As the winter approaches many of us will start showing symptoms of asthma and other so called winter related respiratory issues. Although some of those respiratory problems are stronger during the colder months, they are most of the times present all year round as many of us spend much of our time indoors. Instead of blaming the weather we should start looking at the actual source of the problem, which is almost always, related to the chemicals and toxins we bring home every day.
While certain pollutants create health problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches or fatigue, others will cause allergies, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, or cancer. But where are those pollutants and how can we eliminate them from our lives?
Step One:Getting to know your enemies
Radon — Radon is a radioactive gas that is considered the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. Since radon is formed in the soil, it will enter indoors through cracks and openings in floors and walls that are in contact with the ground.
Secondhand Smoke — In case you don’t know, secondhand smoke comes from burning tobacco products and according to doctors and other specialists, secondhand smoke can cause cancer and serious respiratory illnesses, especially in children.
Combustion Pollutants — Combustion pollutants are gases or particles derived from burning materials that are improperly vented or unvented such as space heaters, woodstoves, gas stoves, water heaters, dryers, and fireplaces. Carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are some of the gases generated from combustion. While nitrogen dioxide is a colorless and odorless gas that causes eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, and an increased risk of respiratory infection, carbon monoxide, is a colorless and odorless gas that obstructs the delivery of oxygen throughout the body, causing headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and even death.
Volatile organic compounds — Volatile Organic Compounds also known as VOCs, are chemicals found in paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, varnishes and waxes, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, moth repellents, air fresheners, and dry-cleaned clothing that can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, as well as cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. According to specialists, some of those VOCs can even cause cancer.
Step Two:Eliminating your enemies
Controlling the sources of pollution — the best way to control the sources of pollution is by eliminating them. VOCs can be easily avoided by adopting a green clean policy in your home; selecting only paints, varnishes, and adhesives with low-to-no VOC; choosing products that carry either Green Seal or Green Guard labels; and banning smoking in the house.
Ventilating — Increase the amount of fresh air you bring home by opening windows and doors on a regular basis (of course, weather allowing). It will help you to reduce the indoor pollutants. Also, bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust to the outdoors will increase ventilation too.
Clean up your HVAC — One of the reasons why central heaters and air conditioners have filters is to trap dust and other pollutants in the air. Improve your IAQ by making sure your filters are cleaned (or replaced) regularly as well as you HVAC systems is cleaned regularly or after any construction. Controlled Comfort has a great guide to doing this on their site.
Decorate with plants — Thanks to a study performed by NASA in the 80’s, we found out that certain species of plants have the natural ability to filter selected chemicals, increasing this way, our IAQ. Use those plants to decorate your space while improving your IAQ.
Although we have no control on where radon will form, we can prevent its entrance in our home by making sure there are no cracks in the floor and nor in the walls in contact with the ground. Also making sure the home is well ventilated and performing yearly radon tests are great ways to improve the indoor air quality of your home while reducing the IAQ related health risks.
VK Sustainable Concepts’ Principal Andrea Vollf, LEED AP ID+C, is a registered interior designer and sustainability professional. Ms. Vollf is an active member of the U.S. Green Building Council – Illinois Chapter, with in?depth knowledge of all aspects of Sustainability – Social, Environmental and Economic.
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- Air pollution causes cancer, WHO concludes. (telegraph.co.uk)
- Air pollution can cause cancer, says World Health Organisation (theguardian.com)
- Study links air pollution and traffic with low birthweight (theguardian.com)
- World Health Organisation names air pollution as the main cause of lung cancer (dailymail.co.uk)