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Negative Health Effects of Central Air Conditioning

Jun 30, 2010 | By Caroline Thompson

Caroline Thompson has been a professional photojournalist since 1999. She combines writing and photography in her stories. Thompson's work has appeared in the "Sacramento Bee," "People Magazine," "Newsweek" and other publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in photojournalism from California State University Hayward (CSUH) and a personal trainer certification from the Health and Fitness Institute out of CSUH.

Negative Health Effects of Central Air Conditioning
Photo Credit air conditioner vent image by Tammy Mobley from Fotolia.com

Central air conditioning is used in homes and businesses worldwide, but many of central air's negative effects get little recognition. Central air conditioning is essential in hot climates and makes summertime more comfortable. However, central air conditioning can aggravate certain health issues and contaminate the air with organic particles. It has even been liked to the spread of disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Aggravates Respiratory Conditions

Central air conditioners create condensation on the cooling coils and in drain pans that can grow microorganisms and mold, according to the August 2004 "International Journal of Epidemiology." These are spread throughout the home by the central air conditioning ventilation system. People who suffer from asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory illnesses can get serious lung infections, shortness of breath, wheezing or other severe reactions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC also noted that mold from central air conditioners can affect healthy individuals, causing wheezing, coughing and upper respiratory tract symptoms.

Indoor Air Contamination

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that indoor air pollutants might be greater than contaminated air outside. Because people spend a majority of their time indoors, this increases risk factors for people with respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. Central air conditioning units, according to the EPA, can spread indoor pollutants such as bacteria, molds, mildew, viruses, pollen and animal dander. Outdoor air is necessary to reduce the amount of air pollutants in the home. Central air units do not bring fresh air into the home, and therefore they do not help reduce the concentrations of indoor pollutants.

Spread Disease

Central air conditioning has been linked to the spread of Legionnaires’ disease at a Memphis, Tenn., hospital, according to the February 1980 issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine." An air conditioning cooling tower was found to have L. pneumophila in the water. Air intakes near the auxiliary cooling tower spread the disease, which caused 44 people to fall ill with Legionnaires’ disease.

Can Cause Workplace Illness

In a study published in the Aug. 19, 2004, "International Journal of Epidemiology," people working in office buildings with central air conditioning had more symptoms of illness than those who did not work in buildings with central air. The symptoms included headache, fatigue, mucous membrane irritation, breathing difficulties and skin irritations. The study noted that a likely explanation is central air conditioning ventilation systems spread contaminants in the air.

The EPA notes that “Sick Building Syndrome” refers to symptoms associated with large numbers of people getting sick in a building, but when they leave the building, their symptoms disappear. The sicknesses might be caused by poor air conditioning ventilation systems.


Article reviewed by JoeM Last updated on: Jun 30, 2010

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