Do you ever think of the air you’re breathing? Do you ever consider if it is “good air” or not? Breathing is such a casual, normal, and natural thing to do that most people never truly think about the air they breathe until it is too late. You may be making a conscious effort to improve your personal health, or the health of others by eating healthy foods, getting adequate exercise, and receiving sufficient sleep, but do you ever consider improving the air you breath? It is not something that is obvious to us, but oftentimes indoor air pollution can be much worse then that of the air outside. It only makes sense that if you have the time and drive to watch what you eat then you should consider keeping an eye on what you breathe. There are a few steps that you can do that will control and reduce the amount of indoor air pollution in your house, simply by paying attention to the source of these pollutants.
What makes the idea of indoor air pollution hard to comprehend sometimes is that in many cases the pollutant is odorless. In many cases the items used to produce materials used in your living space are treated in certain substances that release unwanted chemicals into the air. That new “car-smell” that everyone loves is actually the off-gassing of chemicals used during the fabrication and installation of the car’s interior. In the house things such as polishes, flame-retardants, finishes, and other cosmetic substances expel these unwanted chemicals into the air. Items such as particle board (plywood, looks like a board made of wood chips) as well as other “pressed woods” contain the carcinogen formaldehyde. Formaldehyde has been linked to many cases of throat cancer… Scary. The remodeling of a house, including new carpet, releases volatile organic compounds (VOC) that can be respired by people, has also been known to cause adverse health effects. Even material goods such as shoes can off-gas harmful chemicals. They are generally treated with certain chemicals and dyes that make the shoe last longer and look prettier, but these chemicals don’t just stick with your new Nikes. They manage to make it into the air you breathe as well. All of this sounds so negative, but there is some positive in this as well. The products and materials that produce these harmful chemicals greatly decrease the in the amounts of off-gassing over time. The amount of gasses emitted by such items can be reduced by sealing exposed wood seems, or by placing newly purchased furniture outside when possible to let the harmful chemicals evaporate into the outdoor air. A quality ventilation system within the house can also greatly reduce the amount of chemicals in the air.
One of the largest sources of indoor air pollution, and possibly the most harmful is smoking. As everyone knows the harm from smoking does not only belong to that of the smoker, but the people surrounded by it as well. If you were to walk into a house of a smoker you would be able to tell right away whether or not someone in the residence smokes. The smoke produced from a cigarette does not last for only the tim it is smoked, but can linger in the room, house, and clothes for hours, days, and even years. Where does this smoke and smell go then if it hangs around this long? The smoke and other junk produced from the cigarette finds its ways into the fabrics, drywalls, and other porous media in the house. Conveniently this is also the easiest fix of indoor air pollution. If there is a smoker in your house put a fence in the back yard, a “smoking zone” if your may, that is away from open windows so as to reduce the chances of pollution your indoor air.
Household Cleaners & Air Fresheners
I know, when reading air fresheners you need to double take. They are used to make the air smell better, and get rid of the crummy smell, but actually you may be polluting it. With household cleaners, they sometime hurt to smell, well that’s because they do. These chemically loaded cleaners may do their job at cleaning the dirty surface, but they can seriously hurt your lungs when inhaled. The limited use of both air fresheners and household cleaners should be used only when necessary. When cleaning your house make sure to breath sparingly.. not really, but keep in mind some of the chemicals you are breathing in. They can have some highly adverse effects to human health.
STOP it at the SOURCE
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the most effective method of increasing indoor air quality and reducing indoor air pollution is cutting the pollution off at the source. What it comes down to is simply eliminating all sources of indoor air pollution, or at least reducing the emissions as much as possible. I did not list all of the examples of source emitters, but keep an eye out for items that may produce these harmful chemicals. One last important factor to keeping your air as healthy as possible is the ability to keep your air moving. Using you’re A/C unit, or your heater and fans, keep the air moving. This will bring in “new” air, diluting the “old contaminated” air, keeping the air as fresh as possible. If you can keep an eye on you weight, what you eat, and your health, then you should have no problem keeping your air healthy as well. The air we breath is the most important element to our health. Keep an eye on what you drag into your house, be aware, and you should not have to worry about harmful air.
Conor Edwards (’13)
Environmental Science, Geology