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Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor Air Pollution: Is the Air in Your Home Making You Sick?

By: Nancy Mann Jackson

Cold winter days are coming to a close, and the warmer weather offers more opportunities to get out of the house and breathe fresh air. During the winter months, many people suffer from colds, allergies or the flu - and one reason for the increase in sickness is that when the weather is cold, people spend more time indoors with poor air quality.

According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air that people breathe inside their homes or other buildings can pose a health risk, if it includes pollutants such as chemicals, gases and mold. Some pollutants can cause physical problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches and fatigue. Others can cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, heart disease, cancer and other conditions. Some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, when found in high concentrations can cause death.

Causes of Indoor Air Pollution

Pollutants originate from a variety of sources. Here are some of the most common, and how to combat them.

Dust mites - Every home that has dust has dust mites, microscopic insects that are triggers for allergies and asthma. You can lessen the number of dust mites in your home by targeting dust.

  • Vacuum carpets and clean floors weekly.
  • Launder sheets and pillows regularly in hot water.
  • Wash rugs, cushions and throw pillows, and when it's warm out, place them in the sun to kill dust mites.
Mold - When water is allowed to sit on surfaces in your home, it will often create mold, which can trigger asthma and other allergies and even permanent lung damage.

  • Repair any leaks quickly and clean up any dampness.
  • Dry carpets, ceilings, inside cabinets and other areas that may be exposed to water.
  • Run bathroom fans when bathing or showering to remove moisture from the air.
  • Regularly change the filters in your central heat and air conditioning system.
  • Keep indoor humidity between 30 and 50 percent. You can purchase a moisture or humidity gauge at a hardware store to test your home's humidity level.
Household chemicals - Allergies and allergy-induced asthma can be triggered by common household chemicals.

  • Use small amounts of bleach or vinegar and baking soda mixed with water, which work well for most cleaning tasks.
  • Learn more about common, yet harmful chemicals at sites like the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry so you can avoid store-bought products containing them.
Combustion pollutants - Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can come from improperly vented or unvented fuel burning appliances such as space heaters, gas stoves, water heaters, dryers and fireplaces.

  • Purchase an inexpensive carbon monoxide tester to see if your home is at a dangerous level.
  • Ensure that fireplaces, gas stoves and other appliances are properly vented.
Radon - Radon is a radioactive gas that is formed in the soil and is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It can enter your home through cracks and openings in floors and walls that are in contact with the ground.

  • Since Radon is colorless and odorless, the only way to know if it is present at dangerous levels is to test your home. You can contact a professional, or use a simple do-it-yourself radon test kit.
  • If radon levels are high, install a radon mitigation system.
Cigarettes - Smoking cigarettes indoors can pollute your home with harmful secondhand smoke. To improve air quality,

  • Don't allow smoking indoors.
  • Bring fresh air in by opening windows and doors when weather permits.
Understanding the many impacts of the air quality in our homes is the first step in ensuring that the air we breathe is healthy and clean, resulting in healthy and clean bodies. Following these simple indoor air quality testing procedures will help you breathe easy.

May 8, 2013, 2:11 PM

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