Indoor Air Quality
Humans are inside of their homes 90% of the time. So what could be more important than the air that we are breathing inside the walls of our houses?
Every day we bring in chemicals with dry cleaning, dirt from our shoes, and smoke off of our clothes. Dangerous chemicals already in your home vary from paints to cleaning chemicals and fire retardants to sealants. There are hundreds of other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in our homes that many people are unaware of.
There are also easy solutions like do-it-yourself cleaners, plants, air purifying systems, and sustainable building supplies to alleviate the dangers. Health problems such as allergies and asthma may be lessened, and the levels of bacteria and mold may be reduced.
A Beginning Look
When most people think of poor air quality, they picture big factories with billowing black smoke coming from pillars into the sky. Or, they see cars and trucks on the highway ejecting harmful exhausts behind them. In reality, the air that hurts us the most as humans is the air right inside of our own homes. Factories and transportation emissions may be the cause of many global air problems, but inside we draw our own fate.
Spending 90% of our time indoors, we are breathing in this air far more than we breathe the air outside of our doors. While eating, sleeping, watching TV, and studying we think that we are breathing safely inside of our homes. In reality, the pollution levels indoors in two to five times and sometimes even 10 times higher inside than outdoors.
As humans, we seal up our homes to keep out potential harms. We also do so to keep the heat inside during the winter, and to keep the cool air inside during the summer. In doing so, we bring in many forms of chemicals and lock them inside of our homes. This could possible explain many human health problems from infants to elderly adults.
From Lancaster city, to the suburbs, and out to farm, you are just as susceptible for poor air quality as everyone else in the world. This is not because of animal wastes, factory smog, or cars, but humans ourselves!
Small, Easy Changes
While it is not feasible to reconstruct your house or replace every material in your house that emits harmful VOC’s, there are some easy changes in your lifestyle that you can make. When you want to change the quality of your indoor air, focus on source control, ventilation, and purification. Consider the following easy changes:
Do not allow cars to idol in the garage with the door closed. Emissions will filter their way into your home.
Moisture is one of the biggest problems when it comes to indoor air quality. With moisture comes mold, which causes illness. Fix leaks when they are noticed. When rain enters these leaks the moisture content increases which increases the possibility of mold.
We all love our furry friends, but try to own short-haired, hypo-allergenic pets.
Decorate your home with plants to remedy unclean air. Tall leafy ferns and aloe vera plants cleanse the air. When they breathe, they take in the excess chemicals and deposit them into the soil.
Simply remove your shoes when entering your home. There is harmful particulate matter which builds up on your shoes. This takes away pounds of dirt from entering your home. This also makes household cleaning less of a chore.
Simple cleaning such as dusting and vacuuming can largely lower the amount of poor air quality in your home. This includes furniture, drapes, and mattresses. If you have pets with high shedding, vacuuming should be done more frequently. Bedding should be washed in hot water, stuffed animals should be washed, keep allergens out with closed windows, and control cockroaches (their feces are an allergen).
Photos provided by Sarah M. Signore
Sick Building Syndrome
The sniffles, allergies, and certain breathing disorders such as asthma may be diagnosed by a doctor and possibly cured with medicines. But what if these small problems could have been avoided by eliminating products from your lifestyle and out of your home? Because of this possibility, some people refer to these health issues as “sick building syndrome.”
Are you running out of sick days? Do you not want to spend another day cuddled up in bed with medicine and tissues covering your bed and bedside table? Before jumping to conclusions about serious illnesses, simply think about the air that your are breathing day in and day out.
Whether it is mold build up, extraneous dust, or simply a household pet, many items inside of your own home could be the reason behind your illness. Simply removing a certain item could lesson or alleviate symptoms.
Due to some building materials or poor clean-up, some companies in new office buildings have witnessed numerous workers taking ailment leave soon after moving into the new building. The new exposure to the chemicals seems to have caused this large amount of leave. So why not be more careful about building materials and chemicals?
