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GREENGUARD Environmental InstituteResearch shows the air inside our homes and schools can be more toxic than the air outside. Why? Because the materials and products we use to furnish and maintain our indoor environments can release hundreds of pollutants such as formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone and even biological allergens. The evidence is significant because statistics show that children are especially at risk as they spend roughly 85 percent of their time indoors. The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) Children & SchoolsSM certification program measures and verifies that the levels of chemical emissions of products being used indoors are acceptable to the unique sensitivities of infants and children. This article was prepared for readers of by Mandi Joyner, GEI Communications Manager.


The Air We Breathe  •  How Pollutants Affect Our Health  •  Improving Your Child's Air Quality

Approved school deskThe Air We Breathe

On average people take about 23,000 breaths in any given day. Children spend about 85% of their time indoors, where the air can be as much as 100 times more polluted than outside air, which means those 23,000 breaths are extremely important.

The very materials and products we use to furnish and maintain our indoor environments can release hundreds of pollutants such as formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone and even biological allergens into the air we breathe. These pollutants also have short- and long-term health consequences.

How Pollutants Affect Our Health

Short-term health effects

  • Trigger asthma and allergy attacks
  • Respiratory irritationCertified Crib
  • Headaches
  • Flu-like symptoms

Long-term health effects

  • Respiratory disease
  • Cancer
  • Neurological disease

While poor indoor air quality (IAQ) has an impact on all building occupants, it has an even greater impact on children for a couple of reasons.

  • Children receive approximately 72% of their environmental exposure indoors.
  • Their organs and respiratory, immune and neurological systems are still developing, and because of their lower body weight, breathe in a relatively greater volume of air than adults. Crib being tested
  • Newborns breathe through their mouths, as do many older infants and children – more so than adults.
    • This difference in breathing may increase children’s risk of pulmonary exposure to particulates and fibers, which might otherwise be filtered out in the nose.
  • Children’s breathing zones are much closer to the ground than adults, and as a result, heavier airborne chemicals pose more of a risk to children than to adults. These factors combine to create a higher body burden of air pollutants for the same amount of exposure.

Asthma is one of the most notable health consequences. Research shows a correlation between poor IAQ and asthma.

  • Asthma rates in children under the age of five increased more than 160% over a 14-year period
  • Asthma is the 3rd leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15 Mattress being tested
  • Asthma is the #1 cause of school absenteeism among children ages 5 to 17 and accounts for an annual loss of more than 14 million school days per year (approximately 8 days for each student with asthma) and more hospitalizations than any other childhood disease. 

Improving Your Child's Air Quality

The good news is that you can improve IAQ. Here are some general tips for improving your homes indoor air quality and reducing your exposure to VOCs.

  • Approved paintThe best way to reduce your exposure to VOCs is by reducing products in your home that contain VOCs. Try to find safer substitutes. When buying paints and stains, look for labels that describe a "low-emitting formula". It is important to note that many products are labeled for VOC content (e.g. "Formaldehyde-Free" or "Low-VOC"). Content is not an appropriate indicator of what emits off of the product. Be sure to always have adequate ventilation.
  • Purchase and use building materials and furnishings, including furniture, that have been certified by a reputable third-party, independent source (such as GREENGUARD Environmental Institute and Energy Star) to emit low levels of VOCs.  Testing should indicate that products meet acceptable indoor air quality standards.
  • Use water-based cleaners that are biodegradable; avoid ones that say "danger," "caution" or "flammable." Use non-fragranced cleaners or polishes you rub on rather than spray. Often cloths dampened with water work well to control dust.
  • Dispose of partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals safely. Because gases can leak even from closed containers, this single step could help lower concentrations of organic chemicals in your home.
  • Products containing VOCs should be stored in tightly sealed containers in a secure and well-ventilated area.
  • Never store opened pesticide, paint or other chemicals in containers indoors.
  • Air out newly built homes or newly renovated or furnished areas with fresh, clean outdoor air for a minimum of one week or until the new odors dissipate.
  • Avoid products with long-lasting odors.
  • Use high efficiency (HEPA) vacuum cleaners only.
  • Fix all water leaks immediately and keep indoor humidity at 60% relative humidity or less.  Use dehumidifiers if necessary.
  • Remove all mold contaminated porous materials such as wallboard, insulation or ceiling tile. Do not attempt to clean or decontaminate.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides or fungicides.
  • Consider removing your shoes when entering the home from the outside.

Good indoor air quality is important in creating and maintaining a healthy home. For more information on indoor air quality visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), California Air Resources Board (CARB), or American Lung Association websites. For a list of low-emitting products visit GREENGUARD Environmental Institute’s website at


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