Indoor air pollution is not a matter to be taken lightly. There are long-term and short-term effects that range from irritating to very dangerous. In fact, some air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, can become lethal as their levels build high enough. Even more frightening to consider is the fact that some of the pollutants in our homes can exacerbate the negative effects of other pollutants! In the US and in other countries, indoor air quality is a constant concern and ranks high among the environmental problems addressed by government agencies. In fact, the EPA estimates that the quality of our indoor air is 2 to 5 times worse than the air outside!
As I have considered the sources of pollutants and contaminants in my own home, I have discovered that there would be serious consequences to ignoring this problem any longer. Let me share some of the information that I’ve learned in three categories: how the pollution entered my home, the risks my family is exposed to because of the contaminants, and a few ways that I have found to improve the air quality in my home.
We Bring Most of the Pollution and Contaminants into Our Homes
It is an uncomfortable fact that the quality of air inside our homes is usually worse than the quality of air outside. There are many causes of pollution that you may not have thought about, I certainly hadn’t. That dust lying around on undusted shelves, cleaning products, and pet dander are just a few examples. (Even if you don’t own a pet, you probably know someone who does and you may be carrying that dander home with you.) Here are a few other sources of pollutants that you may be willingly introducing into your home:
- Fire-retardant on clothing and furniture
- VOCs in hair spray, perfumes, laundry detergents and other cleaning items, and air fresheners
- Lead in dust that you track into your home
- Fumes from paints, cleaners, and automobiles
- Smoke from cigarettes and cigars
- Pressed wood furniture and cabinets
Realistically, even the cooking that you do in your kitchen can create an unhealthy breathing atmosphere. In the past, people spent a lot of time outside and spent most of their time breathing the fresher air outdoors. Today, in well-insulated, airtight homes, the contaminants and pollutants are trapped inside where we spend the majority of our time breathing.
There Is Much More at Risk than A Little Bit of Irritation
There are many serious effects of poor air quality in our homes. According to the World Health Organization, over one million deaths happen every year because of air pollution. Some of the most serious health effects that we will suffer begin in our respiratory system and our cardiovascular system. Our respiratory system includes our lungs which send large quantities of air to our organs and blood. When we breathe in contaminated air, those contaminants are spread throughout the rest of our lungs and bloodstream – wreaking havoc and injury in their wake. By breathing in poor quality air, we risk lung disease and inflammation.
The cardiovascular system is made up of the heart and a huge network of blood vessels. When we breathe in polluted air, those pollutants are spread throughout the blood system in our bodies and into our heart. Some of these risks to our cardiovascular system include degenerative necrosis, lethal arrhythmias, changes in the central and nervous systems, and the reduction of healthy bodily functioning.
These conditions often build up over time, so that by the time you are aware of the damage, it becomes difficult to remedy the situation.
Don’t Wait to Improve the Quality of Your Indoor Air
There are several things that you can begin doing right away to improve your indoor air quality. Most of these start with reducing the amount of contaminants you are bringing into your home.
Can you substitute any of your cleaning products with a more environmentally friendly version? Vinegar, baking soda, and cream of tartar are three effective supplies that most people have on hand. Sometimes, a mild detergent in hot water can be as effective as the harsher chemicals which contain dangerous contaminants.
Removing your shoes as you enter your home is another effective way to avoid tracking pesticides, dust, pollen, dander, and other pollutants through your home.
I don’t intend to get rid of my cat, but there are some ways that I can reduce the amount of pet dander in the air. I might designate one room as a pet free area and vacuum regularly. I can also wash the bedding, blankets, and cushions where my cat spends most of her time. A couple of other things that I might do are to cover the litter box and wash her if necessary.
Smokers may need to find a way to make similar accommodations if they don’t want to smoke outside.
Today is the day to begin your improvements. Take some time to seek out the sources of pollution in your home and then take steps to clean up the air that your breathe every day.