Indoor Air Quality: A Breath of Fresh Air
- Wednesday, 25 February 2009
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists indoor air pollution among the top environmental hazards to human health. During the winter season, it is even more important to pay attention to our indoor air quality because we spend more time indoors.
According to the EPA, measurements of indoor air pollutants can be two to five times higher than outdoor pollutants and, in some cases, as much as 100 times higher. Studies found a wide range of chemicals present in indoor dust. These chemicals originate from a variety of consumer products such as: plastics, paints, cleaning materials, personal care products, new furniture, carpets, and electronics. These and other pollutants contribute to a variety of health problems.
Up to 40 percent of physician-diagnosed asthma in the U.S. may be triggered by indoor exposure to second-hand smoke, gas stove and oven fumes, or the presence of a dog in the home. Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may also increase the risk of asthma and other respiratory problems. VOCs are chemicals that contribute to the smell emitted by new furniture and carpets, glue, paint, air fresheners, mothballs, and many cleaning and personal care products. In addition, biological pollutants—such as moulds, pet dander, dust mites, and cockroaches—can lead to development of allergies and other sensitivities after repeated exposures. Some people become very sensitive to chemical pollutants.
Although indoor air pollution impacts most people’s health, children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable. Children more easily inhale, absorb, and ingest contaminants that have settled on the ground or other surfaces because they crawl or have hand-to-mouth behaviors.
Strategies to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution
Identify sources of indoor air pollution in your own home, for example molds, dust.
Take off your shoes at the door to avoid tracking outdoor contaminants (such as pesticides) indoors.
Clean regularly using natural cleaners, and vacuum at least once a week (twice a week if you have a crawling child), especially in children’s play and sleep areas.
Clean with moisture (i.e. a wet mop) or use a vacuum cleaner rather than dry dusting.
Carefully dispose of vacuum cleaner bags. Do not allow children or pregnant women to empty vacuum cleaner bags, and do not compost them.
Wash dust rags separately or dispose of them carefully.
Carefully dispose of dryer lint.
Wash hands frequently, especially before eating or preparing food.
Avoid using the same cleaning equipment (brooms, dustpans, rags, etc.) in your living space and unfinished basements or garage workshops where toxic substances may be present in greater amounts.
If you work in a job where toxins may be present—for example, jobs that work with chemicals or building materials—avoid “take-home” exposures by removing clothing and showering before occupying rooms and using furniture where children or pregnant women spend time.
Wash and store dirty work clothes separate from other clothing.
Wash area rugs and door mats frequently.
Change furnace filters regularly.
Ensure your home has adequate ventilation, particularly in areas with gas appliances or fireplaces.
Do not smoke in your home.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: www.usepa.gov
Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health & Environment: www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca
Environment Canada: www.ec.gc.ca