Indoor air pollution linked to serious health problems
(NaturalHealth365) For many, the term “air pollution” summons up images of factory smokestacks and idling buses – all belching clouds of toxic fumes into the atmosphere. But there is another type of pollution that involves the air quality inside our homes, schools and offices – and it can have serious consequences.
In truth, indoor air pollution – which scientists say can trigger such deadly conditions as stroke, heart disease and lung cancer – causes a staggering 3.8 million deaths worldwide a year. (Why haven’t we heard more about this global health hazard?!)
While the dangers of some indoor air pollutants – such as secondhand cigarette smoke – are fairly obvious, others are more insidious. Even beloved members of our “fur families” can affect air quality in the home, due to their dander.
Warning: Air pollution inside the home must be eliminated to avoid health problems
A long list of substances – from the chemicals in cleaning products to the natural toxins in bacteria and mold – can impact indoor air quality. Making the issue even more confusing, scientists aren’t sure what constitutes dangerous concentrations.
In addition, some people are uniquely sensitive to the compounds in indoor air pollution – while others seem relatively unaffected, depending on individual health status.
Making study even more difficult is the fact that symptoms from indoor air pollution can closely mimic those of other common health problems (such as asthma, allergies and respiratory infections).
Do NOT ignore the health dangers linked to toxic indoor air. These chemicals - the 'off-gassing' of paints, mattresses, carpets and other home/office building materials - increase your risk of headaches, dementia, heart disease and cancer.
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And, consequences can be both short-term and long-term – and range in severity from minor irritations to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. In fact, scientists say that some long-term effects can develop years after exposure has occurred.
Caution: Home “upgrades” can dramatically downgrade air quality
When it comes to contributing to indoor air pollution, new wall-to-wall carpeting is a common culprit.
This is due to “off-gassing” (the release of noxious chemicals in the carpet’s vinyl backing and adhesive). Research has shown that “off-gassed” chemicals are linked to headaches, dizziness, nausea, wheezing, shortness of breath and asthma-like reactions.
Note: due to their smaller size and still-developing systems – and their propensity for getting close to the floor – children are especially vulnerable.
Although most off-gassing occurs in the first few months after installing new carpet, chemicals can still be released for up to five years or more! Of course, you can avoid the problem of off-gassing by using area rugs, and opting for carpets with natural fibers.
By the way, that beautiful, brand-new bedroom bureau can also add to the atmosphere in a way that isn’t so pretty. Specifically, it can release formaldehyde into the air. A common presence in furniture and flooring, formaldehyde is a known irritant of skin, eyes, nose and throat.
In addition, household paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – which can include such nasty substances like, methylene chloride and benzene, both known carcinogens.
The good news: there has been a general move towards reducing VOCs in contemporary household paints, and you can now opt for low VOC and no VOC products.
Secondhand smoke contains a staggering amount of unwanted toxins
The American Lung Association reports that secondhand cigarette smoke contains 7,000 different chemicals – including acetone, arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and lead. Of the thousands of noxious chemicals in secondhand smoke, 69 of them are known carcinogens.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health problems related to secondhand smoke have claimed the lives of 250 million non-smokers since 1964 – a truly disturbing statistic.
In children, secondhand smoke has been shown to exacerbate ear infections, respiratory infections and asthma. For adults, the consequences of secondhand smoke exposure can include raised risk of heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. (In light of these facts, a strict “no-smoking” policy is a no-brainer).
Fumes in the air from home heating choices can also be problematic.
Natural gas stoves emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde – while wood and charcoal stoves create unhealthy soot. Experts report that soot causes more than half of all pneumonia deaths in children under 5 years old.
Is your health being threatened by mold, radon or dander?
A product of high humidity in homes, mold can cause coughing, sneezing, dizziness, fever, exhaustion and even asthma attacks. To discourage mold formation, the EPA recommends keeping homes at a relative humidity of 30 percent to 50 percent.
And radon – a naturally-occurring radioactive gas – is also a concern, as it raises the risk of lung cancer.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one out of every 15 homes in the United States has some radon. Radon, which is colorless and odorless, can be detected with a simple and inexpensive test.
Health tip: To obtain a testing kit at a discount, call the National Safety Council’s Radon Hotline at 1-800-767-7236.
Unfortunately, health problems can even originate with our pets. Dogs and cats can produce flakes known as dander, which then make their way into the air. Dander can cause wheezing, coughing, watery eyes, skin rashes and – in rare cases – anaphylactic shock.
Warning: Harmful phthalates found in the majority of air freshener brands tested
While air fresheners are perfuming the air of your home with scents of lavender or citrus, they are also busily releasing toxins such as formaldehyde and phthalates.
Phthalates are hormone disruptors that have been linked to reduced sperm counts in men, as well as birth defects. And a recent study showed that a whopping 86 percent of air freshener brands tested contained them.
Astonishingly, manufacturers are not legally required to list phthalates and formaldehyde on the product label. So, more often than not, they don’t.
Personal care products, such as soaps, lotions and deodorants, also contain a variety of VOCs and formaldehyde. The more heavily scented the products are, the more likely that they will offer up a heaping helping of airborne chemicals.
Unsurprisingly, chemical household cleaners and disinfectants can also release complex VOCs in the air, particularly if you use several varieties together.
Reduce the threat of indoor air pollution with common-sense techniques
Maintaining good ventilation is one of the most important things you can do to improve air quality, and reduce the presence of dust mites, allergens and mold.
In other words, you can significantly reduce indoor air pollution by utilizing one of the simplest, most “low-tech” techniques imaginable – simply open the windows for a few minutes every day.
In addition, make abundant use of household exhaust fans – making sure that those in kitchens and bathrooms are vented to the outdoors.
You can combat pet dander with frequent mopping and vacuuming, particularly if you use a HEPA filter. Using a dampened cloth or oiled mop also makes dusting and mopping more effective.
When it comes to personal care products, opt for the unscented, all natural varieties or use a high-quality essential oil as your base.
And natural health experts advise ditching toxic chemical cleaners in favor of non-toxic organic standbys, such as a white vinegar, baking soda and water mixture.
Don’t forget about the power of houseplants to purify the air, or the ability of fresh-cut flowers to add fragrance. But, remember – in terms of the ‘best flowers’ to avoid the release of allergy-aggravating pollen, opt for hypoallergenic varieties such as carnations, columbine, crocuses or daffodils.
You can also fragrance your home with essential oils – such as lavender or cinnamon – or utilize the time-honored natural technique of simmering oranges slices and cinnamon on a stove top.
Although no one can avoid exposure to all indoor air pollutants, there are many steps you can take to reduce them. You — and your family — will breathe easier.
Sources for this article include: