Identifying & Finding Solutions to Indoor Air Pollution

When you think air pollution, your mind probably goes straight to smoke stacks, car and car exhaust. When you think of indoor air pollution, it might be a bit more difficult to picture. If you have ever wondered whether your home has a problem, ask yourself these questions:

* Do you suffer from sore throat, headache and persistent cough, as well as itchy, running eyes and nose when in your home, but feel better soon after leaving?

* Is the air in your house poorly ventilated, humid, or smelly and stuffy?

Answering “yes” to these questions doesn’t necessarily mean you have indoor air pollution, but it’s a good indication. An easy experiment is to try some of the solutions for indoor air pollution listed below and see if you notice a difference.

Health effects from indoor air pollution can be immediate and short-lived, or they may be severe and not show up until years after repeated exposures. The most common symptoms are sore throat, headache and persistent cough, as well as itchy, running eyes and nose. More severe symptoms include chronic breathing problems, heart disease and cancer.

One most effective ways to reduce indoor air pollution is to attack the problem at its source. If you suspect an indoor air problem, call a licensed indoor environmentalist. They will do a full evaluation of the air in your home, including your HVAC system and test for not only mold growth, airborne mold spores, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, asbestos, radon & humidity levels.

If you’re worried about potential exposure of harmful contaminants that can cause indoor air pollution, you have several options. The first is to carefully follow the instructions on all product labels, use them in well-ventilated areas, and store and dispose of them safely. The second is to pick a product that is made with benign ingredients. If you’re unsure, read the label: If a product doesn’t list its ingredients or has any “warnings,” it’s probably not safe.

Some sources, like those that contain asbestos, can simply be sealed to prevent exposure, while others, like pesticides, you may want to eliminate. If you are planning on painting your home , you want to purchase paints, glues & wallpaper that have low or no VOC’s (Volatile organic compounds). Also make sure to check new flooring products, such as organic fiber carpets and certain wood flooring that does not have heavy varnish coatings that can off-gas. And most importantly you want to always run an exhaust fan or open windows when you’re using items with potentially harmful chemicals. High exposure to chemicals in household products and pesticides can irritate the respiratory tract; cause headaches, dizziness and vision problems; impair memory function and may cause cancer.

Ventilation is helpful at decreasing all indoor pollutants. Since most heating and cooling systems simply recirculate air rather than bring in fresh air, you’ll want to open windows and doors whenever possible, operate window or attic fans, and run bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust outdoors. You especially want to follow these steps when you’re using items with potentially harmful chemicals like paints & pesticides.

Increasing ventilation can have one drawback if you live in a place with high outdoor humidity, like here in South Florida. Or in major cities that have high concentrations of outdoor pollutants, (think New York & LA),  increased ventilation may actually worsen indoor air pollution. The best advice in these instances is to run your A/C’s fan so you are pulling in air that is being filtered to remove any harmful particles, and only open windows atmoderate ventilation rates.

Aside from ventilation, it is extremely important to minimize the biological contaminants in your home by maintaining a humidity level of 30 to 50 percent. Higher levels encourage mold growth and dust mites. Keeping carpets clean and dry, and simply maintaining a clean house also discourage biological contaminants.

I would be irresponsible to talk about indoor air pollutants without mentioning one of the most visible indoor air pollutants to the environment: Tobacco smoke and even secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains 200 known poisons and at least 43 compounds known to cause cancer. Even if you don’t smoke, you may be subject to secondhand smoke if you live or work with someone who does. Each year“passive smoking” is responsible for 150,000 -  300,000 respiratory infections in infants each year, worsens the asthma of up to 1 million asthmatics, and causes around 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 35,000 to 50,000 heart disease deaths each year in nonsmoking adults. But the best news I can give you to prevent indoor air pollutants is do NOT allow any smoking in your home or place of business.