NEW YORK — As many as 87% of American homeowners are not aware that pollution may be worse inside the home than outdoors.

This is according to a survey released by the American Lung Association (ALA). It was commissioned by 3M as part of an ongoing educational partnership with the ALA and its Health House project.

The new survey supports a May 1999 ALA survey that revealed most Americans don’t realize indoor air can be a serious health hazard.

Because they are not aware of the dangers of poor indoor air, millions may mistakenly believe they can avoid breathing unhealthy air simply by staying inside their homes and offices during “Code Red” days — days rated as unhealthy by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Outdoor Air Quality Index.

Both ALA surveys identify the need for more public education about the potential dangers of indoor air. According to the EPA, the levels of indoor air pollutants may be two to five times higher — and occasionally more than 100 times higher — than outdoor levels.

EPA research also indicates that Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and indoor air pollution is one of the five most urgent environmental problems facing the United States.

“With all the attention surrounding dangerous levels of smog, ozone, and other pollutants in the air we breathe outdoors, many lose sight of the fact that many of these same pollutants, as well as pollen and other allergens, can easily find their way indoors,” said Mark LaLiberte, building expert and technical advisor to the ALA Health House project.

“Fortunately, there are numerous easy and relatively inexpensive steps homeowners can take to improve air quality in the home.”

The ALA Health House project is offering dozens of steps to creating better air quality within houses. One suggestion is installing a carbon monoxide detector to detect high levels of this odorless and potentially deadly gas. According to the most recent survey, only 37% of homeowners have a CO detector in their home.

Another suggestion is to store firewood in the garage or outdoors, rather than near the fireplace or anywhere else in the home. Drying firewood can generate mold spores, which can easily contaminate an entire house. The survey revealed that more than one in three Americans does not follow this recommendation.

Filter attitudes

According to this survey, 41% of American homeowners fail to replace their filters every two to three months (as recommended by ALA and many others), and 9% have never replaced the filter in their furnace.

It was found that, although 77% of the homeowners have a forced-air heating or central air conditioning system, only one in eight of these homeowners use a high-efficiency filter in the furnace.

High-efficiency filters not only protect the furnace, but contain electrostatically charged fibers designed to capture potentially harmful micro-particles such as pollen, pet dander, and smoke.

Nearly 60% of those homeowners with forced-air heating or central air conditioning responded that they would be willing to spend $15 on air filters every three months to improve air quality in the home.

3M and the American Lung Association are offering a booklet, “A Guide for Creating a Healthier Home,” filled with many more tips to reduce exposure to pollutants and allergens. To obtain a free copy, call 800-388-3458 or e-mail 3mfil trete@3mservice.montagenet.comand include your name and address.