Volatile Organic Compounds are gases emitted by many products inside your home. These gases may be emitted from anything including mothballs, paint, vinyl, kerosene, pesticides/herbicides, dry cleaning, foam padding, pillows, and more. Chemicals in fabric materials such as clothes, couches, and pillows have an off gas of fumes that can happen for a short period of weeks. Other building materials like formaldehyde in glues, binders, or subfloors spans longer and can off gas up to years.
Some VOCs come from materials that we least expect. Brominated or chlorinated fire retardants are in many objects in our homes. While this is good in case of fire, it is definitely not good to breathe in every day. Pillows are actually often coated with fire proofing chemicals which are very harmful. With only a pillowcase in between, humans breathe in these chemicals directly for about eight hours each night.
Mattresses also retain high levels of VOCs. Most are made with petroleum-based polyurethane foam and fire retardants. Behavioral and developmental problems are linked to these chemicals. A mattress pad can lower the amount of harmful gases, but be careful of foam. Use a wool or cotton cover. These pads and healthy mattresses can be found at retailers.
For more information visit the websites listed below:
Some health effects of VOCs go beyond the simple sniffles or the common cold. These gas emissions have been linked to eye, nose, and throat ailments; nausea; headaches; and they are suspected to be linked to kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage; and finally cancer.
Dry cleaning is brought home daily by businesspeople all over. Little do people know that the toxin, perchloroethylene is used in this process. By bringing your dry cleaning into your home, you are in turn bringing in the chemicals as well.
Do yourself and your family a hand by allowing your dry cleaning to offgas in the car before entering the house. This can be done on a porch or in the car on the way home. To completely remove this threat, simply hand-wash your delicates at home.
Sometimes the VOC content is found on labels of products. Looking for this may help in shopping decisions for your home. Choosing one product is easy, but what about choosing two chemicals to be used near each other. While we may know the effects of many singular VOCs, few chemicals have been tested together. Their reactions alone may be harmless, but we do not know what could happen when they are mixed.
For example, chlorine bleach and ozone treatments are harmless alone, but when they are mixed for products they can be harmful to human beings. Watching labels could help protect you and your family’s health. Hopefully, more research will soon be done on the reaction of many VOCs.
Mold and Mildew
Excess moisture in your home may cause mold and mildew buildup. This can happen anywhere from your ceilings to your showers. Warm and humid places are among the most favored places for mold and mildew to grow and prosper. To avoid, fix leaks quickly. If mold spots do occur have them removed and patched to avoid dangerous spreading and air contamination.
Formaldehyde is a dangerous chemical that can be found in almost everything. While this would be fine if it were safe, it has gone as far as to have been linked to cancer. It can be found in paints, sealants, coatings, adhesives, stains, flooring, carpeting, insulation, and personal care products. Industry loopholes have given industries the ability to label chemicals as fragrance and still include harmful ingredients.
Many man-made products do not only just include natural levels of formaldehyde, but also added formaldehyde! This includes cleaning agents, cosmetics, building materials, furnaces, combustion, furnishings, and cigarettes. Industries will continue to add these harmful ingredients to their products until new enforcements comes into play. As users, humans need to try to plan around these products. If this is unavoidable, try to purchase items that at least do not have any added formaldehyde, but natural.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. Serving mainly as an insulator and fire retardant, it has also been used widely in other building materials. While this chemical was used in buildings years ago, recently researchers found out just how harmful this chemical is and it has been banned for most uses. If you own an older home, it is important to have your house tested for types of Asbestos. It can be found in different places from insulation to floor tiles. If damaged, removal of the chemical may be needed for the health and safety of the occupants. If undamaged, it may be left alone if it is unlikely to be disturbed. Removal may be costly and difficult, but well worth the health and safety standards.
Effects from asbestos are not immediate, but appear years down the road after exposure. Effects may include chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases. Usually effected people are individuals whom encountered asbestos on the job.
