After spending more than 30 years studying mold, pollen and indoor pollutants, Dr. Mark Sneller has garnered a reputation as one of the nation's leading indoor-air experts. In 1979, Sneller started Aero-Allergen Research, an indoor-air-quality company here in Tucson. Sneller recently published Greener Cleaner Indoor Air; the book explains that exposure to toxic substances indoors is five to 10 times greater than exposure outdoors. (Side note: With this interview, he becomes one of only a handful of people to get the TQ&A treatment twice; the late Chris Limberis interviewed him for our Sept. 4, 2003, issue.)
Where did the idea to write this book come from?
I was a newspaper columnist for a number of local papers, and I wrote two to three columns a week for 15 years. Somewhere along the line, I decided to organize the columns and see if they fell into certain categories, which, of course, they did, with that many being written. So I categorized them and slowly compiled them in my own little makeshift booklet and then edited them over time and updated them. ... To my mind, it is the most comprehensive layman's guide to indoor air quality that has ever been written. I have pollen and mold counts from 30 cities around the country. I tell you what kind of pollen and mold to expect in those cities. I have features such as how weather affects your health.
What are the more common indoor air health hazards here in Arizona?
The same as they are virtually everywhere else: gasses and particles—and by gasses, I mean fragrances, volatile organic compounds, things that evaporate into the air that we use every day. Hundreds of chemicals are toxic, literally toxic. ... One simple example is formaldehyde; everyone knows about it. We don't have to talk at length about that. Acetone is used in fingernail-polish remover. ... It is absorbed into the skin and affects the central nervous system ... Then you have the particle aspect: pollen and mold and dust and plant particles and 50 different kinds of particles that we are exposed to all the time indoors. We know that the indoor environment is 10 times more dangerous than the outdoor environment, because we spend 10 times more time inside than we do outside. A lot of people, those who are most susceptible—the very young and the very old—spend almost 100 percent of their time indoors.
In terms of indoor air quality, what is the most important thing consumers should keep in mind?
Don't consume so much. Avoid fragrances whenever possible. Maintain a simple home, if possible. That will minimize your exposure to virtually everything that is harmful that is airborne.
Have health standards changed over the years in regards to indoor air quality?
Not as a result of my work to date. I am trying to get that changed with my book, which just came out (in) March. Hopefully, I can get the message out nationally and internationally regarding the necessity to cut back on certain products and classes of products. I want to give guidance in terms of maintaining a cleaner and healthier indoor environment. ... People have this innate trust that Big Brother wouldn't lie to us. Well, Big Brother isn't lying to us; he is just selling us a product.
What changes would you like to see?
I'd like to see people go to hand-pump sprayers instead of aerosolized pressure cans of whatever product they are using, because the droplets are smaller and are not airborne as readily. I'd like to see the practice of taking off shoes at the door be taken up, because most of the dust and particles and pesticides and molds and pollen that come into the house from the outdoors come in on the shoes—either that, or a scrub mat at the back door. I'd like to see less perfume used.
How can indoor air toxins affect our behavior and health?
They can affect children's behavior. If the wrong cleaning products are used in the school, they act out; their moods darken, and their drawings darken. ... We should all be aware of the fact that our moods change from day to day. You start feeling great, and then you end up feeling crappy. Those are just normal circumstances. But we know that these changes and effects can be triggered by allergies, by asthma attacks, by exposure to different symptoms and different events that cause the cup to fill over the brim.