Many people enjoy spending quality time in the comfort of their own homes. As a matter of fact, a majority of Americans devote up to 90 percent of their time indoors but unfortunately, this may actually be causing more harm than good. According to a 2009 research study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the average household contains over 500 toxic chemicals.
Further evidence from this study and several others also determined that the indoor air of a home and/or apartment is as much as 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Some of these indoor pollutants can even be up to 100 times greater than outdoor pollutant levels. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has announced that poor indoor air quality is one of the leading risks to public health.
The indoor air we often breathe in can be a dangerous combination of cleaning chemicals, air fresheners, insecticides and pesticides as well as plastics and furnishings. With so many questionable pollutants swirling in the air around our homes, “you definitely may need to take any measure, whenever possible, to lower your exposure to these unhealthy chemicals,” stated Phil Brown, PhD, director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University in Boston.
In addition, reducing contact with these pollutants and chemicals can bring about some helpful benefits. Depending on the individual’s sensitivities, they may experience fewer allergy and asthma symptoms as well as less frequent headaches and skin irritations. According to Phil Brown, you may even lower your risk of developing infertility and cancer.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
While others would advice you to get rid of carpeting and trash old furniture, environmental health experts have found low-effort, high-impact ways to substantially decrease a household’s toxic indoor air load, ultimately boosting your overall health and wellness. The following have been ranked and listed from easiest to most difficult tasks for improving your indoor air quality. Trying a couple or more of these can really help cleanse the air of your home:
Avoid starting your car’s ignition while it’s still in the garage. Carbon monoxide fumes emitted from car exhaust have almost the same specific gravity as that of air. Because of this, carbon monoxide is able to rapidly travel along air currents and right into your home. Make sure to point your car exhaust out towards the garage door and always open the garage door first before starting your car’s ignition.
Leave your shoes at the door. Leaving footwear behind at the door can prevent a variety of toxic chemicals from being tracked into your home, including road sealants, pesticides and lead dust, to name a few.
Crack the windows. Increase ventilation by opening a few windows for at least 5 to 10 minutes per day, making sure to particularly open those found on opposite sides of the house to encourage cross circulation. Windows can be left open for longer periods of time if the weather permits.
Bring a part of nature inside your home. Along with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, or ALCA, NASA conducted a research study regarding the benefits of plants on indoor air quality. They reported that household plants were capable of removing up to 87 percent of indoor air pollutants in approximately 24 hours. Its recommended to utilize about 15 to 18 considerably sized houseplants in 6 to 8 inch diameter containers for an 1,800 square-foot house to benefit from the air cleansing capabilities of plants indoors. Below are some examples of houseplants you can use:
Air Purifying Houseplants (Pet Owners Beware: these are poisonous to cats and dogs)
- The Feston Rose plant (Lantana): eliminates formaldehyde
- Devil’s Ivy (pothos, golden pothos): eliminates formaldehyde
- English Ivy: eliminates benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde
- Snake plant: best for filtering formaldehyde, ammonia and xylene
- Rubber plant: eliminates VOCs, bioeffluents
- Dracaena (corn plant): eliminates formaldehyde
- Peace Lily: removes VOCs, formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene and xylene.
Detoxifying Plants (Safe for cats and dogs)
- Areca Palm: removes toluene and xylene
- Money Tree Plant: filters benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene
- Spider plant: removes formaldehyde, benzene, carbon monoxide, toluene and xylene (safe for pets)
- Bamboo Palm: removes formaldehyde, xylene and toluene
- Variegated Wax Plant: filters benzene and formaldehyde
- Liriope (lily turf): filters ammonia, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene
- Boston Fern: removes formaldehyde, xylene and toluene
- Dwarf Date Palm: eliminates xylene, toluene and formaldehyde
- Phalaenopsis (moth orchids): remove xylene and toluene
- Gerber Daisey: removes trichloroethylene (dry cleaning chemical), and benzene
- African Violets: removes formaldehyde, xylene and toluene
Avoid using toxic cleaning chemicals. Most commercial cleaning supplies can drastically increase VOC, or volatile organic compound, levels in your home. VOCs found in these products have been associated with asthma, headaches, neurological disorders and cancer. The Environmental Working Group, or EWG, has an extensive list on household cleaning products, ranging from lowest to highest toxicities.
