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Poor air quality at home can lead to health concerns

Poor air quality at home can lead to health concerns

By Andrew Johnson | Posted - Sep. 10, 2011 at 8:28 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The phrase “poor air quality” is common here in Utah, especially within the Wasatch Front. Pollution from car exhaust, ozone and other factors contribute to the quality of the air, but many people don’t even notice the air within their own homes. Since the average person spends a considerable amount of time inside, poor indoor air quality may potentially cause health problems down the road.

The elderly, young children and those who have a pre-existing health issue should be concerned about the quality of their home’s air, but that doesn’t mean everyone outside of these demographics gets a free pass. Often, symptoms of mold, chemicals and other pollutants may not appear for years, so determining your home’s indoor air quality is something everyone should do.

If you’ve ever been downwind from a campfire, you know the smoke is a major irritant. It burns your eyes, makes it difficult for you to breathe and even disorients you for a few moments. Walking over to fresh air gives you a chance to regain composure and clear out your lungs. Likewise, removing contaminants and pollutants from your home will help you and your family breathe a little easier. A job like this isn’t too difficult, but you should realize it’s more than simply surveying what’s under your kitchen sink.

The threats

Gases, chemicals and molds can get into our homes through the most innocuous methods, and many of us don’t realize our homes have been invaded until it is too late. The following elements can have a huge impact on our homes and our health:

  • Radon — A radioactive gas that is formed in the soil, radon can seep in through cracks in the floor or walls that are in contact with the ground. Currently, it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
  • Combustion pollutants — Anything that burns can leave unpleasant chemicals behind, such as carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide. This can happen in any fuel-burning appliance like fireplaces, gas stoves or dryers. Mild reactions could be headaches and shortness of breath, but too much CO can lead to death.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — Paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, pesticides and more can all contain these compounds. They can easily irritate the eyes, nose and throat but in extreme cases they could damage the liver and kidneys, as well as cause central nervous system problems.
  • Mold — In wet or humid areas, mold can thrive. These living organisms spread across your floor or wall until they mature and release more spores into the air. This can trigger asthma attacks and hay fever-like symptoms.
  • Secondhand smoke — This is particularly bad if you have children in the house because they are more vulnerable than adults, but either way this can cause cancer and a range of respiratory problems.
  • Asthma triggers — All the pet dander, mold and dust that has built up over time can cause breathing problems, coughing and a host of other issues.
The solutions

Now that you know the threats, you can start planning your defenses. Most of these solutions are comparatively easy to accomplish, and they will help you create a comfortable and healthy living environment.

  • Clean the floor regularly — Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to make sure you pick up as many toxins, chemicals and allergens as you can without throwing them back into the air through the exhaust. You will need to vacuum regularly — some experts suggest twice a week — and you should occasionally take a mop to the floor to get the things the vacuum missed.
  • Use floor mats — If you don’t enforce a “no shoes” policy, make sure you have some kind of floor mat at the entrances to your home. Even if they don’t wipe their shoes every time, this can eliminate many of the pollutants getting dragged inside every day.
  • Maintain humidity levels — Too much moisture in the air makes it too easy for molds to thrive. You can use a dehumidifier to control the humidity, but remember to use exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms and vent clothes dryers outside. According to Shafer Services, a San Antonio air conditioning company, using the “Auto” setting on the AC will allow it to cycle on and off, which is conducive to lowering humidity.
  • Test for radon — There are DIY kits that allow you to test for radon yourself, and if you do detect some, consult with a specialist and find out how to lower the levels in your home.
These are just a few of the methods that can help you start increasing the air quality of your home and improve your ability to stay healthy. It’s never too late to start looking for ways to eliminate pollutants and start bringing in a breath of fresh air.

Andrew Johnson is a writer, journalist and marketing specialist.

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