The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the air indoors can be two to five times more polluted than the air outside. That’s a pretty sobering statistic because indoor air pollution is linked to a host of health issues including but not limited to headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea, fatigue and allergic reactions, as well as diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and cancer. Studies have shown that infants, children and the elderly are the most susceptible to air pollutants.
Indoor air quality is compromised, primarily, by particles and gases. Most homes have many potential sources of air pollution such as:
Carpet, plywood, particleboard, paint and various other construction materials all outgas chemicals such as formaldehyde and VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the air in your home and is the source of that “new home” smell.
Mattresses and furniture are treated with pounds of harmful flame retardants and contain polyurethane foam, both of which add to the chemical vapors circulating in your home.
Pillows and mattresses contain dust mites, which are a major allergic trigger, and it’s estimated that dust mites account for over half the weight of the average pillow.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, all household cleaners, insecticides, pesticides, air fresheners and personal care products have a smell. Those odors are chemical fumes that are being released into your breathing air every time you use them and most have not been tested for safety. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, of the nearly three thousand top selling chemicals in the U.S., only 7 percent have a full set of basic human toxicity information.
Smoking indoors fills the air with cancer-causing toxins. Even when smoking outside, toxins from the 3600 chemicals emitted from tobacco smoke cling to clothing. Many of these toxins are released into the air indoors. Additionally, second hand smoke is up to four times more carcinogenic than smoke inhaled directly from a cigarette.
Mold spores, bacteria, and mildew thrive in moist or humid areas and on damp towels or clothing and even food, whether inside the refrigerator or on the counter, serves as a breeding ground for bacteria and mold spores which end up in the air.
Other sources include perfumes, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces chemicals from hobbies like glues and varnishes, dusty closets, vinyl and PVC products, plastic toys, moldy/dusty wallpaper, cosmetics, nail care products and scented candles.
What Can you Do to Improve the Air in Your Home?
• Use non-toxic, biodegradable cleaners (or make your own).
• Avoid using insecticides and pesticides inside (and outside) your home. Seek out a pest control service that uses eco-friendly methods.
• Use zero VOC paints. These are now widely available at most home improvement and paint stores.
• Clean your carpets instead of replacing them or even better, if you have wood floors underneath, pull up your carpets and use non-toxic, glue-free area rugs.
• Consider Marmoleum® or cork flooring instead of vinyl. They’re non-toxic and biodegradable.
• Avoid furniture made with particleboard, pressboard or MDF (medium density fiberboard). Opt for solid woods whenever possible or consider buying used furniture that will have already outgassed much of it’s chemical load.
• DON’T smoke indoors and remove clothes that have smoke residue on them before coming inside when possible. Consider wearing a smoking jacket!
• Avoid using aerosol products of any kind.
• Don’t use air fresheners. They have been shown to contain phthalates and other dangerous chemicals and can be especially harmful to children who are close to the ground where plugin air fresheners fumes are strongest and frequently crawling on surfaces where air fresheners particle settle. Use natural methods to freshen your air such as opening windows, keeping trash cans emptied and removing the sources of bad smells instead of covering them up.
• Don’t use vinyl shower curtains or bath mats. That smell that fills your bathroom is completely toxic. Opt for a curtain that is made from PEVA and bath mats that are made of rubber (preferably without an anti-microbial treatment)
• Use non-toxic allergy covers on your pillows and bedding.
• Consider making an investment in an organic or latex mattress, if not for yourself, then for your baby or young child. There is some evidence that chemicals outgassing from crib mattresses may play a role in SIDS.
• Vacuum frequently and dust with a microfiber cloth instead of chemical-based dusting sprays or wipes.
• Don’t burn candles indoors, scented or not.
• Test your home for carbon-monoxide and if you live in an area where radon gas is common, have your home tested for that also.
• If you’re going to buy new furniture, SKIP whatever fabric protection treatments they may offer. If possible, buy during the time of the year that you can comfortably keep your windows open for a period each each day.
• Avoid burning food when cooking or doing anything that creates smoke in your home. The smoke may dissipate but the particles are settling all over house.
• Replace your A/C filters every month.
*house image from epa.gov
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