Indoor Air Quality Part 1

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people spend 90% of their time indoors, but that indoor air quality can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Indoor air pollution can threaten the health — and the lives — of everyone in your family.

The single most effective way to keep the air in your home healthy is to keep things out of your home that cause air pollution, including cigarette smoke, excess moisture and chemicals.

The second most important strategy is to ventilate to pull dangerous pollutants out of the house. Run the exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchen. Open your windows. Make sure you have a good exhaust system in place for appliances and stoves.

Some indoor air pollutants can kill. Among the most dangerous are these three:

  • Carbon monoxide: 400 die and thousands are sickened annually.
  • Secondhand smoke: 7,500-15,000 children are hospitalized or sickened with respiratory tract infections, and older adults with cardiovascular or lung illness are at higher risk of health problems.
  • Radon gas: It’s silent. It’s odorless. It’s found in many American homes, and it is the second biggest cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoke.

Each year, second hand smoke sends 7,500-15,000 children aged 18 months or younger to the hospital. Hundreds of thousands of children will develop respiratory tract infections from second hand smoke this year. Older adults and people with lung and cardiovascular diseases are also at higher risks of respiratory problems from cigarette smoke exposure.

Never let anyone smoke inside your home. The Surgeon General states that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Ask smokers to take it outside to protect the health of you and your family.

Carbon monoxide poisoning claims the lives of over 400 people each year and thousands of others become ill or seek medical attention after exposure to the odorless gas. Sometimes the early symptoms resemble the flu, but look for these differences: if more than one family member has symptoms — even your pets — and you feel better away from home, you may have a carbon monoxide problem. Carbon monoxide levels can rise very quickly in unventilated areas without anyone noticing the colorless, odorless, toxic gas.

Protect yourself by installing a carbon monoxide detector near your sleeping rooms. Also have all fuel burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician once a year to keep the deadly gas away from your home.

Carbon monoxide exposure can cause weakness, nausea, disorientation, unconsciousness and even death. Each year, hundreds of people become ill and die after carbon monoxide poisoning at home. Some 15,000 must go to the emergency room after exposure to the toxic gas.

Burning gas or other fuels indoors can produce dangerous levels of indoor air pollution and deadly carbon monoxide. Protect your health by turning off carbon-monoxide emitting motors in garages and sheds. Fumes from cars or lawnmowers left running in enclosed spaces, like attached garages, can endanger the health of you and your family. Malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances that emit carbon monoxide can cause life-threatening problems. Use only gas stoves and heaters indoors that vent directly to the outside air. Never use charcoal grills indoors. Never let anyone smoke indoors—cigarette smoke is another major source of carbon monoxide.

Paints release trace amounts of gases for months after application — even though they appear to be fully dried and the smell is gone. These gases are called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, and can include highly toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

Use “low-VOC” paints, varnishes, waxes and other chemicals.  If painting indoors, open windows and use exhaust fans to remove gases. Do not store open paint containers indoors.

Rain and high humidity can bring moisture indoors, creating dampness, mold and mildew — big problems for healthy indoor air. Dampness alone — not just mold — is associated with higher risk of wheezing, coughing and asthma symptoms.

Check your roof, foundation and basement or crawlspace once a year to catch leaks or moisture problems and route water away from your home’s foundation. Fix problems as quickly as possible to prevent unhealthy dampness from entering your home.

Asthma is the leading serious chronic illness of children in the U.S. Help keep asthma triggers away from your house by fixing leaks and drips as soon as they start. Standing water and high humidity encourage the growth of dust mites, mold and mildew — some of the most common triggers that can worsen asthma. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner when needed, and clean both regularly.

Pet allergies can come from an animal’s saliva, urine, feces and dead skin cells, so no pet is “hypoallergenic.” If someone in your family has pet allergies, keep your pet outdoors. Moving your pet from indoors to out can help reduce exposure to these allergens. However, cat allergens can stay in place for 20 weeks or more.

If you must keep your pet indoors, keep it away from sleeping rooms. Clean floors and upholstered furniture frequently (two or more times a week) to reduce exposure to pet allergens indoors. Unfortunately, two often-recommended actions do not seem to work: neither washing pets nor using indoor air cleaning devices helps.

Dust allergies are actually allergies to dust mites — microscopic pests that need moisture to survive. Scientists have also concluded that breathing dust mite allergens can cause asthma in children. Dust mites feed on human skin and live in bedding, pillows, mattresses, stuffed toys, upholstery and carpets.

To fight dust mites in your home:

  • Keep humidity levels below 50% indoors. Use a dehumidifier if necessary.
  • Intensive vacuuming and steam cleaning of upholstered furniture may help.
  • Remove carpets.
  • Using dust-mite-resistant covers and washing your bedding in very hot water may help as part of a comprehensive approach, but don’t rely on those steps by themselves.