Department of Environmental Sciences

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Seminar Abstracts
Environmental Sciences Seminar Abstract            

  Indoor Air Today: Not What Your Parents Grew Up With
Charles Weschler

Vinyl flooring, synthetic carpets, foam cushioning, pressed wood products, plug-in air fresheners, permanent press fabrics, electrical appliances.… Plasticizers, flame-retardants, stain repellants, pesticides, fungicides.… Many of the chemicals present in today's indoor environments were not present fifty years ago. Additionally, buildings are constructed and operated differently. For example, air-conditioned buildings, which use less outdoor air for ventilation, have become the rule rather than the exception. Taken together, these changes have meaningfully altered the kind and concentration of chemicals that we breathe, ingest or sorb through our skin.

In some regards, indoor air has improved: indoor smoking has decreased; lead and mercury are no longer added to indoor paints; benzene and carbon tetrachloride are no longer common solvents; asbestos is no longer used indoors; the indoor use of certain pesticides has been banned; "pilot lights" on gas appliances have almost disappeared. In other regards, the jury is still out. We have a wider variety of semi-volatile organic compounds in our indoor environments, as well as in our blood and urine. We know why we use these chemicals -- to make our plastic flexible, to reduce the risk of fire, to kill termites, cockroaches and other pests, to prevent mold growth, to help our paint spread easier, to repel dirt and stains. However, the long-term health effects of many of these chemicals, including their potential for endocrine disruption, remain unknown.

Last updated: 11/13/2009