Indoor Air Pollution: Odors and Vapors from Combustion Sources

Combustion SourcesCombustion sources, such as space heaters that use gas and kerosene, fireplaces, and wood and gas stoves, produce several hazardous contaminants that pollute indoor air. These include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and acid aerosols or particles, which are released when oil, gas, kerosene, coal and wood are burned.
Pollutants from combustion sources can be highly dangerous. Around the world, two million people die annually from indoor air pollution produced by burning coal or wood for heat or cooking uses in the home. According to the World Health Organization, many individuals who rely on wood stoves for heat and cooking are three times more likely to suffer from chronic bronchitis and impaired immune response. While many homeowners here don’t rely on coal or wood burning stoves, it should be well noted that combustion sources are hazardous, and that special precaution should always be used when using fireplaces, gas heaters and stove tops.

Symptoms of Combustion Vapors:


  • Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that often causes symptoms similar to the flu or food poisoning, and include headaches, nausea, confusion, weakness and other associated symptoms. Carbon monoxide poisoning can ultimately lead to death.
  • Nitrogen Dioxide appears as a reddish brown gas that causes irritation to the eyes, nose and mouth, and long-term exposure can lead to an increased risk of respiratory infections and possibly even lung disease.
  • Particles and aerosols can lodge in the lungs and damage tissue, or can carry more harmful pollutants deep into the lungs.


Reducing the Risk of Exposure to Combustion Vapors:


  • If using an unvented space heater, make sure to follow all of the manufacturer’s directions. Make sure to keep the heater adjusted properly, and keep the room well ventilated at all times.
  • Have all flues, chimneys and other central air systems inspected annually by a professional, and repair any damages immediately.
  • When cooking, use a fan that vents to the outdoors and make sure that the cooking flame tip is blue. A flame tip that burns yellow indicates that the stove is improperly adjusted, and will release an increased amount of pollutants into the air.
  • Make sure that wood stoves are properly functioning, with tight-fitting doors, and stick to chemical-free aged or cured wood.
  • Change the filters to HVAC systems once a month or as otherwise recommended to help keep the recirculating air clean.

If you smell gas or smoke in your home or if you begin to suffer from the above symptoms, you may have a gas leak or a damaged flue or vent. Immediately ventilate the home, turn off the gas meter, the stove, or the fireplace and call a professional for help. Since carbon monoxide is odorless, it is recommended that you install a carbon monoxide detector if your home does not already have one.

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