Tips to Breathe Easy at Home
We all know about outdoor pollution and how harmful it can be, but are you aware of indoor pollutants.
It is important to be aware of the pollutants that can exist in our homes, because if you are not, you may have grave consequences.
There are many causes of indoor pollutants such as trapped moisture, home furnishings, household products, to the mattress that we sleep on. The mattress itself can let out gas through a process called ‘off-gassing’. This may be the source of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOC), making it difficult to get a good night’s rest.
Some symptoms of indoor pollutants can range from simple sniffles to serious illness and at time death.
People who are more vulnerable and at risk are the elderly and children. Children’s lungs are still small and developing and the elderly have weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to the dangers of indoor pollutants.
Every home should have proper ventilation to prevent buildup of indoor pollutants. To ensure that your home is well ventilated, open your doors and windows and allow the outdoor air to come in. You may also ask a professional to check your heating and air condition units to remove any indoor pollutants. The way to be sure is to regularly change your air filter, preferably on a monthly basis. Be sure to use high-quality filters to capture the fine particles. Another way to clean the air you breathe in your home is to purchase a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) room air cleaner. Placing this air cleaner in your main living area will also help with eliminating pollutants.
But most importantly is to be aware of the different sources of contamination that may exist such as:
- Mold – these are part of the fungus family and love wet environments. They reproduce via tiny spores and become loose and float in the air. People who are allergic to mold and at times people who are not will experience fever-like symptoms when inhaling mold or mold spores. If you have moisture in any areas of your home it must be removed immediately, because there is a very strong possibility of it turning into mold. It is important to wipe water off of surfaces immediately. Use exhaust fans in your bathrooms during and following showers. Fix leaky roofs, plumbing and basements. Use dehumidifiers if necessary. The perfect humidity in a home is 30-50% and this can be measured with a humidity meter, available at hardware stores.
- Carbon Monoxide – this is an odorless and colorless, tasteless toxic gas. It is produced when fossil fuels do not burn completely. At low levels carbon monoxide (CO) can cause flu-like symptoms but at high levels it can cause unconsciousness and in some cases death. Some of the sources are natural gas stoves, ovens, water heaters, furnaces, wood-burning stoves and kerosene space heaters. Some ways to prevent are by not using kerosene and gas heaters without proper ventilation, use exhaust fan vented to outdoors when using a gas stove, if using a wood-burning stove, be sure the draft vent is working properly. An important tip we may or may not be aware of is to never let your car sit idling in an attached garage or near an open window. To be safe it is recommended to install CO detectors in your home. They are small and look like smoke detectors and will sound an alarm if unsafe levels of CO are detected.
- Radon – this is also an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas but it is also a proven carcinogen. The National Research Council has estimated that indoor radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon can enter the home through cracks and holes in the foundation and will creep it’s way up the pipes, walls and floors. Greatest exposure is to ground floor levels but even second story homes can have elevated levels of this toxin. There are tests that can be purchased to test the levels of this toxin in your home, they are available the National Safety Council online at NSC.org/issues/radon/.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) – this gas can cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. It can also cause dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions and damage to the kidneys, liver and central nervous system. Some are even suspected human carcinogens. VOC’s are present in many consumer products that we many not be aware of. They are found in household cleaners, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, paints and wood stains. Some are also found in solvents, drycleaned garments and stain-resistant furniture and carpets. A way to prevent this potent gas in your home is to look for low to zero VOC products such as paints that carry the Green Seal label, use non-toxic cleaners such as baking soda, vinegar and water. Increase ventilation if need to use the particular products and store the products away from living and work spaces.
- Formaldehyde – this is a type of VOC used in the production of resins. This gas can be released in the air from materials by off-gassing. This gas is very strong smelling and can cause extreme allergic reactions and irritate the eyes, nose and throat. It can cause severe coughing, fatigue, and rashes. This toxin has been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. This toxin can be found in resins used in pressed wood products such as particle board, plywood, applied in sub-flooring, cabinets and furniture. It can also be found in adhesives, urea-formaldehyde (UF) foam insulation, and fiber glass insulation. Some ways to avoid this toxin are by purchasing press wood products that meet US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standards, avoid foam-in-place insulation containing formaldehyde. When having to use products that do contain formaldehyde increase the flow of outdoor air indoors. Dehumidifiers can also slow down the off-gassing effect.
A healthy indoor environment can prevent many health problems and concerns and being aware of some of the toxins and dangers can make it a safer place for you to live and breathe easier.
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