Indoor Air Quality, the Underreported Health Hazard
Surf the Web or read a newspaper and you are bound to discover health hazards that menace your every waking moment. Brain-eating bacteria in your favorite lake; tick bites that cause organ failure; toxic chemicals (carbamate) and bacteria in food: the list goes on … and on.
It’s a wicked world out there. But it may be even worse inside. According to indoor air quality (IAQ) experts, the air inside our homes, schools, businesses, and shopping places can be very nearly lethal, given modern chemistry and the tendency of many building products to offgass, or emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
These compounds – ranging from wood glues and wall paint to the chemicals used in fabrics and carpeting, household cleaning products, personal care products, and electronic devices like game consoles and televisions – provide the kind of atmosphere that, undiluted, probably exists on Mars!
There are two reasons why indoor air may be worse than outdoors, even in highly industrialized cities. First and foremost are today’s airtight buildings, which are aimed at conserving energy but may, in effect, merely condense “bad” air.
Running a close second are today’s hi-tech heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, which can actually promote the accumulation and distribution of toxic molds, etc., especially in humid environments.
These systems, installed in both commercial buildings and homes, can – if incorrectly sized and maintained – also increase levels of carbon monoxide (from heating components), carbon dioxide (by introducing too little fresh air), and particulates.
Particulates are the microscopic or even nanoscale elements of chemicals, usually present in the form of VOCs. They are especially dangerous to children, whose bodies are a work-in-progress. They include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), pyrethroids, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, chlorodanes, and phthalate. The dangers are to endocrine, hormonal, nervous, and metabolic systems, as well as to developing brains. In fact, studies from a decade ago show that PBDEs are 2 to 5 times higher in young children than in their parents!
Few of these chemicals are regulated. In fact, of the more than 2,000 new chemicals developed every year, only a handful go through any kind of screening process to determine their toxicity, and those tests that are carried out do not focus on endocrine disruption. Worse, some persist for at least three decades.
Initially, mental and physical developmental difficulties, including ADD, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, deformed penises, absent testicles, early menstruation (as soon as 8 years of age), obesity (and other weight-related diseases like Type II diabetes), and allergic (immune) reactions like asthma and eczema.
Later in life, expect declining sperm counts, cancer, the premature failure of eyesight, hearing, and reflexes, Parkinson’s disease, Bell’s palsy, and Alzheimer’s disease.
As a homeowner or renter with children, what can you do about indoor air pollution? First, don’t overreact. All dwellings have a certain amount of dust, bacteria, and VOCs. Before you adopt truly dramatic measures – gutting your home and replacing drywall with mud-clay, or furniture and flooring with peeled logs and rushes – test your indoor air.
Green Home offers two types of IAQ test kits. The first is wide-ranging (and widely priced), and can test for everything from dust to mold and carcinogens like asbestos. Best of all, results are delivered by Green Home’s laboratory partner, Techtron.
The second, equally as comprehensive, tests for over 700,000 compounds using NIOSH (a division of the U.S. Department of Labor) standards, and delivers results in five business days. Either one costs less than a visit by an IAQ testing specialist.
When you know the extent of your problem, you can develop a response. It may be not be as dramatic as the scenario outlined above – you might have to replace your HVAC system and install a whole-house air cleaner, for example, or you might get by with a room air cleaner and some potted greenery.
Check Your Household Insurance: Ask the EPA for Help
If you have recently had an insurance-related claim due to wildfire smoke damage, volcanic soot deposits, or flooding (to mention just a few), your homeowner’s insurance policy may cover a portion of both the test and the remediation.
If you rent or lease, your landlord may be covered by a blanket remediation policy. Visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – EPA on the web – or call your local or regional EPA office for more information on indoor air pollution.
In the future, to protect your improved indoor air, buy organic – Green Home has pages of products that will reduce or eliminate the dangers presented by chemicals. From furnace filters to water filters of every kind, and what may be one of the best portable air purifiers on the market – you are sure to find something that will help.
We humans spend at least half our lives inside our living spaces, and air tops the list of things we need to live, so let’s clean it up!
This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Childcare, Eco Home Improvement, Fighting Allergies, Health and Safety and was tagged with air quality, air quality test, air quality testing, asbestos, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, carcinogens, DDT, Eco Home Improvement, green living, HEALTH SENSITIVE, HVAC systems, IAQ, mold, particulates, PBDEs, PCBs, phthlates, VOCs, volatile organic compounds