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Indoor Air Pollution: Do Something About It

According to the EPA, indoor air can be more polluted than the outdoor air, even in the most industrialized cities. In fact, they have found that the air in our homes can have pollutant levels two to five times higher than the outside air, and sometimes even much higher, depending on what furnishings, building materials and cleansers we are using.

Potentially hazardous chemicals, in the form of building materials, furnishings and cleaning products, infiltrate nearly everyone’s home. They’re found in upholstery, manufactured wood products such as plywood and press board, traditional paint, permanent-press fabrics, carpet, vinyl, air fresheners, sealers and adhesives. And they can hang around in the air and carpets for years.

The ill effects of indoor air pollution can range from short-term issues such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, to headaches, dizziness and fatigue, and long-term exposure can lead to serious and chronic illnesses, such as respiratory disease, heart disease, or cancer.  It's important to do what you can to improve the quality of the air in your home, even if no family members are having adverse health symptoms. 

Here are some of the main sources of indoor pollution and some things you can do to minimize the effect of them on your family's health.

⇒  New carpet. Carpet materials can emit a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  If you are purchasing new carpeting, ask for low-VOC, formaldehyde-free adhesives. Air out new carpeting for a few days before installing it. Then after it is installed, keep windows open in the room and run a fan for a couple of days if you can.

⇒  Glues and adhesives. They can emit VOCs, such as acetone or methyl ethyl ketone, that can irritate the eyes and affect the nervous system. Rubber cement can contain n-hexane, a neurotoxin. Adhesives can emit toxic formaldehyde. Choose water-based, formaldehyde-free glue, and work in a well-ventilated space.

⇒  Heating equipment & systems can produce carbon monoxide, which can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and even death if not ventilated properly. They can also emit nitrogen dioxide and particulates, which can cause respiratory problems and eye, nose, and throat inflammation. As homes have been sealed and tightened to be more energy-efficient, ventilation has become more important. HVAC systems appropriately vented to the outdoors will help remove unhealthy off-gassed air from a home. It is also important to have furnaces, hot water heaters, and appliances cleaned and serviced at least once per year.  Install carbon-monoxide alarms and use your kitchen vent when cooking.

⇒  Paints and strippers. All paints can emit VOCs as they dry, which can cause headaches, nausea, or dizziness. Paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints can also contain methylene chloride, which is known to cause cancer in animals. Use low-VOC paints, open windows and doors, ventilatee with fans, and wear a respirator or mask when painting interior spaces.

⇒  Air fresheners. We all like to have great smelling houses, but be aware that many of the air fresheners, candles, and plug-ins contain potentially harmful chemicals. There are alternatives. You can use pure botanical oils instead of the chemical-laden scents, and there are many different delivery methods, including the favorite plug-ins, for convenience and low maintenance. 

⇒  Upholstered furniture and pressed-wood products (hardwood plywood, wall paneling, particle board, fiber board). When new, many furniture and wood products can emit formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen that can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; and severe allergic reactions. If you are bringing these products into your home, increase ventilation to the area.  Search for formaldehyde-free furniture and wood products when possible.

⇒  Cleaning products. It's important to be clean and get rid of germs in your home to keep your family healthy. However, it is not necessary to use harmful chemical-laden products for cleaning or germ elimination. There are a plethora of natural/green/organic cleaning products for every possible chore around your home. Choosing natural cleaning products is an easy way to eliminate your family's exposure to harmful chemicals around the home, in their clothing, and in the kitchen.

House plants are often overlooked as helpers in ridding the air of pollutants and toxins, counteracting out-gassing and contributing to balanced internal humidity.  It is suggested that one plant should be allowed for approximately 10 square yards of floor space, assuming average ceiling heights of 8 to 9 feet. This means that you need two or three plants to contribute to good air quality in the average living room of about 20 to 25 square yards.

Research has shown that these 10 plants are the most effective in counteracting offgassed chemicals and contributing to balanced internal humidity.

Although many plants like light, they do not all have to be placed near windows. Many indoor plants can be placed in darker corners. 

This post doesn't cover all sources of indoor air pollution, but hopefully you got some actionable ideas that you can implement to lessen the effects of potential pollutants in your home.  Bottom line, attempt to find natural/green/organic or low/no VOC products when choosing items for your home, keep your HVAC systems clean and venting properly, and let fresh air into your home as much as possible.