Best Way to Improve Indoor Air Quality

I recently had the chance to interview Dr. Mark Sneller, an expert on the topic of indoor air quality (IAQ) and author of the new book Greener, Cleaner Indoor Air: A Guide to Healthier Living (Wheatmark, 2010). He gave me such in-depth answers on this critical topic that I decided I’d publish them in three parts. Here’s post 1 of 3 (read Part 2 and Part 3 for more). My question, very simply, was: What is the leading thing people should look out for and address to improve their IAQ?

There are basically two categories of problems we face: particles and gases (volatile organic compounds or VOCs). Most of what follows deals with the VOC issue since particles have been around for a long time. Their primary method of entry into the residence is by tracking. Not true of airborne petrochemicals.

I would say that care in purchasing products has to rank right up at the top of our indoor air quality concerns. What are these products? Virtually anything with fragrance and perfume, air purifiers, ozone producing machines, and claims for better health. (Even the use of daily vitamins and Vitamin C is seriously in question because stringent statistical studies do not support their usage.)

I will address the specifics of fragrance products in a later articles, but here, suffice it to say that these chemically derived odors have toxic capabilities that we have defined: everything from birth defects to depression. They are frequently neurotoxic. (Here, the use of toxic is not meant as a generalized over-the-fence term. It is an actual measurable term from the scientific standpoint, verifiable and reproducible.)

Now [we] are talking here about everyday products that smell wonderful. We wash our fruits and vegetables to remove pesticides, yet surround ourselves with asthmagenic and allergenic chemicals which directly affect the brain and also negate the effects of the immune system.

How can we say no to a seller’s market? This is a question for the philosophers and for ourselves.

The air purifier business is nearly a billion dollars strong, yet these devices have never ever been proven to reduce the symptoms of allergy and asthma. It stands to reason that removing particles from the air will lessen the load on our lungs, but nonetheless, there is no actual proof that they work. If there is a continuing source for the problem, they won’t work. If the cat is still in the house, you can have all the air purifiers you want and the antigen will continue to be generated. If you have dogs that come in and out and track through a lawn, the grass particles will always remain at a high level indoors. If you don’t have a source, then neatness and simplicity will go a long way toward reducing the indoor particle load.

And so will the proper use of a vacuum cleaner. This is more important than the dollars spent on it.

Ozone works very well in water. The real issue is its presence in the air, because there is no use for it at ambient levels and at higher levels is definitely hazardous and can cleave odor-causing molecules to form free radicals; thus, the odor may be removed, but the free radicals are dangerous. This is supported by EPA reports.

The common denominator to all of this is not to buy, or at least to carefully shop. Don’t necessarily believe your neighbor or claims that are made on the Internet. If the claim is for better health, greater longevity, and problem solutions, then save your money. Chances are very good their claims can’t be proved because testimonials are an advertising gimmick. A simple lifestyle change can make up for all the claims and save you money each month that can put food on the table.


Mark Sneller was born in Venice, California. After serving for two years in the Peace Corps in India, he went on to earn his Master’s Degree from California State University at Long Beach, and Doctorate from the University of Oklahoma, both in Microbiology/Biochemistry with a specialty in Medical Mycology. In addition, he served two post-doctoral appointments in cancer research and antibiotic research, and also taught graduate studies in Medical Mycology at San Jose State University.

In 1979, Dr. Sneller started Aero-Allergen Research, an indoor air quality company in Tucson, Arizona. Since then, he has received two awards from the Arizona Lung Association for work in the field of respiratory health, has been featured in Newsweek Magazine and The New York Times, and on ABC, NBC and CBS national network news. Dr. Sneller has also been under contract with the Department of Justice and Department of Defense for outdoor and indoor air monitoring and served on the State of Arizona Air Pollution Control Hearing Board under appointment from the governor. A bioterrorism consultant for the City of New York Department of Health, he has hosted his own radio talk show and was a weekly newspaper columnist for ten years. Mark currently has a monthly column on

Dr. Sneller is an approved pollen and mold identification expert by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and is the author of some fifteen scientific papers in the fields of mycology, palynology, organic chemistry, fungal toxins and combination drug therapy.

Photo via Dr. Mark Sneller’s website

2 thoughts on “Best Way to Improve Indoor Air Quality”

  1. WHile I agree with most of your statements I disagree with your assertion that air purifiers do not work. There are studies (Evans et al. 1999),that show home interventions greatly reduce exposure to allergens and irritants and thus have a positive effect for asthmatics and allergy sufferers. Unfortunately a great deale of air purification systems are not effective, but it is still incorrect to group all systems together. Of course no solution consist of air purifers alone and there are mulitple interventions that should be applied.

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