Lead is a chemicals that humans did not know is as dangerous as it is until fairly recently. Since this realization, lead has been removed from many paints used in children’s toys and other products.
Various home owners with older homes have decided to remove the lead-based paint and repaint their homes. Although to do so, the room must be closed off from the rest of the house as to protect the occupants from the chemicals. If a room must be chambered off, many would think that lead should be completely removed from all products do to its harmful presence. This is not true.
For example, many cosmetics still use lead. Sixty percent of lipsticks on the market still use lead in their ingredients. Again, many cosmetic companies can slip through the cracks by labeling harmful ingredients, such as lead, as fragrance. If we need to chamber off a room to remove lead-based paint, why are numerous women still smoothing this onto their lips routinely?
According to Medical News Today, “cigarette smoke produces ten times more air pollution than diesel car exhaust. So why put that in your house? Smoking in your living room is equivalent to running diesel engines in your living room.
In reality, a fine particulate matter is emitted with cigarette smoke. This matter is harmful when breathed in and is associated with second-hand smoke. This can lead to breathing issues, heart problems, circulatory problems, and lung damage.
Photo provided by Sarah M. Signore
Nobody likes rodents in their homes, but neither do we want to bring in harmful chemicals to rid our homes of them. The pesticides which are currently most used, are developed from neurotoxins created during World War II. These are incredibly harmful. Most of these chemicals are in the form of a “bomb” which you set off and must leave the premise for a certain amount of time, until it is safe again.
Garlic Barrier and Orange Guard are two harmless pesticides. These are both natural and non-toxic. Garlic Barrier is concentrated garlic which keeps away mosquitoes and so much more. This can be used from full crops to your lawn. Orange Guard is full of citric acids and other natural chemicals from orange based products. This works by coating the insect, suffocating it, and dissolving it.
Effects on Unborn Children
New diseases are being diagnosed. More human beings are facing acute and chronic conditions. We wonder why this is happening in our world. We must look at what we are being exposed to from birth to death, and even including prenatal. Umbilical Cords of unexposed children have been tested and have showed prevalent harmful chemicals already in their bloodstream. These chemicals have been introduced to the child through environmental exposure through the mother. She is breathing in chemicals, even possibly just unintentionally, and passing them onto her unborn child.
Foreign chemicals being found in what we think are some of the most pure and safe parts of life, such as umbilical cords and breast milk, could be a precursor to future health problems. We have wondered for years where conditions such as Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) come from.
We still do not know for sure, but could they possibly be from exposure to these chemicals? After a child is diagnosed, they are then given more chemicals to calm their condition. While this is a personal choice, you must also think about whether or not this makes sense.
Photo provided by Sarah M. Signore
Most of the harmful chemicals in your home come from materials used to build, bind, or finish your home. There are a few materials to use as to avoid these harmful chemicals. American Clay is a wall and ceiling plaster alternative which interacts with moisture. It works by not allowing moisture to lie on another surface. The clay absorbs the moisture and releases it with negative ions. This actually cleans the air and makes your living space healthier. This alleviates molds and allergens by filtering the air and remedying any harmful toxins. Do not worry; it does not have to look like mud. American Clay comes in many colors and textures.
Other “green” building materials can be found at Fresco Green located in Lancaster, PA. All of their supplies either meet or exceed standards. Anything can be found from paints to coatings and floorings to agro fiber boards.
While preparing to construct a building, the choice may be made to build a “green building.” To be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified there are multiple aspects to attend to. First, any building supplies must be kept in a dry atmosphere to avoid moisture absorption. Any duct work must be sealed off to keep dust out. Furthermore, rooms adjacent to where dust will be made must be chambered off with plastic or have negative air flow to create a dust free environment inside.
After the construction phase, a full building fresh air flush out must take place. A total of 14,000 cubic feet must pass through the building before it may be occupied. This is usually equivalent to two full weeks. An air testing tech must then do air testing to compile results to test levels.