Do not use non-stick cookware, such as Teflon and Calphalon. According to the EWG, non-stick pots and pans can emit toxic fumes within 2 to 5 minutes when heated on a stove top. Safer alternatives to these include stainless steel and cast iron cookware.
Toss out the dryer sheets. Most dryer sheets can actually coat clothes with chemicals like quaternary ammonium compounds, many of which have been linked to the development of asthma, as well as acetone found in nail polish remover. Plus, without the extra chemical cover, your towels will be much more absorbent than they were before ditching the dryer sheets.
Cleanse your dry cleaning. Make sure to remove the bags and air out your clothes in the garage or outside for a day or two to remove some of the solvent, called perchloroethylene, which can adhere to the fibers of your dry cleaning. Inhaling this chemical can trigger eye irritation and vision problems, headaches, dizziness and respiratory complications, according to the Environmental Working Group. You could also go to a green cleaner. Simply make sure they use liquid carbon dioxide or the wet-cleaning method, since other eco-alternative can be just as toxic.
Eliminate other possible volatile organic compounds or VOCs. Exchange your vinyl shower curtain out for one made of cotton, nylon, polyester, EVA or PEVA plastic. In a 2008 research study, vinyl curtains were found to release approximately 108 volatile organic compounds. These chemicals can become gaseous at room temperature, resulting in symptoms of nausea, dizziness, headaches, and eye or throat irritation. These can also be found in a majority of paints. Make sure to look for cans labeled with low or zero VOCs.
Pass on the pesticides. Coming in contact with some pesticides can be harmful to your well-being. Some formulations may lead to eye, skin and nerve damage, causing symptoms of nausea and headaches. Instead, try switching to natural agents in order to get rid of those pesky pests. Diatomaceous earth can be used to kill ants and flees, cedarcide can be used to kill fleas and boric acid can be used to kill cockroaches, ants and termines.
Avoid using plastic containers and never expose them to heat. Although plastic containers and/or water bottles are reported to be BPA free, there are still numerous other chemicals found within the plastic containers. Bisphenol A, or BPA, was replaced with bisphenol S, or BPS, however, Scientific American has determined that this compound is even more toxic than its predecessor, which affects our hormones. In addition, chemicals from plastic containers are more likely to leach out when heated in a microwave or when they’re left in a hot car. Exposure to acidic and oily foods can also cause chemicals in plastics to seep out of the containers.
What is in Your Indoor Air?
According to the American Lung Association, some of the most common pollutants and chemicals found in your indoor air at home and/or apartment can include: asbestos; bacteria and viruses; paint products; carbon monoxide; cleaning supplies; formaldehyde; lead; mold; radon; residential wood burning; and tobacco smoke. These contaminants can cause various health risks, such as: headache; dizziness; weakness; nausea; anxiety; cancer; heart disease; stroke; asthma and respiratory diseases.
If your home has carpeting, furniture and commercial household cleaners, you can assume you have some degree of indoor air pollution. The American Lung Association developed these questions to help you determine sources of your chemical pollution in your home or apartment.
- Do you permit smoking indoors?
- Is your house/apartment carpeted?
- Can you see or smell mold?
- Does the humidity of your home regularly rise above 50%?
- Do you have an attached garage?
- Do you store paints, solvents, gas containers, lawn mowers in your garage, basement, home?
- Do you use air fresheners?
- Do you use pesticides in or around your home?
- Do you have your home tested for Radon?
Chance are you have answered yes to one or more of these questions. Start taking steps to clean up the air in your home. It’s the single best thing you can do for yourself, children, family and pets. Your body will thank you.
For more information, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
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