Last edited 2021/07/05
More time indoors, with more pollutants
Indoor air pollution is grabbing more attention. Especially with environmental allergies and asthma on the rise. Plus we’re spending spend more time indoors due to coronavirus, wildfire smoke, and heat waves.
Following is a quick round-up of pollutants and irritants to be aware of, and health considerations. And tips for reducing your exposure.
Air pollution concentrates indoors
… The air within homes… can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors.
It is prudent to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
How indoor air can make you sick
Some people can become sensitized to biological or chemical pollutants after repeated or high level exposures. Symptoms can include “irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue”.USEPA
Potential long-term effects
Here’s what moved me to wear a respirator on the job since 1989, for dusting and vacuuming in my health-based cleaning service. Even when using a HEPA vacuum. And even at home.
Other health effects “… May show up either years after exposure has occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal”.USEPA
Types of indoor air pollutants
Following is a quick round-up of pollutants I’m following for my clients. For a complete list, Read USEPA’s The Inside Story: A guide to Indoor Air Quality
Perennial (or year-round) allergies are often caused by common indoor triggers such as dust mites, mold, pets and cockroaches and are the body’s physical reactions to inhaled airborne allergy triggering proteins, known as “allergens.” These perennial, or year-round, allergy sufferers deal with stuffy or runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing, and wheezing all year long. Others suffer from seasonal allergies from trees, grasses, or weeds.Clifford W. Bassett, M.D., FACAAI, FAAAAI
Most homes in the US are are poorly ventilated. So here is what you need to do. And why follows next.Prof. Shelly Miller Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.
One of the best introductory videos out there is a 2020 animation titled, “Let’s talk about transmission of respiratory infectious diseases”. It clarifies my understanding about general infections, along with Sars-CoV-2. Written by Prof. Shelly Miller, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The flu virus
Influenza viruses can spread through the air on dust, fibers and other microscopic particles…Medical Express, August 18, 2020
It’s not clear how much this translates into infection, at least to me. The article seems more about potential implications.
Fine, inhalable particles
These invisible particles can linger longer in the air, and penetrate deeper into the lungs.
... Particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because these particles are inhalable. Once inhaled, particles can affect the heart and lungs and in some cases cause serious health effects.
… Indoor PM can be generated through cooking, combustion activities (including burning of candles, use of fireplaces, use of unvented space heaters or kerosene heaters, cigarette smoking) and some hobbies. Indoor PM can also be of biological origin.USEPA: Indoor Particulate Matter
Some wildfire smoke particles are among the finest breathable particles. Wildfires are becoming yearly events now. Last year Mike and I put together quick, cheap DIY Filter Fans for less than fifty dollars. Ours is much like this one at Texas Air Filters.
Fine particles (also known as PM2.5): particles generally 2.5 µm in diameter or smaller represent a main pollutant emitted from wildfire smoke, comprising approximately 90% of total particle mass (Vicente et al. 2013; Groβ et al. 2013). Fine particles from wildfire smoke are of greatest health concern. This group of particles also includes ultrafine particles, which are generally classified as having diameters less than 0.1 µm.U.S.E.P.A.: Why Wildfire is a Health Concern
Chemicals emitted from consumer products
This one’s too close to home for me, thank you— owning and operating my toxic cleaning service years ago. Trying to avoid toxic sprays and fumes when scrubbing ovens, waxing floors, dusting with sprays.
But even if your cleaning is non-toxic, you’re likely exposed to airborne dust stirred up as you move about your home. And when your home is cleaned.
Indoor dust consistently contains four classes of harmful chemicals in high amounts… 45 potentially toxic chemicals that are used in many consumer and household products as vinyl flooring, personal care and cleaning products, building materials and home furnishings.Milken Institute School of Public Health, 2016
What I discovered on the job— in just one home
Many of my clients have had respiratory symptoms, migraines, and chronic fatigue. My job— reducing sources of indoor air pollution that may aggravate symptoms.
Taking a deep dive in one home, I screened roughly 65 different cleaning-related products. Not being a health expert, I ran each product through ewg.org, mostly for respiratory issues. And found plenty. Read about the project here.
Some consumer product chemicals are persistent, meaning they don’t break down in our home or bodies. One example is stain-resistant chemicals.
So-called “Forever Chemicals” that are used on carpets for stain resistance and as surface coatings on nonstick pans are associated with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and reduced vaccine effectiveness in kids.
Some 98% of Americans have these chemicals in their body. In a study of a weight-loss program, women with higher levels of these chemicals gained back more weight and gained back weight faster.Joseph Allen, associate professor and director of the healthy-buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
How to start cleaning up your indoor air
I’m no indoor air quality expert. Having said that, I’ve worked with many clients with allergies, asthma and chemical sensitivities. Following are more measures many have taken, though not necessarily in this order.
- Leave shoes at the door. Keep slippers handy for your household and guests.
- Open windows when safe to do so. Safe, meaning you’re not living near a major freeway, or refinery. And not in the path of wildfire smoke or an extreme heat wave.
- Change your HVAC filters at least quarterly.
- Use toxic-free personal care products. Find well-researched toxic-free brands through Nontoxic U.
- Invest in a healthy vacuum cleaner with a true HEPA filter.
- Bring in air purifiers as needed, to reduce your exposures as you work on your next steps. Here’s what the experts at Healthy Building Science (HBS) recommend. And here are reviews from Nontoxic U.
- Phase in Health-based cleaning. At its core, it means gradually replacing unnecessarily-toxic products with the least-toxic ones that work.
- Gradually let go of any clutter. Doing so can cut your cleaning time up to half or more, if you’re aiming for a deep cleaning.
- Gradually replace any questionable furnishings, at least from your bedroom. Many furnishings shed chemicals like flame retardants and more that contribute to indoor air pollution. You can find toxic-free replacements through Nontoxic U.
- Have your HVAC system checked. Here’s what the experts at Healthy Building Science (HBS) recommend.
- Get your kitchen exhaust fan, and your bathroom fan, working— if they’re not already. And use them. Be sure they’re vented to outside your home.
- When remodeling next, learn about better materials at Donghia healthier Materials Library. Conventional materials can emit unhealthy chemicals by volatilizing, degrading, abrading, leaching and oxidizing, according to Parsons School of Design Healthy Materials Lab,.
Share your symptoms in the Hayward Score survey
The biggest indoor air survey to date is under way. You and yours can participate at Hayward Score. Here you can share your home’s environmental conditions, along with your symptoms, And find some of the best educational visuals for consumers.
What’s your indoor air situation been like? Are you experiencing symptoms? Have you discovered practical, affordable hacks? Your experiences and thoughts can help others.