Once this happens, they travel quite far, and quickly. According to the Illinois Department of Health, PCBs are so adept at traveling far and wide because they form a particularly strong bond with sediment and soil. They have literally been discovered all around the world in various forms, including sediment, water, soil, and air. The obvious, but still gravely unfortunate, result of this is that PCBs easily make their way into everyday foods and beverages. The most common foods contaminated with PCBs are fish, meat, and dairy products.

There are still many outdated buildings, like offices and schools, that use old-fashioned fluorescent light bulbs. In the event of an accidental leak, the PCBs seep out into the air and surrounding areas. Although not everyone who comes in contact with PCBs will notice immediate side effects, there are some very serious consequences for sensitive individuals. The severity of symptoms are also dose-dependent.

PCBs may cause the following health problems:

  • The EWG noticed a link between PCB exposure and a rise in malignant melanoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These toxins are also linked to liver, brain, and lung cancers. 
  • Furthermore PCBs disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance. When this occurs, it can result in abnormal skin changes, irregular or nonexistent menstrual cycles, and disturbances to the thyroid.
  • PCBs are terrible for skin your complexion. For example, they may trigger chloracne, an especially tough form of acne and blackheads.

Finally, PCBs may impair a couple’s ability to have children. According to Germaine Buck Louis, Ph.D, of Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at NIH, preliminary findings show that PCBs may delay or prevent pregnancy.

Toxins and Disease

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) consist of man-made, flame-retardant chemicals. These chemicals are likely in most of the consumer products you own, including your mobile phone, computer, and enclosures for electronics. They are also lurking in many outdated carpeting, paint products, adhesives, upholstery, and in treated plastics in your home. 

As time goes on, the amount of PBDEs in homes continues to increase at an alarming rate. A few preliminary studies suggest that PBDEs may disrupt the endocrine system, as well as cause thyroid, liver, and neurodevelopmental dysfunction.


Formaldehyde is a clear gas with a very pungent odor. Manufacturers use it to create common building materials and household products like wood finishes, adhesives, sealants, and wire coatings. It is also present in commercial cleaning products, some medications, and even cosmetics. And, since small amounts of formaldehyde are present in cigarettes, people often inhale it via secondhand or thirdhand smoke.

The most common way this dangerous toxin enters the body is through inhalation, although it can also happen by drinking contaminated beverages. Exposure to formaldehyde is also linked to respiratory distress, causing symptoms like itchy eyes, nose bleeding, and a sore throat. It also irritates the skin.

According to the American Cancer Society, studies experimenting with lab rats and formaldehyde revealed a connection between formaldehyde and leukemia as well as cancer of the nasal cavity. 

Finally, formaldehyde disrupts the nervous system, resulting in jarring symptoms like unusual apathy, disrupted sleep patterns, dizziness, and trouble concentrating.

Perfluorinated acids (PFAs)

If you use non-stick cookware in your home, then it likely contains PFAs. Studies have shown that the health effects are serious. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAs pose the following health risks:

  • Impair growth, learning, and capability of infants and older children
  • Disturb the body’s natural hormones, which can impair a woman’s ability to become pregnant
  • Cause unhealthy cholesterol levels to rise
  • Diminish your body’s innate immune system response
  • Increases the likelihood of cancer


The term asbestos signifies a grouping of minerals that come together together as long, strong fibers. Although asbestos mining formally ended in Canada in 2018, asbestos particles will be around for quite some time. This is because asbestos also generates more asbestos as it breaks down. Asbestos is also found in paints, floor tiles, and insulation in many homes.

The negative health effects of asbestos include pleural disease, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

caution sign


Radon is a radioactive gas that typically contains thorium, uranium, and/or radium. It usually forms beneath the very foundation of your house, right inside the soil and bedrock. But this destructive gas doesn’t stay in one place, of course. Rather, it rises up and into the air of the home, tinging the air with cancer-inducing radioactive particles. 

Dating as far back as 2005, the World Health Organization identified radon as a deadly common indoor air pollutant. In response to the U.S. General Surgeon’s national health advisory on radon, the WHO launched The International Radon Project

Radon is second only to smoking as the leading cause for lung cancer. For this reason, you should definitely use a home air quality test before buying a home, and make sure to buy a test that checks for radon.

