Just outside my window the ground is covered with a light dusting of fresh snow. Last check, the outdoor thermometer read a chilly two degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the doors and windows tightly closed is a necessity as the winter months settle in.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) people spend 90 percent or more of their time indoors. Newer homes are designed to be well insulated and energy efficient, allowing for very few air exchanges between indoor and outdoor air. With the doors and windows of our homes tightly shut, another problem beings to brew inside: air pollution. We generally think of air pollution as an outdoor problem stemming from car exhaust, emissions and other toxins, however indoor air can be polluted too.
Indoor air pollution
There’s a growing body of scientific evidence confirming air pollution in our homes can be much worse than outdoor air pollution. Toxic chemicals are everywhere. As parents, most of us do our best to keep our kids safe, but unfortunately it’s not always easy or within our control. We are all exposed to toxic chemicals on a daily basis through a variety of consumer products found in our homes.
Hundreds of toxic chemicals, including pesticides, fire retardants and PCBs, can be found in the umbilical cord blood of newborns, according to studies by the Environmental Working Group. No surprise there – our homes are filled with toxins. Our mattresses are filled with toxic chemicals and our couches are filled with cancer-causing chemicals.
What can you do to improve indoor air quality in your home?
1. No VOCs - Most conventional paints contain high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which emit a breathable gas when slapped on your walls. VOCs are not your friend. Once released, down goes the air quality in your home, and headaches, nausea and dizziness can occur. Long term exposures to the fumes have been linked to a number of disorders including cancer, kidney disease and liver damage. The next time you plan to paint, consider choosing a low VOC or no VOC paint that is free of nasty fumes.
2. Avoid Synthetic Scents - Air fresheners, cleaning supplies and other scented products can contribute to indoor air pollution. Read labels and find products without toxic chemicals and synthetic “fragrance.”
3. Test for Radon – You can’t see or smell radon but it could be in your home. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and seeps into your home and the air you breathe. Testing is inexpensive and simple and the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. January is National Radon Action Month.
4. No Smoking Zone. Tobacco smoke is a major contributor to indoor air pollution. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds. More than 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmful, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer. Children exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke are at increased risk for ear and respiratory infections, asthma, cancer, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Make your home a no smoking zone.
5. Take Your Shoes Off at the Door. Declare your home a “shoe free” zone. Shoes track into the home all sorts of toxins from the outside that could impact your indoor air quality. Asking family and guests to take off their shoes before they enter your home will create a healthier, safer environment for all.
6. Houseplants Help Clean the Air. Many common houseplants act as an air filter, removing toxins from the air we breathe. They are known to produce oxygen from CO2 and they absorb toxins including benzene (gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber), formaldehyde and/or trichloroethylene (printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives). A few years back NASA recommended to use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house.