We spend 90% of our time indoors. Especially during the winter, when cold temperatures force us to keep our windows tightly closed both at home and on the job. This means we are living and breathing in a tightly sealed environment until Spring.
When we think of air pollution, we often regard it as an outdoor problem stemming from car exhaust, industrial emissions and more. However you need to know that indoor air can be polluted too.
In fact, indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and at times may be more than 100 times higher!*
When looking out for your family and their health, it is important to realize the majority of the air you breathe is coming from your indoor environment.
But why is Indoor Air so Toxic?
Most homes are now designed to be energy efficient, and this means they’re well insulated and have very few air exchanges between indoor and outdoor air. If your home is not well ventilated and contains numerous sources of indoor air pollution common to most indoor environments, there’s a good chance you’re breathing dirty air in your home.
As the EPA states:*
“If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Unless they are built with special mechanical means of ventilation, homes that are designed and constructed to minimize the amount of outdoor air that can “leak” into and out of the home may have higher pollutant levels than other homes.
There are many sources of indoor air pollution, like cigarette smoke, but many more are not so easily identified.
Common Sources of Indoor Pollutants Can Include:
- Building materials (including flooring, paint, etc.)
- Cabinetry or furniture made of pressed-wood products
- Household cleaning products
- Central heating and cooling systems
- Humidification devices
- Air fresheners
- Combustion sources (oil, gas, kerosene, coal and wood)
- Personal care products (hair spray, nail polish, fragrance, etc.)
- Materials used for hobbies (glues, epoxy, paint strippers, etc.)
When you spray a pesticide, a cleaning product or even air fresheners in your home, there is an abundance of chemicals that are being released into the air. They then settle down and become intertwined with house dust. When you walk through any room in your house, you disturb the dust which is released into the air that you breathe
Among these toxic chemicals, you will find :
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
These are emitted from paint, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, furniture and building supplies, pesticides, office equipment, permanent markers and more. Fumes can be released from these products not only when they’re in use but also while they’re stored.
Some VOCs are linked to cancer and damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Studies suggest concentrations of VOCs in air can be up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.
* (EPA website)
Indoor particle pollutants come from fireplaces, wood stoves, furnaces and kerosene heaters. They can cause respiratory infections, bronchitis and lung cancer.
Pesticides have been linked to increased risks of cancer and damage to the liver, kidneys, endocrine and nervous systems.
Mold, mildew, bacteria, viruses, animal dander, dust, saliva, pollen, and mites are all examples of biological pollutants in your home. Droppings and body parts from cockroaches, rodents and other insects can also add to this toxic load. Some biological pollutants can cause allergic reactions and asthma in sensitive individuals, while others, like mold and mildew, can release toxins into the air. Common health complaints related to biological pollutants include allergic symptoms (sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath), lethargy, dizziness, fever and digestive problems.
Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that comes from naturally occurring uranium in soil and water. It can seep into your home through pipes, cracks in your foundation, sumps and drains and other openings. Radon is carcinogenic and can cause lung cancer; it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. * EPA
Health Risks Of Polluted Air
There are so many indoor air pollutants that can lead to numerous short- and long-term health problems. People who are sensitive or allergic will react to these pollutants before others. These symptoms include eye, nose and throat irritation, fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. Many times they can mimic symptoms of a cold or other viral illness.
Long-term exposure, however, can lead to more serious health conditions that may not show up for years. These include:
- Respiratory Disease
- Heart Disease
Because these illnesses can occur after long term exposures, (but often do not show any symptoms until a diagnosis is made), it’s important to take steps to improve your indoor air quality.
Tips for Improving Your Indoor Air Quality
So what can you do to keep your home’s air as pure as possible? Winter is an ideal time to take stock of your indoor air. It can bemany months before you can open a window and let some fresh air in.
Minimize Pollutant Sources
- Avoid spraying pesticides, chemical cleaners, air fresheners and other synthetic products in your home. Also minimize your use of paint thinner and other solvents, and look for non-toxic, low-VOC or zero-VOC paints.
- If you will be purchasing new furniture, carpeting, cabinetry or flooring, look for those made of green building materials, as these will not outgas VOCs the way conventional building supplies will.
Using window or attic fans, kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans will increase ventilation. Most heating and cooling systems do not circulate fresh air into your home, so in order to help keep your home well-ventilated it was very important to find ways to ventilate the air in your home. It is especially important to open windows as weather permits when you’re using products that generate high levels of pollutants (such as paint or paint thinner).
Extremely important is keeping the humidity level in your home between 30-60 percent. This will help keep dust mites, mold and mildew under control.
You should also take care to keep areas where moisture collects, like basements and bathrooms, well ventilated, dry and clean. When cleaning humidifiers regularly, make sure to use fresh water daily to prevent these from becoming breeding grounds for mold and other biological contaminants.
Keep Your Home Clean
Believe it or not, regularly dusting and vacuuming in your home will help your air clean by keeping dust mites, pollen, dander, and certain other biological air pollutants to a minimum.
Further, flu viruses are known to flourish in cold, dry air with very little moisture, making the flu easier to spread and even increasing the length of time it remains contagious once airborne. This means it’s possible dry winter air may increase your family’s risk of catching the flu.
But it is important to keep a healthy balance. If your air feels excessively dry you can also use a humidifier — just be certain you keep it very well cleaned.
With winter upon us you and your family spending so much more time inside … now is the ideal time to be extra vigilant about your indoor air quality. By using the steps listed above, you can significantly reduce & remove toxins by increasing ventilation in your home so air stays as pure and fresh as possible.