Tobacco Smoke

Believe it or not, tobacco smoke indoors is still quite common. The technical definition of secondhand smoke, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is “the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers.


You are probably aware that cigarettes contain dangerous ingredients. But did you know that there are over 7,000 different chemicals in secondhand smoke? And of those 7,000 chemicals, 70 are carcinogenic and a few hundred are toxic for the human body. 

Children and babies are the most vulnerable to damage from secondhand smoke. In fact, secondhand smoke is responsible for multiple health problems like violent asthma attacks, respiratory distress, ear infections, and SIDS

Secondhand smoke also induces life-threatening conditions like heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.

Additional Contaminants

In addition to the pollutants described above, you should also beware of black mold, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

6 Natural Air Solutions to Improve the Air Quality in Your Home

Natural Solutions to Improve Air Quality in your Home

Like many widespread, insidious health problems, these kinds of statistics can really dampen your mood. However, it’s important to remember that you can always choose what you do with the information you learn. And the good news is that there are almost always preventive measures to implement. I suggest moving through each of the items below to make sure the air in your home is pure and safe.

Eliminate the Source

You can eliminate common sources of air pollution by monitoring what you bring into the house. For example, be mindful of any cosmetics with irritating ingredients. You can also make sure to take your shoes off before tracking in pollutants like mold, pesticides, or old cigarette butts. 

You can also update old appliances that are no longer safe. If your gas stove is not working properly, it might be releasing too much carbon monoxide and it is time for an updated model.

Ventilate Regularly

It is important to allow outside air to flow into the home. This prevents the indoor air from becoming oversaturated with contaminants.

Purify Air Naturally

There are plenty of natural ways to purify the air inside your home, such as:

  • Beeswax Candles
  • Essential Oils
  • Activated Charcoal
  • Clean Air Filters
  • Window Treatments
  • Ceiling Fans
  • Air-Purifying Plants

Check Your Products

Before bringing a new product into your home, check the ingredients list. Did you know that everyday household cleaners, like furniture polish or dishwashing liquid, are often full of VOCs and other toxins? One scientific study even confirmed that consistent exposure to cleaning chemicals can be just as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes everyday!

The easiest thing you can do is steer clear from products with hazard symbols on them. However, that does not mean the product is entirely safe, as Canada does not require companies to list all of their ingredients. The safest thing to do is to make your own cleaning products. For example, vinegar is a powerful all-purpose cleaner and just as useful for killing E.coli as its more toxic competitor, bleach. Another safe “DIY cleaner” is a homemade mixture of warm water with lemon oil. This is perfect for polishing wood! 

It is always best to use a homemade solution as opposed to a store bought product with synthetic chemicals and toxins.

Furnish Thoughtfully

Be mindful when furnishing your home. One thing to watch out for are pressed wood products, which are often found in cabinets and subflooring. Many furnishings like these contain formaldehyde, so do not be afraid to ask the manufacturer lots of questions about what you are potentially bringing into your home.

Before adding any new carpet to your home, first ask the manufacturer for emission information. Another best practice is to request low-emitting adhesives.

Buy “Air-Cleaning” Houseplants

Who doesn’t love some greenery interspersed throughout their home? Certain kinds of houseplants naturally filter out toxins while at the same time cleaning the air. In order to choose a house plant that will effectively purify the air, refer to the chart below.

Air Purifying Plants

Visit The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine


Keeping the air inside your home clean is a huge step in the right direction! I wish this were the only source of toxins. Unfortunately, there are hidden threats to you health almost everywhere, whether that be in the foods you eat or the way you use your laptop.

If you are interested in learning more ways to prevent disease and feel as healthy as possible, then I encourage you to schedule an appointment at my clinic. At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, I will partner with you to analyse your specific needs and address any other health concerns.

Please take advantage of my Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session, which is available for all prospective patients. This session can take place over the phone or at the clinic in person. It gives you a chance to learn more about the services I offer and how they can help you find your best health.  

Please schedule an appointment today! 

Dr. John Dempster BSc., ND, FAAFM

The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine