Keeping your home and work place clean is one of the most important activities we can do to assure healthy indoor air quality. However, the indoor use of certain common cleaning products and air fresheners when ozone (the primary component of smog outdoors) is present may cause an increase in indoor concentrations of some pollutants.
Fortunately, people who use these products can take simple steps to reduce the production of air pollutants and their exposure to these pollutants. In a recent study funded by the California Air Resources Board (ARB), investigators from the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory measured pollutant concentrations during and after simulated cleaning activities, including mopping and general cleaning and during the use of a plug-in air freshener.
The investigators found that chemicals directly emitted from the products, such as terpenes and glycol ethers, generally were below levels of concern, but that indoor chemical reactions of the substances emitted produced some other pollutants at levels of health concern.
Specifically, using products that contained terpenes – which are components of pine and citrus oils – in rooms where elevated levels of ozone were present, resulted in the production of formaldehyde and ultrafine particles, both of which can potentially harm human health.
Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen with no level of exposure that poses zero risk and is a strong eye, nose, throat and lung irritant. Because there are many indoor sources of formaldehyde, it is found in nearly all homes and buildings.
Ultrafine particles and the potential health effects associated with them are not well understood, but exposure to particle pollutants from the outdoor environment is associated with a variety of health effects, including serious heart and lung disease and even premature death. Increased exposure to these pollutants indoors could be a concern for professional house cleaners, individuals cleaning in small enclosed areas, and individuals with pre-existing lung or heart disease.