While all of these precautions are being made, photos must be taken along the way to verify any materials used such as glues and sealants. They must meet all LEED standards to pass certification. Some buildings can pass certification by simply electing to do certain elements and leave out others. This allows some buildings which are not completely clean to become certified. This may change soon.
After construction, the U.S. Green Building Council collects and catalogues all of the information for the building. Next, a third party independent reviews the information over a three year period to decide what is good and bad. They also decide which parts of the project need to be redone, and then finally the U.S. Green Building Council will go over all of the information.
For categories of building products visit any of the following organizations: NAHB, CARB, Energy Star, Green Seal, and Green Guard.
Cleaning Air Ducts
Trailers are used for many reasons. Some people choose these for affordable, small homes to easily place into a community. Schools may place trailers onto their school grounds to use for anything from classrooms to administration offices. The government is even known for using trailers as offices places such as an army base. Trailers were even called in for use during the hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans to house the able, the sick, helpers, and supplies.
While these trailers are conveniently movable, affordable, and still comfortable, they do have their downsides. Traditional homes and apartments also have the same problems. Air coming into the building is effecting everyone including the workers, household members, visitors, and more. If there is one unclean or unsafe spot in your duct work, air filtering completely through your building will be harmed.
Therefore, cleaning must take place. For a building with air ducts, cleaning should take place at least every five years. With buildings with central air, you should consider cleaning more often, every two years at minimum. Not only will this aid the health of the occupants of the building, but it will also lower your bills. By cleaning out any blockages in the ducts, the air flow is more efficient and will not have to work as hard.
While you may feel pressured to do this for yourself, it is wise to consult a professional for this service. There are portable units for cleaning and there are also units mounted onto trailers and trucks. The professionals would have all of this necessary equipment to do a quality job. The cost may be high, but the comfort of living will rise. (Fons, 2010)
To improve your indoor air quality you may elect to purchase an air filtration system. These work by removing allergens and catching harmful air particles. They then release the clean air back into your home. These can be purchased anywhere between $40-$500, depending on your tastes and demands.
While using an air filtration system, mistakes can be made which would actually harm your air quality. While tightening the envelope on the filtration system, you are being more energy efficient, but not cleaner. By doing this, ventilation and filtration are not being utilized and you have trapped the harmful air inside your home. The only way to actually remedy air quality is to dilute, ventilate, filtrate, or remediate the air. Do not reintroduce this harmful air into the environment.
Various air filters can be viewed at http://www.airpurifiers.com.
This site gives a range of price, size, and brands. Find the best fit for you and your household.
While, humidifiers may ease some ailments like dry skin, they may not always aid your air quality. Humidifier filters and water tanks must be cleaned regularly. If they are not, you may just be adding harmful bacteria to the air you are breathing. Also, if you add too much humidity, your home may become more prone to mold and mildew which may increase your risk of sickness and health problems. If directions are followed, humidifiers will not harm you or your family.
To increase living comfort, some people use unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves. While these may supply concentrated heat for your living space, they add an unnecessary amount of combustion to your air. They are pouring carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles into the air you think is keeping you comfortable, but may actually be harming you.
The carbon monoxide, which may overtake your home, is an odorless and colorless gas. With poisoning due to carbon monoxide, many people may confuse their symptoms with flu-like symptoms. The nitrogen dioxide is a red, irritating gas which may cause eye, nose, and throat problems. The particles released into the air, may get lodged in the throat or lungs. This may irritate or cause infections.
Chimneys and flues which are not properly constructed, maintained, or cleaned may cause a back-draft. This action pushes the unclean air back into your home instead of ejecting it as it is supposed to do. Keeping the use of these heating appliances will reduce your risk of harmful effects on your body. Cleaning and filtration will also lessen the chances of pollutants in your air.
