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Fouling our nest. Archive in indoor ecology.

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Fouling our nest. Archive in indoor ecology.

Posted by Walt Stoll on August 27, 2003 at 15:29:10:

Misty L. Trepke

Is Your Indoor Air Rated X-Tremely Polluted?
Seventh Generation - Safer for you and the environment

Unless you're one of the five or six people currently living in
outer space, you probably don't give a second thought to the air
inside your home. After all, air is free and you can pretty much
find it everywhere. It's no wonder we take it for granted. Yet we
probably shouldn't because indoor air is often the kind that's the
most hazardous of all.

The issue of indoor air quality starts with one of the more perverse
environmental statistics of modern times: According to EPA research,
on average, the air inside the castles we call home typically
contains levels of pollutants 2-5 times higher than the air outside
and in extreme cases can be 100 times more contaminated. In one study
of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a class of airborne chemical
toxin, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that while
outdoor air at sampled sites contained less than 10 VOCs, indoor air
at those same sites contained 150 VOCs.

Factor in the essential point that the average American spends about
90% of their time inside and suddenly indoor air quality becomes
something we ought to be thinking about. No wonder the EPA ranked
indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental risks to
public health. Or that the National Academy of Sciences estimated
that indoor air pollution costs our country between $15 and $100
billion each year in related health care costs.

Although the specific types of air pollutants found indoors often
vary considerably from home to home, poor indoor air quality has four
basic causes: The chemical substances we use to clean and maintain
our homes. Many homeowners use a large number of petrochemical
cleaners and other toxic products like pesticides, disinfectants,
and air deodorizers liberally around the house. These products
produce hazardous fumes when used and leave residues behind that
then gradually dissolve into the air over time. The constant
application of such a wide variety of chemical compounds
throughout the average home greatly increases both the number of
dangerous indoor air pollutants and their concentration levels.

The materials we use to build and furnish our homes. Modern
residences contain a staggering variety of synthetic materials from
carpets and foam cushions to insulation and chemically-treated
pressed wood products. These products outgas which means that the
chemical compounds they contain break down with age and are slowly
released into the air over time in the form of toxic fumes.

Modern construction techniques. Following the oil shocks of the 70s,
American homes began to be built with energy efficiency in mind.
Today's homes are better insulated and better sealed than any in the
past. This is good for energy conservation. But bad for indoor air
quality because without a system that ensures adequate air exchanges
to remove hazardous fidyl indoor air pollutants or dilute their
concentrations, indoor air can quickly reach become unsafe.

Household combustion equipment like furnaces, hot water heaters, and
gas stoves. If improperly maintained or vented, these devices can
introduce combustion by-products into indoor air that range from
particulates like soot to deadly gases like carbon monoxide. In spite
of the fact that these basic factors have introduced over 900
identified air pollutants to modern indoor air, the American Lung
Association found that 87% of homeowners were not aware that indoor
air quality was even an issue. That's probably because such air
pollution can be very difficult to detect. Many pollutants have
little or no smell, and those that do smell often go largely
unnoticed thanks to olfactory fatigue, a fancy name for the fact that
the nose almost immediately adapts to the presence of new odors and
effectively removes them from conscious notice. In fact, odors that
persist in a house can even lead the nose to develop a semi-permanent
fatigue that sometimes even a day away from home can't overcome.

In her book, Home Safe Home, healthy home expert Debra Lynn Dadd
recommends that anyone concerned about their home's air spend a day
away in the best air they can find in order to "rinse out" their
nose. Windows and doors at home should be closed to concentrate any
odors and a big sniff should be taken immediately upon return. In
this way it may be possible to detect odors that indicate problems.
Friends whose noses aren't immune to your home's smells can also
help. More precise results can be obtained by indoor air quality
tests. However, these are often costly to conduct. An effective
alternative strategy is to examine your home for potential sources of
indoor air pollution and then take steps to either remove those
sources (as in the case of toxic cleaners or household materials) or
assure that they are functioning properly and therefore not producing
airborne toxins (as in the case of furnaces and water heaters).

What sources should you be looking for? Here's an alphabetical list
of the most common kinds of indoor air pollutants and the places they
come from. If you have any of the source materials or devices listed
below in your home it's advisable to either remove them or have a
knowledgeable professional verify that no contaminants like these are
being emitted:

Carbon Monoxide: An invisible, odorless, and tasteless gas produced
by the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels like gas and oil in
devices like furnaces, gas ranges, and non-electric space and hot
water heaters.

