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Breaking the Mold
Overview What's the Story? | Science Behind the Scenes | Meet the Cast

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:

  • Asbestos—fibers in insulation and flooring
  • Biological Contaminants—mold, mildew, pet dander, dust mites, viruses
  • Carbon Monoxide—stoves, furnaces, and fireplaces
  • Chloroform—chlorinated water
  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke—cigarettes and exhaled smoke
  • Formaldehyde—pressed wood building materials
  • Lead—old paint, dust, pipes
  • Nitrogen Dioxide—kerosene heaters, gas stoves, furnaces, environmental tobacco smoke
  • Organic Chemicals—cleaning products, disinfectants, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing
  • Pesticides—sprays and powders used on lawns, gardens, pets, or around the house
  • Radon—uranium 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 causes.

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 getting sick.

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