Air Deodorizers and Fresheners
In many homes you can find various air fresheners and deodorizers throughout the house. These can even sometimes be found in office or restaurant restrooms. Candles are also often placed in homes for the same purpose. What is the actual use of these products? Is it to clean the air or to change the scent of the air?
Photo provided by Sarah M. Signore
While some products claim to eliminate odors or remove bacteria we must all be our own judge of this. Many manufactures will label various products, but then have a category of “other ingredients.” This could include anything from harmless ingredients to the extremely dangerous chemical, formaldehyde.
So while masking the smell of the air in our homes, we are adding chemicals, harming our families, and possibly not even cleaning the air. Could there be alternatives? When a poor smell is trapped inside of your home, try to remove it. By opening windows to support an air flow through the problem area of your home, you may eliminate the smell without adding other unsuitable chemicals to your air.
Along with air fresheners and deodorizers, perfume may also contain harmful ingredients that may not be listed on the label. There are also no regulations to ensure that manufactures list every ingredient that goes into the making of their fragrance. There are almost 800 different fragrance chemicals used in anything from perfume to scented candles.
Perfumes are also in the category of human products which are not tested to see if they are toxic to humans. Why are we not putting more effort into protecting ourselves from simple things which can be easily redesigned?
While being natural, the following should be avoided as they are highly harmful:
Furthermore, like foods, individuals could also have allergic reactions to perfumes and fragrances. When taking allergy medicine just does not seem to be enough, consider eliminating elements of your daily routine, such as perfume, to try to ease yourself of these symptoms. (Petch)
Photo provided by Sarah M. Signore
Every year there are 250,000 new chemical substances created. The general public is unaware of these chemicals, let alone the effects that they may have on us. Many household cleaners emit large amounts of VOCs which harm the members of your household. You can make many of your own cleaners with products found right in your kitchen as a substitute!
Cleaning your house is something that everyone must do, but knowing what to use is the most important part! Green cleaners can be found at most retail stores. While you may think that you have to buy a cleaner off the shelf at the store to clean your home, this is not true. These products can be made in your home, are non-toxic and will not hurt you or your family.
Below are listed natural ideas for household cleaning products:
Surface cleanser and Wallpaper remover:
Disinfectant/Stain Remover/Toilet Bowl Cleaner/Mold Remover/Deodorizer:
White vinegar, borax or hydrogen peroxide
Line a bucket with tin foil.
Fill the bucket with water and add baking soda.
When you place your tarnished silverware into the bucket, the tarnish is attracted to the tin foil.
There is no scrubbing required, and there are no harmful chemicals involved to keep around the house.
During all cleaning, use an old shirt or used cloth. Reduce your paper use by not using paper towels and avoid using sponges with antibacterial ingredients. (Bond)
An App for That
The cellular phone, the iPhone, is extremely popular. With this phone, you can download multiple applications for various reasons including games to professional aids. While there seems to be an application for everything, there is one for healthy living.
Go to the app store and search “GoodGuide.” This App is downloadable for free. According to the App Store the “‘GoodGuide’ app helps you find safe, healthy, and sustainable products while you shop.” You simply scan the barcode of any product with the camera on your phone. You will then see detailed ratings for health, environment and social responsibility for that given product. They have memory of over 65,000 products and companies. Checking this for personal care, household chemicals, toys, and food products will help your air quality and your health.
Photo provided by Sarah M. Signore
Right in Lancaster, PA is Alternative Environmental Solutions, Inc. AES focuses on two general areas. Assessment, characterization, and remediation of properties in residential areas is the first area. This is to protect clients from various chemicals. The second is consultation associated with geologic and environmental issues effecting the development of residential, commercial, industrial, or agricultural properties.
They will perform removals and insulations, testing, and consulting. They focus on asbestos and air quality. They have devices that not only reduce and eliminate harmful air pollutants, but they do so by imitating the fresh air experience after a spring thunderstorm.
You can visit their website and search their services at http://www.altenv.com/index.htm.
