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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 12/01/2017

Indoor air quality: is your home safe?

There is no doubt that the quality of the air we breathe is important. The media reminds us continually about our cities’ outdoor air quality. However, the average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors, with 65 percent of that time spent at home. This means the quality of our indoor air has to be taken seriously as well.

According to the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), there are many indoor pollutants in the average American household that could be easily removed or prevented.

EPA studies have found that indoor pollutant levels can be two to five times higher than outdoors. Ordinary house dust is a complex mixture of pet dander, fungal spores, tiny particles, soil tracked in on your feet, carpet fibers, human hair and skin, etc. It is also a place where harmful chemicals are found. A recent study identified 66 endocrine-disrupting compounds in household dust tests, including flame retardants, home-use pesticides, and phthalates.

Most home heating and cooling systems do not automatically bring fresh air into the home. Opening windows and doors may help to renew indoor air, especially if you are painting, mopping floors, disinfecting surfaces, cooking, or have the fireplace on. As we discussed in a previous bulletin, air fresheners contain phthalates and many other hazardous chemicals that can be easily inhaled, land on the skin and be absorbed, or accidently ingested. Studies have shown long term exposure to the chemicals in air fresheners can cause serious health problems. For more information about this topic and healthier alternatives, please click here

Exposure to air pollutants can lead to a range of short-term and long-term health effects. Whether a person reacts to a pollutant or not depends on individual sensitivity; usually the symptoms are broad and unspecific. It is often difficult to determine if symptoms such as eye and nose irritation, scratchy throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue are the short-term effect of exposure to indoor air pollution. These symptoms usually disappear after the exposure is stopped. Long-term effects may include the development of asthma, breathing disorders and cancer.

Since assessing what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems, the best recommendation is to try to maintain good air quality in your home.

Below are some easy steps you can take to reduce indoor air pollution and improve the quality of the air you breathe:

  • Good ventilation
  • Eliminate sources of pollution such as asbestos, gas stoves, home-use pesticides, air fresheners, etc.
  • Make your house dust free. Vacuum frequently, use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter and wipe down furniture with a wet or microfiber cloth. Don’t forget to wipe down home decor, books, fans, electronic equipment and bed frames.
  • Clean up quickly and thoroughly when you finish a home improvement project.
  • Wet mop often.
  • Control high temperatures and humidity levels in your home.
  • Prevent mold and moisture in your home. Click here for a helpful guide from the EPA. 
  • Keep your home and car smoke-free.
  • Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
  • Finally, look for signs of problems with the ventilation in your home such as:
    • smelly or stuffy air
    • dirty central heating and air cooling equipment
    • areas where books, shoes, or other items become moldy

For more tips on how to improve the air quality in your house and for a room-by-room indoor air quality checklist, please click here. For a complete guide from the EPA for home air cleaners please click here

Have a wonderful weekend,

Karen Alexander, MSCN,BSND

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