Combustion by-products (CBPs): Gases and particles created by
cigarette smoking, fireplaces, woodstoves, furnaces, gas ranges, and
non-electric space and hot water heaters.

Dust: Believe it or not, the average 6-room home accumulates roughly
40 pounds of dust each year, and there's not much we can do about it
because dust is being made around us all the time as the materials we
use in our daily lives breakdown and shed microscopic particles.
Household dust can contain tiny pieces of textiles, wood, and food;
mold spores; pollens; insect fragments; furs and hairs; and particles
of smoke, paint, nylon, rubber, fiberglass, plastic, and paper.

Formaldehyde: A chemical used in everything from carpet and pressed
wood products like plywood to bed linens. Formaldehyde is a volatile
organic compound (VOC) but it's so common that some experts believe
it to be the single most important indoor air pollutant. For this
reason, it warrants a separate mention among the many hundreds of
VOCs that can exist in indoor air. Formaldehyde is colorless gas with
a sharp odor, although at the concentrations typically found in
indoor air, it is undetectable by the nose. Composite or pressed-
wood products are a common source of indoor formaldehyde. Wood
resins and glues containing it are found in particleboard, plywood,
paneling, furniture, wallboard and ceiling panels. Other sources
include carpets, decorative wallpapers, and fabrics in which
formaldehyde is used as a finish to create permanent press, flame-
resistant, water-repellant, and shrink-proof materials. Formaldehyde
can also come from gas stoves, glues, room deodorizers, cosmetics,
personal care products, paper grocery bags, waxed paper, paper
tissues and towels, and even feminine protection products.

Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide (Nitrogen Oxides): Colorless,
odorless and tasteless gases produced by gas ranges.

Ozone: A gas created by the breakdown of volatile compounds found in
solvents; reactions between sunlight and chemicals that are produced
by burning fossil fuels; and reactions between chemicals found in
materials like paint and hair spray. Most ozone in the home comes
from outside and results predominantly from automobile exhaust which
is why this pollutant is more problematic in urban and suburban homes
than rural homes. Ozone can also come from copy machines, laser
printers, and ultraviolet lights.

Particulates: Tiny particles of soot and other materials. The biggest
sources of indoor particulates are windblown dust, house dust, and
tobacco smoke. Secondary sources include wood stoves and appliances
like furnaces and non-electric heaters.

Pesticides: The mere act of applying these toxic materials spreads
them around the house and introduces them to indoor air. Residues
that remain continue to pollute the home and its occupants.

Radon: A natural radioactive gas that seeps from the rocks and soil
surrounding certain homes. Radon is odorless, colorless, and
tasteless and largely a problem only in basements in regions where
soils have a large radon content.

Tobacco smoke: A mixture of over 4,700 different chemical compounds
and the single most preventable indoor air pollutant on this list.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Chemical compounds that exist in a
gaseous form at room temperature. In the home, the presence of these
chemicals in the air comes predominantly from two sources: the
outgassing of synthetic materials like foams and plastics and the use
of toxic cleaning products and other household chemicals. Common VOCs
include benzene, toluene, xylene, vinyl chloride, naphthalene,
methylene chloride, and perchloroethylene. But such materials are
just the tip of the indoor air/VOC iceberg. There are hundreds of
VOCs capable of causing everything from neurological and organ
damage to cancer. Interestingly, many victims of Multiple Chemical
Sensitivities think their troubles began with an exposure to VOCs.
Because of this high toxicity, VOCs are a major indoor air concern.
That ends our look at common indoor air pollutants and their sources.
As to what to do about them-stay tuned. In our next issue, we'll have
a complete look at the strategies you can use to help your family
breathe a little easier.

Re: Fouling our nest. Archive in indoor ecology.

Posted by bing on August 27, 2003 at 16:55:02:

In Reply to: Fouling our nest. Archive in indoor ecology. posted by Walt Stoll on August 27, 2003 at 15:29:10:

I agree. That's why I keep all my windows open, all the time, day and night, and hardly ever use air conditioner or heater. I think it's a lot healthier to simply tolerate the winter cold and summer heat than breathing toxic, stuffy indoor air. People here think I'm nuts; oh well, so be it :)

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