Is your home making you sick
Is your home making you ill?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), levels of about a dozen common chemical pollutants are two to five times higher inside homes than outside of them. Part of the problem is that houses are so much better insulated than they used to be: That's a good thing when it comes to conserving energy, but being more airtight also means that 'whatever you emit indoors — whether it's your burnt microwave popcorn, cigarette smoke, or cleaning-product fumes — is going to persist in the indoor environment for longer,' says Lynn Hildemann, an environmental engineer and researcher at Stanford University.
In light of this, scientists are beginning to suspect that it may be these indoor nasties — not just outdoor smog — that are responsible for rising rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Indoor pollution can also cause headaches, flu-like symptoms, and, in serious cases, neurological problems.
We know this sounds scary, but don't panic: You can minimize your family's exposure with a few simple steps. None involve buying expensive products (the hulking air purifiers you see in SkyMall catalogs, etc.); in fact, some of the best fixes are the most basic.
DON'T LET THE BAD STUFF IN
Part of keeping the air in your house cleaner is simply not letting certain things into it in the first place. Easy ways to do that:
Kick off your shoes in the front hall. The bottoms of our shoes are covered in a fine layer of chemicals, dirt, bacteria, and mold. That stuff settles onto floors and into carpeting, and regular household activity can stir it up, causing you and your family to breathe it in, Hildemann says. Try stationing a shoe basket or rack in the entryway to keep things more organized.
Wait a few days before picking up your dry cleaning. Freshly dry-cleaned clothes can emit chemicals that have been linked to cancer and neurological problems, according to the EPA — and it's important to make sure the solvents are completely dry before bringing them into your home. You could also switch to a dry cleaner that uses 'wet' or CO2 cleaning, neither of which emit the same kind of dangerous fumes, according to the EPA.
Go fragrance-free. The EPA warns that some air fresheners can release compounds that cause headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Lemon and pine scents concern experts most, Hildemann says: The chemicals that produce those smells react with ozone in the air to form formaldehyde and ultrafine particles that can collect in the lungs. For a safer room freshener, dip cotton balls in a sweet-smelling extract like vanilla and stash them around the house.
Not surprisingly, indoor pollution becomes more of an issue during the winter, when we keep our windows closed for months on end, light cozy (but smoky!) fires, and braise our favorite cold-weather meals in the oven. Not only does cooking produce fumes, but gas stoves release trace amounts of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide into the air. That doesn't mean that roasting one turkey is going to hurt you — just like other chemicals, the exposure is cumulative. To reduce yours:
Turn on your stove's exhaust fan. This will ensure that smoke and other chemicals released during cooking don't stick around, Hildemann says.
If you have an attached garage, open the garage door before starting your car — and keep it open for a few minutes after pulling in when you return home. Otherwise, the carbon monoxide from your exhaust pipe can get into the main house; over time, that may increase your family's risk for asthma and even neurological problems. Overexposure to carbon monoxide happens more than people might think, according to the EPA.
Make sure your fireplace flue is working properly, to keep lung-irritating particles in wood smoke out of your indoor air. The EPA recommends having a fireplace pro inspect and clean your furnace, fireplace, or chimney every year.