| by Bridget James
During my first tabling event for Utah Moms for Clean Air a few years ago, I couldn’t help but overhear talk about indoor air pollution. From lighting wood in our fireplace to burning candles in my home during the cold, winter months, I was shocked to learn how harmful both can be to my family’s health. During Salt Lake Valley’s inversion months, it’s illegal to burn coal or wood because it adds to the already toxic air out-doors. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that it can also destroy indoor air.
As outdoor air pollution increases, we tend to assume we can escape into the safety of our homes for cleaner air. Unfortunately, indoor air pollution is not only as toxic as outdoor air, it can be worse. From wood burning stoves to household cleaners, we need to be mindful of what we release into our air.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sources of indoor air pollution include:
- combustion sources: oil, kerosene, gas, coal, wood, candles and tobacco
- building materials: wood and insulation
- household cleaning products, personal care items, paints and solvents
- central heating and cooling devices
- outdoor air pollution: smog, ozone, toxic gases such as radon and pesticides
Building and home decorating products and materials such as carpeting can also contain contaminants. These contaminants include: mold spores, radon and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Many carpets and products used during the installation process contain carcinogenic materials that can stick around in the air for a long time. In addition, mold can grow from wet carpets and cause health problems. Radon and pesticides from outside can leak indoors and adhere to carpeting materials, re-releasing toxins into the indoor air.
There are a variety of household cleaners used that are extremely toxic to our health. According to the EPA, typical household cleaners such as aerosol sprays, cleansers and disinfectants containing VOC’s pose a great threat to indoor air quality. VOC’s may “cause cancer in animals…some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.” In addition to common household cleaners, paints and other solvents also increase toxicity. The toxic effect varies depending on the type of product used and duration of use.
According to HVAC&R Research, indoor air pollution is caused by biological growth from HVAC com-ponents such as poor humidifying systems, cooling coils and drip pans. Also, poor installation of HVAC components and ventilation systems can increase VOC’s released into indoor air.
In order to improve our air quality, it’s crucial to maintain a naturally clean home. Proper ventilation, removal of toxic products such as cleaners and solvents, and installation of efficient HVAC systems that are properly maintained, along with testing for radon and natural gas leaks through-out the home make for a safer and healthier home.
Don’t you think our homes should be safe havens to raise healthy families?
So, the question is…what can we do to protect the quality of our indoor air, especially during our winter months when our families spend the most time indoors?
8 Ways to Lessen Air Pollution in Your Home
1. Protect your air by replacing your furnace air filter every 30-60 days with a high grade one. I choose the filter that removes everything including outdoor smog. It’s also recommended to have your venting system cleaned out by a professional once every one to two years. I’ve installed small filters in the vents in our bedrooms and replace them when they look dirty. This way, I have multiple filters working in unison.
2. Disinfecting sprays, paints and solvents can trigger asthma attacks. Curb burning candles and smoking tobacco because they release chemicals and particulate matter into the air.
3. Clean up wet messes on your carpet. The EPA states that wet carpet, if not cleaned and dried properly, can quickly grow bacteria and mold spores. Then, each time the carpet is disturbed by foot traffic or worse yet, vacuuming, those harmful spores get released into your indoor air.
4. Another great way to clean indoor air is to have a really proficient air purifier or multiple air purifiers running in unison throughout the home. We have a large air purifier in the main living space in our home running almost 24/7. I will occasionally move it to other areas of my house for extended periods of time to get the most use out of it. I also have a small room air purifier located in my children’s bedroom that runs during the night while they sleep. Not only does it clean the air they breathe, but it also acts as a great white noise maker to promote a restful night’s sleep!
5. Keep the toxic cleaners out! There are wonderful alternatives to typical heavy duty cleaners that work efficiently while keeping the air safe to breathe. When I first began using simple DIY all-purpose cleaners such as a distilled white vinegar/water/essential oil solution, I remember feeling a sense of relief and freedom because I was able to use the cleaners with my children in the same room without harming my children.
6. When looking for the right cleaners for our home, I refer to the Environmental Working Group. The EWG has a resource guide when searching for safe alternatives to cleaning products as well as health and beauty products. They even offer a handy “wallet” guide you can take with you while you shop that lists healthy cleaning products. On my personal blog, I’ve been fortunate to review many non-toxic products and I am convinced the alternatives are safer.
7. Be sure your HVAC system is in proper working order. Leaky humidifying components, cool-ing coils and drip pans can contain biological growth that can release into your air. Many local power and natural gas companies provide re-bates to those who purchase energy-efficient products.
8.Lastly, and my personal favorite, include plants in your home. Beautiful greenery inside your home, especially when those plants LOVE to eat up your indoor toxins, are wonderful! Some species of plants are more successful at removing indoor pollutants than others based on their phyto-remediation potential. I found a guide from NASA that lists air filtering plants. A few of the plants on the list include: English ivy, Golden pothos, Rubber plant and Heartleaf philodendron.
Pollution is everywhere, but keeping it out of the home makes this mom feel like she is creating the cleanest, safest environment for her family!