We live in the ocean of air, the very first necessity supporting our lives. Yet,
we managed to have it heavily polluted. Main causes of air pollution,
at large, are industrial and vehicular emission. Widely dispersed outdoor
air contaminants in any given area easily find their way into closed spaces,
where we live and work.
Needles to say, health effects of air pollution are a major
concern. Especially so for indoor air pollution, since the
outdoor air contaminants are now combined with indoor
contaminants, which can be particulates (combustion particles,
dust, heavy metals), gaseous (VOC, combustion gasses,
cigarette smoke, pesticides, radon) and bio-contaminants (mold spores,
animal dander, dust mites and others).
These include anything from
plain dust to microscopic combustion produced particulates. They
can be contaminated with toxic residues, like
chemically treated lumber, and others.
Consumers in the U.S. buy (and
presumably use) hundreds of millions pounds of pesticides every year. Many
are not aware of their potential toxicity; it is estimated that as toxic
organochlorines as DDT and chlordane - banned decades ago - are still
being used in hundreds of thousands of U.S. households. Use of
pesticides - even generally less toxic organophosphates - always puts you at risk.
The most vulnerable, as usual, are
children. One study has shown that the probability of soft-tissue sarcoma in children
from households where lawn pesticides are used is four times higher than
in homes not using them. This
illustrates well the pesticide danger, especially if
it is ignored, or neglected.
Nearly all materials outgas
at room temperature. Toxic emission consists mainly from
volatile organic compounds
(VOC), released by synthetic materials. VOCs levels in
an average home are
10-30 times the outdoor level (0.1mg/m3),
while some closed spaces (typically stores) can have up to
1000 times the
outdoor air VOC saturation.
There is ample evidence that outgassing VOC can cause
a wide variety of symptoms, from
eye and upper respiratory tract irritation, confusion, dizziness, chest
tightness and headache, to skin eruptions, joint and muscle pain, asthma
attack, depression, seizures and even death.
Besides eliminating worst offenders (carpets, particle boards, soft
plastics, rubber and foam) from your home, there are a few more things
that you can do.
One is to
make sure that your indoor temperature and humidity - they both stimulate
VOC outgassing - are at the low optimum.
The other is to make
bedrooms in your home as VOC-free as
possible. That pretty much means throwing out everything but the bed:
carpeting, clothing and shoes, plastics, chemically treated materials, as
well as making the bed itself VOC-free (no synthetics, glues, chemicals,
VOC-emitting mattresses - and so on). Make sure that no "sink materials" are
left behind, to reemit VOCs they absorb and store. If you can't do it 100%, do as
close to it as you can.
This will give to your body much needed toxin-free break, when it helps
most. Chances are, you'll notice that you sleep better as well.
Finally, use efficient
air-filtration, capable of removing VOCs. If
you only can afford a single unit, put it in your bedroom.
a radioactive gas, can sometimes outgas from building materials, but usually
it emanates from the soil, being pulled into a building, or a house, whenever
it gets depressurized. Then it accumulates in spaces - mostly basements or
ground level - that are not well ventilated.
Most of the U.S. soil outgases
radon, although the rate varies significantly. For instance, while it is
estimated that 1 in every 15 homes in the U.S. has high radon levels (above
4pCi/L, or 148Bq/m3),
there are areas where the majority of homes and buildings have radon
accumulation above acceptable level.
Why should you worry about radon? It is linked
to lung cancer: EPA
(Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that it causes some 20,000 lung
cancers every year. To assess your risk, have radon levels in your home
measured. If it is significant, the easiest way minimize the risk is by
ensuring good ventilation. You can also seal off the bottom floor or, if
sealing can not be done efficiently enough, build some sort
of radon-removal system.
If you are smoker, it is one more good
reason for you to quit. Cigarette smoke increases the risk of radon
induced lung cancer 15-fold. This is just one example of how synergistic
effect of two or more toxic contaminants can create much higher risk of suffering
Most of the common house
combustion gases are produced by burning heating materials and fuel
(oil, wood, coal, etc.). Specific gases and concentrations depend on the material
burned, but mainly include
carbon dioxide (unvented
kerosene space heaters), sulfur dioxide (from
sulfur-containing fuels) and
(most fuels and cigarettes).
contains over 40 carcinogens, and
wood smoke is almost
Common indoor air bio-contaminants are
animal dander and
dust mites, whose
microscopic feces become airborne and, when inhaled, can cause allergic
reaction. Biological indoor air contaminants can trigger variety of symptoms,
from coughing and sneezing to skin rashes, breathing difficulties (asthma), fatigue and depression. In
children, mold sensitivity can cause hyperactivity.
Animal dander is the most obvious, and the easiest
contaminant to deal with. It is also limited to households having
animals in their living space. Both, mold spores and dust mites is more
widespread, and harder to detect.
(mold plate) to find out how much of fungal growth - and what mold
types - you have in your bedroom. Mold will grow on surfaces with relative humidity exceeding 70%. If you identify those surfaces
and lower surface humidity - either by lowering humidity level in the whole
house, or by increasing the surface temperature, or both - mold will go dormant
and will stop producing spores.
Another way to suppress fungal growth is to leave
an open bowl with a mixture of 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of Clorox in a
closed room for two days (be sure to avoid inhaling the fumes)11.
To inactivate dust mites, relative humidity of
indoor air needs to be below 40%.
┆ NUTRITION ┆