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Monitoring the air quality in your home

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According to the EPA, up to 85% of our exposure to pesticides comes from indoor sources.

By Kate Callander Posted Jan 28, 2009

Formaldehyde

Carpets, upholstery, drapery fabric, and plywood paneling may be releasing chemicals such as formaldehyde into your air. Formaldehyde is classified by the EPA as a possible carcinogen. Exposure to the chemical may cause headaches, eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness and coughing. To make matters worse, the adhesives in new carpeting may release a potentially dangerous gas, which is responsible for that “new carpet smell.” New clothing is also typically preserved with formaldehyde.

To reduce risk, open windows and ventilate the area when new carpeting and furnishings are installed, and ask retailers for information on carpet and upholstery emissions. Also, wash new clothing before wearing it.

Household Products and Pesticides

Finally, let’s look at what is probably the most common source of indoor air pollution – household products. The cleaners, disinfectants, paints, varnishes, and glues designed to make life easier also release many harmful chemicals into the air of our homes. Compounds from these products can pollute both while they are in use and while they are in storage.

Surprisingly, even personal care products can contribute to indoor pollution. Products like hairspray, hair dye, air fresheners, and nail polish removers contain chemicals that evaporate easily into the air and can lead to dizziness, headaches, and irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Take note that aerosol sprays release more chemicals into the air because they disperse the product in tiny, airborne droplets.

What may come as a surprise to you is that many pesticides are also found inside homes. Pesticides are used to kill or repel, and according to the American Lung Association even a disinfectant is a pesticide. Carpets act as reservoirs for the pesticides we track in from outdoors, retaining these chemicals for years even though they would break down within days outside. In fact, 85% of our exposure to pesticides comes from indoor sources (4).

The chemicals in household products and pesticides found indoors can cause dizziness, headaches, irritation to eyes, nose, and throat, nausea and even cancer. An estimated 3,000 cases of cancer each year in the U.S. are thought to be caused by long-term use of household products and pesticides (5). This health risk can be reduced by using natural, non-toxic methods of cleaning and pest control, and reading the label warnings before using toxic products.

Simple daily adjustments can greatly reduce your risk of living in a polluted home. Remember to read labels, keep toxic product lids tight, ventilate your home, get detectors, and avoid the use of toxic products whenever possible. Also, spread the word about indoor air pollution, because once folks have a better understanding of what may be making the air in their homes unhealthy, they will be better armed to make choices to protect their health and the health of the Earth. For more useful information on indoor air quality, check out www.epa.gov/iaq/ and www.lungusa.org/air/indoor_factsheet99.html.

Signs of Possible Indoor Air Pollution:

  • Stale or stuffy air; unusual odors
  • A tightly constructed home (especially new homes)
  • Noticeable health reactions from remodeling, redecorating, installing new carpet, or moving to a new home
  • Feeling noticeably better outdoors—Healthy Indoor Air for America’s Homes, EPA

Testing for air quality, and further information:

IAQ INFO is an easily accessible, central source of information on indoor air quality, created and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As concern about air pollution indoors has grown, so has the amount of information on this subject but getting current, useful information can be a challenging task. The purpose of IAQ INFO is to help you locate information to answer your questions about indoor air pollution.

Consumers may call the toll-free number 1-800-438-4318 to speak to an information specialist, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time.

References:

1) EPA, www.epa.gov/iaq/
2) EPA, The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality, 1995.
3) Ibid.
4) EPA, Healthy Indoor Air for America’s Homes, 1999.
5) Everyday Exposure to Toxic Pollutants. Ott, Wayne and John Roberts. Scientific
American, February 1998.

This article was written by Kate Callander, and appeared in the EcoCycle Times, a Boulder CO publication. Eco-Cycle is one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the USA and has an international reputation as a pioneer and innovator in resource conservation.

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  • royce

    It's a good idea, but can I use this tips to monitor the air in office?

    • Greg Seaman

      You probably wouldn't be concerned with carbon monoxide in an office setting. The other tips do apply for the most part in both homes and offices.

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