Celebrate Clean Air Month by Protecting Your Indoor Air
May is Clean Air Month. And rightfully so. The American Lung Association tells us that lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer of both men and woman in the US. Surprisingly, more than two-thirds of the people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. So what really creates all these deadly air borne carcinogens? The answer may surprise you.
Let’s join the national focus on clean air month by making sure we avoid the common things that lead to the destruction of our personal indoor air quality.
18 Scary, Common Things That Contribute to Indoor Air Pollution
1. Remodels, Rebuilds or Refurnishing
Ah, the joys of a brand new oasis. Just beware of the toxins that could be lurking in your building materials. Formaldehyde, a naturally occurring volatile organic compound (VOC) which emit odors and pollutants are common in building materials. The most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. This could include flooring, shelving, cabinets and some furniture. Formaldehyde emissions generally decrease as products age, so older homes may be safe.
Carpets, as cozy as the may be, can create havoc on your indoor air starting the moment they are installed. VOC’s can be found in some new carpets, carpet pads and the adhesives used to install them. Years later, when the VOC’s may no longer be an issue, pollutants like dust mites, pet dander, dirt and dust that get trapped in its fibers. These pollutants may become airborne during vacuuming or even daily activities like walking across the carpet.
’Tis the season for creepy critters to be corralling about. In defense, pesticides are sprayed and place in and around many of our homes. The EPA states that 75% of U.S. households used at least one pesticide indoors during the past year and that 80% of most people’s exposure to pesticides occurs indoors. Both people and pets can track contaminated dirt and dust in from outside. These pollutants get trapped in your carpets and float in your air.
4. Hobbies and Projects
Short-term activities such as painting, paint stripping, welding, soldering, or sanding can generate high levels of pollutants. If circumstances and weather permits, you should consider doing some of these activities outdoors. If you can’t, make sure your space is well ventilated and you thoroughly clean up all the particles.
5. Attached Garages
Benzene, another VOC is also another well-known human carcinogen. The main indoor culprits for this chemical are tobacco smoke, stored fuels, paint supplies and automobile emissions in attached garages.
An easy fix to indoor air pollution is proper ventilation in your home. Moisture condensation on windows or walls, smelly or stuffy air, dirty HVAC equipment, and mold are sure signs that you may have a ventilation issue. Fixing the cause of the issue is obviously the best course of action with any ventilation issue.
7. Cooking Stoves
A third of U.S. households use a natural gas cooking appliances which can contribute to poor indoor air quality. Especially when it’s used without an exhaust hood. Gas stoves emit noxious toxins like like nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO). All of which can cause various respiratory and other health ailments.
8. Cooking Oil
Burning your dinner doesn’t just taste bad, it can hurt your health. That’s what Environmental Health Perspectives tell us in their post- Cooking Up Indoor Air Pollution. Over heating oil (until it smokes), can change its chemical composition and omit harmful fumes. For high temperature cooking like deep-frying, barbecuing or stir-frying, select cooking oils with a high smoke point such as olive oil and sesame oil.
9. Heaters, Fireplaces and Wood-Burning Stoves
Combustion appliances like space heaters, fireplaces and wood-stoves can release various types and amounts of pollutants. Types and amounts can vary base on the type of appliance, how well it’s installed, maintained, and vented, and the kind of fuel it uses. While warm temps may be lagging this year, most of us are way past throwing a log on the fire. For more info you may be interested in reading our previous post about healthy winter indoor air.
Everyone knows extra moisture equals mold, mildew, bacteria and maybe even insects. Running a dehumidifier in damp environments can help keep the humidity level to a recommended 30-50 percent. Just remember to always empty and clean the water bucket. Stagnate, standing water can be a breeding ground for everything you are trying to eliminate.
In dry environments, a humidifier can be your best friend. The same goes for humidifiers as it does for dehumidifiers. Regular clean your appliances according to manufacturer’s instructions and refill with fresh water daily.
12. Viruses and Bacteria
Even the tidiest of houses can host unwanted guests. Bacteria and viruses can live on virtually every surface you touch. These little buggers usually travel through the air, through an uncovered sneeze or other form of unhealthy behavior. A key step to reducing the spread of diseases is to properly clean your house and cleanse your air. The more stagnant the air is, the more likely diseases are to spread.
13. Cleansers and Household Products
Cleaning products tend to be the most toxic items found in our homes. Ammonia, bleach and bathroom cleaners can wreak havoc on your respiratory system and when mixed together can even cause death. For a list of the top toxic cleaning products to avoid check out this previous post.
14. Dry Cleaning
Tetrachloroethene or PERC is a chemical most widely used in dry cleaning. This chemical has been shown to cause cancer in animals. To be safe, keep exposure to PERC emissions from newly dry-cleaned materials to a minimum. Recent studies indicate that people breathe low levels PERC as they wear dry-cleaned clothes and in homes where dry-cleaned goods are stored. People living near a dry cleaner should take extra care with their indoor air as they may be exposed to higher levels of PERC than the general population.
15. Air Fresheners
There’s a reason why air fresheners always make it to every list concerning indoor air pollution. Everything you breathe ends up in your blood stream. Plug in scents, sprays and scented candles have been documented by the Natural Resources Defense Council to contain phthalates and formaldehyde, which can causes an array of respiratory, hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems. Synthetic air fresheners can trigger allergy symptoms, aggravate existing allergies and worsen asthma. Stanley Fineman, MD, ACAAI President(American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology) states “About 20 percent of the population and 34 percent of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners.”
We know smoking and secondhand smoke causes cancer. Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, including at least 70 that can cause cancer. Yet an estimated 40 million adults in the US still smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or 1 of every 5 deaths. If you still smoke, protect your family, friends and pets by either smoking outside, in a ventilated area or by purifying your air.
17. Personal Care Products
For the past thirty years we have been addressing second hand smoke. According to Health Impact News,today we are addressing secondhand fragrances. Yes, I said secondhand fragrances. Fragrances are amongst some of the most toxic chemicals out there. So much so the EPA has launched a Safer Choice Standard label and data-base for fragrance free products. An alternative to fragrant products is to switching from synthetic scents to one’s scented with essential oils. This will help reduce the amount of toxic “fragrances” you put on your skin and breathe in every day. Make sure you purchase oils that are pure plant products as some synthetic oils do exist.
Our favorite furry friends are prime sources of dirt, dander and hundreds of other pollutants. These pesky pollutants are usually picked up from outside and then tracked into your house. If pet dander is your biggest issue, regular baths and brushings will help keep pet dander away and control shedding.
So there you have it, 17 scary, common everyday items that contribute to indoor air pollution. Let’s celebrate the rest of Clean Air Month by making sure we avoid the things that lead to indoor air pollution. And, make sure we purify our air to get rid of the pollutants we can’t avoid. By doing so we can keep our indoor air as clean as it can be.
Which common item listed here surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments!
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