Air pollution isn’t just an outdoor problem. The air inside homes and buildings is often much more contaminated than the outside air. This is especially true in Meigs County, where we are blessed to have good outdoor air quality, but less blessed when it comes to median incomes. According to the U.S. EPA, “children, elderly and low-income populations may be disproportionately impacted by indoor asthma triggers, secondhand smoke, mold, radon and other indoor pollutants.”
Indoor pollutant sources are varied. They can have immediate, short term effects, such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, or serious, long term effects, such as respiratory disease, heart disease and cancer. Some contaminants such as carbon monoxide can be fatal.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reports that “radon is the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer in smokers.” Radon is a colorless odorless gas that comes out of the soil. It gets into homes through crawlspaces and basements. ODH is currently giving out free, do it yourself, radon test kits to Ohio homeowners. Go to www.ohio.radon.com to request your test kit today.
Wood stoves and gas appliances can emit carbon monoxide (CO) and should be accompanied by a CO detector. The gummy residue and black, caked-on debris on a gas stove can emit CO and contribute to indoor CO levels even when the burners are not lit, so proper cleaning of gas appliances is important.
Newly installed laminate flooring, carpet and upholstery can emit gasses for a period of time. As can the glue used in items made of pressed wood. This gradual release is called off-gassing. Installing these types of products when windows can be opened to increase fresh air will help flush the toxins out of the home.
Products for household deep cleaning and maintenance, such as oven cleaners, paint, and pesticides can also give off toxic gasses and should always be used when adequate ventilation can be assured. Always follow label instructions when using these types of chemicals.
Less obvious, but just as culpable are personal care items and light cleaning products. Fragrances and other chemicals used in products like perfume, shampoo, fabric softeners, air fresheners, candles and soaps can trigger asthma attacks in susceptible people.
A main source of indoor air pollution, specifically in low-income households, is tobacco smoke. Always step outside to smoke tobacco products.
Older upholstered furniture, mattresses, and carpets are a source of dust mites. Pets are a source of dander. Outdoor plants are a source of pollen. All can be reduced by frequent vacuuming and timely HVAC filter changes.
Biological contaminates can also be a source of indoor air pollution. Bacteria, viruses, and molds are common. Excess moisture in a home should be limited in order to reduce the amount of mold spores in the air. Humidity levels inside a home should range from 30%-50%. If you have higher levels, first check for and repair sources of moisture intrusion such as roof and water line leaks. If no leaks are found, a dehumidifier may be required to reach the desired humidity level. Pests such as mice and cockroaches also create biological contaminates that cause poor indoor air quality. Handle pest issues promptly, to prevent infestations, and clean up thoroughly to reduce the amount of contamination present.
Follow manufacturers recommendations for changing filters on furnaces, and HVAC systems. The higher the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating on a filter, the better it works to trap pollutants. MERV 8 rated filters will catch dander, dust, and the larger particulates. Merv 11 can catch everything an 8 catches plus smaller particulates including molds and bacteria. Only a furnace filter with a carbon component can catch gasses like those that come from glues and fragrances. Check your system manufacturer’s instructions, then select the best filter you can afford that will work with your appliance. Change filters in a timely manner to ensure best air quality.
With some forethought and planning, you can improve the indoor air quality inside your home and improve the respiratory health of your family. Make timely household repairs, keep cleaning chores up to date, replace furnace and HVAC filters as needed, open windows for fresh air whenever weather permits, install CO detectors if needed, go outside to smoke, and order your free Radon test kit from ODH at www.ohio.radon.com.
Dawn Keller is a registered sanitarian at the Meigs County Health Department.