Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted by different types of solids and liquids. It is often found in household products such as paints, cosmetics, and cleaning products. These products emit VOCs when in use and even when they are stored.
Some VOCs have short- and long-term health effects, especially in young children. Long-term exposure of some VOCs such as benzene and formaldehyde have been linked to cancer. Exposure to VOCs may cause headache, irritation, and fatigue.
Particulate matter (PM2.5) refers to particulate matter found in the air with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers. These include combustible materials, organic compounds, metals, and other small materials that are emitted into the air, usually from power plants, motor vehicles, and burning wood. They are also referred to as fine particles, and they can stay in the air for long periods of time due to their lightness.
These particles are so small and light, they can stay in the air longer than other larger particles, which increase the likelihood of humans and other animals inhaling them into their bodies. Their small size means that they can bypass the body’s defenses in the nose and throat, and reach the lungs and even the bloodstream.
PM2.5 has been linked to heart and lung disease, and they can also trigger or worsen chronic conditions like asthma and bronchitis. In the worst case scenario, long term exposure to high levels of PM2.5 can lead to the particles getting into the bloodstream, where they build up as plaque and lead to heart attack or stroke.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a naturally-occurring atmospheric gas, and comprises less than 1% of the gases in the atmosphere. While it isn’t a classic air pollutant, carbon dioxide levels in a room can rise making it difficult to breathe, especially when there are more people breathing the same air in a confined space.
Higher levels of CO2 cause temperature and water vapor levels to rise, which can affect lung function. Higher levels of CO2 also displaces oxygen in the atmosphere, making it harder to breathe. This results in headaches, drowsiness, disorientation, fatigue, and difficulty in making decisions.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas and is considered a toxic air pollutant. It is found in small amounts in the air, but can increase due to different human activities. Vehicle emissions are the largest source of human-related CO today. While carbon monoxide will not cause problems in most people at low concentrations, higher levels have a drastic effect and can be lethal.
Carbon monoxide can react with other air pollutants to create ground-level ozone, which is another dangerous air pollutant. Breathing in high levels of CO reduces the efficiency of oxygen transport in the blood, leading to various problems like headaches, reduced reaction time, blurred vision, nausea and weakness.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a highly-reactive gas in the oxide group. It has a foul odor and is formed naturally through lightning, and the interaction between plants, soil and water. Vehicle emissions and other fossil fuel combustion contribute to higher levels of NO2 in the air, and can cause difficulty in breathing for humans, and it is one of the main contributors to photochemical smog.
Breathing increased levels of nitrogen dioxide results in respiratory problems including coughing, wheezing, and can trigger or contribute to the development of chronic conditions like asthma and bronchitis.
Ozone (O3) refers to a gas made of three atoms of oxygen. When found in the upper atmosphere it has a beneficial effect: shielding the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. At ground level, however, ozone is a dangerous air pollutant and can be harmful even in very small quantities. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous air pollutants.
Ground level ozone is the main ingredient in smog, and breathing in even small amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, and irritation in the throat and respiratory tract. It can trigger and worsen asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and it can cause lung damage.