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Solving Indoor Air Quality Problems
Solving Indoor Air Quality Problems

Indoor air pollutants are not new. In well-ventilated homes, these indoor pollutants are found at very low levels. With the move to more energy efficient housing, indoor air pollutants and the resulting negative effects on human health and well-being have intensified.

It is expensive to measure contaminate levels of specific pollutants and certify the findings. However, research indicates hundreds of chemical components are likely to be found when a home's air is tested. Many of the chemicals prove to be harmless, while others are extremely toxic. Some produce vague symptoms that make it difficult to determine root causes. Other indoor air pollutants gestate for many years before producing symptoms.

The first approach to having a healthy home environment might mean homeowners taking the responsibility to identify, eliminate, exhaust, or dilute possible harmful substances.

Suggestions to help solve or lessen the possibility of indoor air quality problems include:
  • Be sure your house is adequately ventilated. Increase the air mixture within the residence through natural ventilation by opening windows and doors. Use an air-to-air heat exchanger to minimize the amount of heat loss.
  • Eliminate indoor air pollutant sources such as tobacco smoke (by not smoking indoors) and gaseous pollutants as cooking odors, combustion gases from gas ranges, kerosene heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces, and aerosol propellants. Use adequate ventilation and circulation of fresh air, and eliminate the use of aerosols in the home. If you have gas appliances, check them regularly to make sure the pilot lights are burning with a clear blue flame.
  • Regularly clean air conditioners, air ducts, air filters, heat exchanges, and humidifiers.
  • Keep paints and cleaning solvents in the original, tightly sealed containers, and store them in cool, well-ventilated areas.
  • Read the manufacturer's label before making a purchase. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully in using a product that emits pollutants. Use the proper protective equipment. Make certain your work space is well-ventilated.

For building materials constructed with formaldehyde gas seeping from the resins, some of the odor can be sealed off by applying low-permeability paints, shellac, varnish, polymeric coatings, and other low-diffusion barriers. Many chemical cleaners also can be professionally applied to neutralize off-gassing.

If your home tests above the level of concern of radon gas as stated by EPA, follow specific procedures. (Contact your local health department for these procedures.)

It is not always necessary to remove asbestos. Usually it is best to leave it alone unless it is in a friable state.

    Chemical exposure can be cumulative. Inhaling one pollutant may not make you sick, but the chances of your health suffering are much greater when exposed to more chemicals.

    Some of the chemicals you actually bring home with you. For example, you're exposed to benzene vapors when you fill your vehicle with diesel or gasoline at the service station. The vapors get in your clothes and later are released into the air in your home.

    The chemical tetrachloroethylene arrives home with you at the same time you bring in your dry cleaning. This chemical clings to newly cleaned clothes.

    Another widespread and underestimated source of indoor air pollution is tobacco smoke. Respirable particles emitted from tobacco smoke contain such harmful compounds as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrocyanic acid, and a highly active enzyme poison, hydrogen cyanide.

    Most homes rely heavily on insecticides to help control termites, roaches, plant pests, fleas, and other insects. The fact many of these biocides have been federally banned and removed from the market place serves as a reminder many chemicals used in insect control are potentially lethal.

    Many insecticides used in the home are relatively insoluble in water and instead are mixed with petroleum-based solvents, to which a large number of people are sensitive. Not only are the major chemical ingredients potential problems but also the carrier.

    Insecticides and fungicides also are standard ingredients in wallpaper paste. When large areas of the home have wall coverings, exposure to harmful chemicals is much greater.

    Paint removers may contain a variety of ingredients that can be lethal if handled improperly. Treat removers containing benzene and toluene with extreme caution.

    Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health used a standard paint remover (containing 52 percent benzene) in an ordinary two-car garage to strip the paint from an end table. Measurement of the fumes during the refinishing process revealed a person exposed for 5 minutes would inhale more than 43 times the amount permitted by Federal Occupational Exposure Standards.

    Paints and varnishes also can cause major problems as they evaporate. An individual suffering from eczema, hay fever, arthritis, depression, or other symptoms may discover the condition worsens when exposed to a freshly painted area. A sensitive individual may be able to detect paint fumes for three months or more after application.

    Solvents, cleaners, and adhesives can be released in large quantities during use or when improperly stored. Many organic solvents are known to be harmful to the liver.

    Polishing compounds (e.g., for shoes, floors, furniture, silver, brass) used in the home contain ingredients that can cause adverse effects when used indoors without adequate ventilation. Many polishes often are petroleum-based materials that can cause sluggishness, tiredness, loss of concentration, and headaches when used in poorly ventilated areas.

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