Located in Easton, PA, the Avogadro Environmental Corporation offers service to the entire East coast. They are a full-service Environmental, Health and Safety consulting and testing firm. While they started simply as an air monitoring and testing firm in 1995, they have expanded and grown since then.
Get an expert opinion by visiting their website and contacting the firm at http://avogadro.net.
You Are Not Alone
Just remember that you are not alone in your battle to use sustainable and safe products. Whether you are searching for building supplies of household cleaners, there are products out there to fit your needs. Whether they come at a price or you have them and just do not know it yet, the task can be accomplished!
Located in Maryland, Indoor Air Quality Association Inc. is one way, among many, to be involved in the clean air movement. They are a non-profit which aims to educate and research safety and indoor air information for the public.
With organizations, such as these, you can become a member or simply refer to websites. With membership you can talk to other members, gain from their experiences, and improve your own indoor air quality. While this has a monetary cost, the benefits far outweigh the cost. With these organizations you get newsletters, updates, and networking amongst other air quality conscience people.
Various websites can supply more information about these organizations. Employment opportunities with these organizations can even be sought out and obtained. So become more involved and helpful for the environment and you by joining an organization for quality indoor air.
Schools and hospitals are among the highly regulated buildings. Due to the large number of young, elderly, and ill, these establishments contain the individuals which are at the highest risk of contracting ailments caused by poor indoor air quality. Information about regulations and district specifications may be found online.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. I want to better my indoor air quality, but do not want to spend large amounts of money. What can I do that is easy and inexpensive?
Refer to the alternatives and small easy changes sections. All of these suggestions are easy to do and are easy on the wallet. Things like removing shoes when entering the house, using green cleaners, and placing large leafy plants in the home are great places to start.
2. I live in a home with some of the dangerous building chemicals offgassing. Do I have to move or can I fix the problem.
All problems can be fixed, but they may come with a cost. Sealants and products with chemicals such as formaldehyde are hard to remove or change.
3. I have allergies. Could this be due to poor air quality?
Yes. Mold, dust, pet fur, etc. all attribute to poor air quality. By eliminating some of these problems, symptoms could be reduced.
4. Where would I find information about certifying a building as a green building, so to have clean indoor air?
Visit the United States Green Building Council website at www.usgbc.org.
5. Can air quality effect me in other places than my home?
Yes, any building could have flaws to falter the air quality. Only certified buildings would be completely clean, and some of them do not account for every aspect.
6. What is the difference between an air humidifier and an air purifier?
An air humidifier simply adds moisture to the air of your home to relieve dry or cracked skin. An air purifier actually cleans the air in your home by taking in air, catching particles and releasing the air back into your home.
7. Are my personal cosmetic products harmful towards myself or my air?
Yes, many cosmetics contain chemicals such as lead. These are not highly regulated and manufactures are able to list some possibly harmful ingredients as fragrance. Although, fragrances such as air fresheners or candles may also contain unnecessary chemicals which may not clean your air, but actually add chemicals.
8. Is there a local testing service in my area?
Avogadro Environmental Corporation services the entire east coast.
Visit their website at http://avogadro.net.
Avogadro Environmental Corporation offers testing including asbestos and other air cleaners.
Visit their website at http://avogadro.net.
A Final Look
Whether you are ready to completely go green or not, changing your indoor air quality should be high on your priority list. Since you spend most of your time there, this is the most important air you will breathe. You, alone, can determine how clean or harmful this air is. Start from the beginning by not bringing in harmful products. Keep your air quality clean by changing filters, having air ducts cleaned by professionals, and keeping track of your moisture levels. Personally, you can avoid harmful cosmetics and use applications on your phone to monitor the chemical contents.
There are regulations, organizations, stores, and other individuals all aiming for these same goals. When in doubt, turn to an expert to help with your indoor air quality questions. Just remember that you are in control of what enters your house and how clean the air is in your home.