Facts and Products for Improving Indoor Quality
Humans breathe in and out about 20,000 times a day, and most people spend 90% of their time indoors. Many people notice that they feel better when they are outside and that when they are stuck indoors, they frequently have headaches or feel nauseous. Recent research has proven that quality of indoor air is typically much worse than the air found on a typical city street and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ranked poor indoor air quality as one of the top five health risks. This may seem hard to believe at first, but as you read through this article, you will learn:
- Signs of indoor air contamination
- Sources of indoor air contamination
- Health risks related to contaminated indoor air
- What you can do to keep your indoor air clean
It’s not difficult to determine if your home may have poor air quality — it just requires that you take a minute to observe the conditions around you. Possible indoor air quality problems can be detected by the presence of unusual odors or “stale” air. If there is a noticeable lack of air movement in your home, the air you breathe has not been circulating and is not fresh and you probably notice a big change in the way you feel when you open a window or even spend some time outdoors.
Not all indications of poor indoor air quality are as subjective as “not feeling healthy” or trying to determine how the air around you smells. There are also physical signs you will be able to see. Look for mold or mildew in rooms that may have excess humidity. If your heating and/or air conditioning equipment is dirty, your home most likely suffers from poor indoor air quality.
Where do these problems originate? You may be living in a brand new or newly remodeled home and be experiencing these symptoms for the first time. Shouldn’t a new or remodeled home be free from air quality problems? Actually, many of the building materials used in home construction contain known carcinogens and hazardous chemicals like formaldehyde and organic solvents.
Homes and offices are constructed very tightly these days, and the lack of airflow is a big contributor to indoor air problems. It is also extremely common to find higher levels of asbestos and lead in older homes built before the late 1970’s, and trying to remove lead-based paint or asbestos insulation just increases your exposure to these hazards.
Your home may also contain pollutants produced by combustion, or burning. Any device that burns solids, liquids, or gases as a source of heat or energy produces smoke and/or harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Carbon monoxide, the most dangerous of the above gases, may also enter your home if your garage is attached to your home and the fumes from your car are able to enter. It is also just one of the many toxic gases in the second-hand smoke produced by smoking tobacco products. These pollutants are irritants to the nasal passages and respiratory system, cause cancer, and can be fatal.
You can tell if your home has excessive levels of harmful gases if more than one member of the household is experiencing flu-like symptoms (fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and muscle ache) that disappear when you leave the home or if you notice excessive levels of moisture in your home, since water vapor is a byproduct of fuel combustion. As a safely precaution, you should have your heating systems inspected annually for creosote build-up, blocked openings, dirty filters, etc.
Everyone is aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke, which is estimated by the EPA to be responsible for around 3,000 lung cancer-related deaths in non-smokers each year. They also estimate that secondhand smoke is responsible for 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months of age annually, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations for this age group each year.
Children of all ages that have been exposed to secondhand smoke experience difficulty breathing and may experience fluid buildup in their middle ear. This is the most common operation in children and is due to the effects of secondhand smoke. There are between 200,000 and 1,000,000 asthmatic children whose condition is worsened due to secondhand smoke. Obviously, the best solution to the problem is to quit smoking, but that is too difficult for most people. If you cannot quit, please do not smoke or allow guests to smoke in the house. If, as a last resort, you do permit smoking in your home, you should seriously consider an air purifier with a HEPA filter. This type of air purifier will remove the smoke particles as well as the odors from your home.
Radon is another dangerous radioactive gas that is only detectable through test kits. Radon results from the breakdown of uranium, a mineral found in most soil and rocks throughout the world. It enters the home through natural gas, well water, cracks in the home’s foundation, or through natural building materials like stones or rocks. Removal of this dangerous substance should be left to a professional who will seal off the cracks and crevices from where the radon enters the home.