Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Hidden Winter Danger...

What you can't see can kill you.  It sounds dramatic, but in this day and age I think we have all been around enough to know unseen problems do exist.  I'm talking about a little thought of concern that is actually a very big problem.

FumesIndoor air pollution is a danger we all need to be aware of, especially in winter because of being shut up indoors for longer lengths of time.

Have no fear!  To deal with this unsightly issue we only need to identify our problem sources and deal with them, as well as look into some helpful ways to keep your air safer for all to enjoy!

What health problems can come from indoor air pollution, and what is indoor air pollution? Well simply put, indoor air pollution is pollution that is inside a home, office, or any type of building.  When precautions aren't taken the pollution levels in that space build up and can create health problems.


Is it Friday yet?These health problems can be anything from a headache, nausea, fatigue, a skin rash, or trouble breathing, to Legionnaires' disease, and cancer.  Yes, all from indoor air pollution!

Here are the most common sources of household pollutants, and what you can do about them:

Outdoor Air Pollution  
Coming in and getting trapped by a lack of clean air flow to remove it.  This also happens in vehicles.  Indoor air pollution can easily be 2-5 times higher than outside air, and can even be as high as 100 times the level of pollution outside.  The simplest solution is to open windows for at least a few minutes everyday.  
I try to remember at lunch time, because it is usually the warmest out at that time of the day.  Don't forget to give yourself some clean air once in a while when ridding in the car.  :)

DIY Painting BluePaint
Paint fumes can be very bad for your health.  Use low VOC paints, and have as much fresh air available until the paint dries, as possible.

New Carpet and Flooring
Scientists aren't sure why, but many people have reactions to new carpeting.  The glue that holds down new carpets, and some flooring, gives off toxins.  Air the area as well as possible for several days after installation.  If possible have it installed at a time of year when you can leave the windows open a lot.

Press Wood Furniture
You know that kind of "wood" furniture and cabinets that are actually lots of little pieces of wood glued together (like IKEA furniture)?  It is cheaper (I am typing on a desk made of it right now), but comes at another cost to us.  The glue that holds it all together releases formaldehyde.  Yay :P  You can reduce your exposure by purchasing exterior grade products.  If you can afford it, buy furniture that is solid wood (air it properly if it's stained), and if not try to get a lot of fresh air around that new piece of furniture for a while, and then as often as possible.  My desk is by a window, which is helpful.  

Dry Cleaning
These chemicals scare me.  If you do get your clothes dry cleaned make sure to take the plastic off them right away and air them in an area like the garage, if possible.

Cigarette 1Smoking
Do I really need to say anything here?  Smoking is bad for you and those around you.  It also releases formaldehyde into the air.  Quit smoking.

Radon
This is a naturally occurring gas.  It comes out of the earth and rock beneath homes in certain areas, as well as well water, and some building materials.  Radon gas is responsible for the lung cancer deaths of up to 30,000 people in the US every year.  When we bought our home we went to the hardware store and bought a radon test.  I don't remember the cost, maybe $20.  The test was easily done, as we placed to test units in two different areas of our lower level.  After a couple days you put the lid on them and mail them to a test center.  They then send you the results.  We thankfully don't have any radon problems.  There are measures that you can take if you do find you have a radon problem.  Here is the Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction, and if you're in the US, here's a link to find your state radon office.

Carbon Monoxide
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), common sources of this are: Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves. Automobile exhaust from attached garages. Environmental Tobacco Smoke. (source) Make sure you have proper venting inside the home, and if you are going to warm up your car you'd be best doing it outside of an attached garage.

Cleaning Products
Some not so obvious culprits are pest chemicals, disinfectants, and air fresheners.  There are natural alternatives to each of these, such as this spray, and Neem oil (which I have used in our home successfully) for a natural insect repellent.  For more on this, and healthy alternatives here's What are Your Cleaning Products Doing?  

Lead
Is found in lead-based paint, contaminated soil, dust, and drinking water.  Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per deciliter (80 ug/dl) of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 ug/dl can impair mental and physical development.
Steps to Reduce Exposure:
  • Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
  • Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
  • Do not remove lead paint yourself.
  • Do not bring lead dust into the home.
  • If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.  (source)

In addition to the above ideas to keep your air clean, there are a few other helps out there...

Plants to the rescue!

According to Mao Shing Ni, L.Ac., D.O.M., PhD, there are 4 types of plants to have in your home or office that will actually help clean the air.

Dampness can create mold and other organisms that invade the lungs. Dryness, on the other hand, harms your mucus membranes, causing respiratory problems. Either extreme affects your health negatively, and that is why it is important to maintain proper humidity in your house.
Thousands of years back, the Chinese discovered that certain plants act as indoor air regulators. Today, we have learned from scientific research that these particular plants do a better job of balancing humidity than mechanical systems. Simultaneously, the plants filter out airborne toxins, such as carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and benzene. Your best bets for cleaning up indoor air are bamboo, chrysanthemum, lily, palm, gerbera daisy, and ivy.

A two-year study conducted by NASA scientists and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) researched nearly a dozen plants for their added health benefits. The results demonstrated that certain leafy greens can absorb hazardous contaminants and help produce clean air. (source)
Bamboo1. Dispel Dryness With Bamboo Palm
Growing between 3 to 6 feet tall, the long, elegant leaves of this sturdy palm sweep away toxins such as formaldehyde, benzene, carbon monoxide, xylene, and chloroform. In addition to helping you breathe fresh air, it is an excellent spider mite repellant. During the cold winter months when air is very dry, the bamboo palm emits some much-needed moisture. It is best kept out of direct sunlight and feeds on all-purpose liquid fertilizer during the summer months.


2. Cleanse With Chrysanthemums
Purple DahliaOriginally cultivated in China in 15th century BC, this plant boasts multiple medicinal and culinary uses. Its yellow and white flowers are enjoyed as a sweet drink in some parts of Asia, while the greens are boiled and served as a delicious meal in China. In addition to being a tasty treat, the NASA study found that chrysanthemums were effective at removing benzene from the air. Benzene is one of the most common odorless pollutants found in inks, paints, plastic, dyes, detergents, gasoline, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides. The flowers last about six weeks and thrive in bright, indirect light.  These should be kept out of reach of pets and children.

Arum

3. Purify With Peace Lily
Native to tropical regions, this beautiful perennial plant contains large leaves that vacuum benzene, trichloroethylene, and other hard-to-pronounce pollutants. Peace lilies thrive in low and bright light with a slightly moist soil. The next time you need an air freshener, don’t reach for the chemical spray! Breath in the bloom and serenity of a peace lily.


4. Doze Off With Gerbera Daisies
Flowers
If getting a good night’s rest is not on your agenda this evening, you may want to add some gerbera daisies on your night stand. While most plants release oxygen during the day, their respiratory cycle decreases in the evening hours. However, gerbera daisies continue releasing oxygen all through the night to help you breath and sleep better. Gerbera daisies are especially helpful for those suffering from sleep apnea or breathing disorders. These daisies will have you dozing off in no time!  



Sources:
http://www.pollutionissues.com/Ho-Li/Indoor-Air-Pollution.html#b
http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/insidestory.html#Intro1
http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/mao-shing-ni-lac-dom-phd/4-plants-clean-your-air-quality




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