Science Behind the Scenes
"Breaking the Mold" is grounded in scientific research
that you can share with your students. The drama, mini-documentaries,
and Web site materials are all based on environmental health topics
that focus on indoor air pollution and its health effects. These
topics are closely tied to curriculum
standards. As you work with this episode of the EnviroMysteries
series, you may wish to use the following background material to
help inform your class about indoor air quality, asthma, and the
steps you and your students can take to minimize the presence of
harmful pollutants in the air we breathe.
Why indoor air pollution is a growing concern.
Most people are aware that outdoor air can contain harmful pollutants
from cars, buses, factories, and even trees and flowers. However,
they may not know about pollution sources that can affect the
quality of air indoors. According to the Environmental Protection
Agency, indoor air pollution levels can be 2 to 5 times (and as
much as 100 times) higher than outdoor levels. Since most people
spend 90 percent of their time indoors, maintaining the quality
of indoor air is critical to our health. Building construction
techniques and materials used to conserve energy can actually
trap harmful air pollution inside. And since many indoor pollutants
cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted, we are less aware of their
potential dangers. Because many of the symptoms can be mistaken
for colds or flu, it's not always easy to tell when someone is
feeling ill because of a problem with indoor air quality.
Major indoor air pollutants and their sources include:
- Asbestosfibers in insulation and flooring
- Biological Contaminantsmold, mildew, pet dander, dust
- Carbon Monoxidestoves, furnaces, and fireplaces
- Chloroformchlorinated water
- Environmental Tobacco Smokecigarettes and exhaled smoke
- Formaldehydepressed wood building materials
- Leadold paint, dust, pipes
- Nitrogen Dioxidekerosene heaters, gas stoves, furnaces,
environmental tobacco smoke
- Organic Chemicalscleaning products, disinfectants, hobby
supplies, dry-cleaned clothing
- Pesticidessprays and powders used on lawns, gardens,
pets, or around the house
- Radonuranium in the soil
Refer students to the "Air
Pollution" documentary for a visual review of the major
sources of indoor air pollution.
Health effects of indoor air pollution.
Air pollutants can enter the body in several ways, but the primary
route is through the lungs. Our lungs have a total surface area
about 25 times that of our body's skin surface. In the lungs,
pollutants can directly damage the lung tissue causing several
types of diseases, including cancer. They may also be absorbed
into the blood stream and carried to other sensitive organs. Indoor
air pollutants can cause a wide variety of adverse health effects
including eye, nose, and throat irritation, skin rashes, shortness
of breath, coughing, asthma, headaches, dizziness, memory impairment,
nausea, muscle twitching, hyperactivity, learning problems, lung
cancer, and even death.
Refer students to the "What
Causes Asthma?" documentary, which offers an in depth
look at one of the most common lung diseases and its potential
Take Proactive Steps to Cleaner Indoor Air.
One of the most important points of "Breaking the Mold"
is that students should feel empowered to improve their indoor
air quality. In the video, Kee questions the cause of her asthma
attack, researches her theories, and solves the mold mystery.
Her actions protect others from getting sick. Help your students
understand that they too can promote healthier indoor living by
identifying potential environmental health hazards, learning how
to clean them up, and taking preventative steps to maintain clean
air. By becoming health-literate scientists, your students will
be able to make important decisions based on the principles of
science and health.
Refer students to the "What
Can You Do?" documentary, which outlines simple steps
students can take to improve indoor air quality and keep from