One of the most important aspects of a healthy home is the health of the air inside. Indoor air pollution has been linked to many serious health problems, including allergies, asthma, and even some types of cancer. While we didn’t know much about what was involved in these pollutants just a few decades ago, environmental science has come a long way in recent years. We now have a good idea of what’s in the typical household’s air that could be harmful to its residents:
Dead skin flakes
The average human sheds about 8 pounds of skin every year. Skin flakes are shed all day long, and are the main ingredient in that airborne dust you sometimes can see in the light. While these flakes aren’t directly harmful to humans, they do provide ample food for dust mites, whose feces are the top cause of dust-borne allergy symptoms.
Dander shed by cats, dogs, birds, and rodents is another common air pollutant, and is a common cause of allergic reactions. While there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic breed of dog or cat, pet owners can reduce the amount of dander in the air by vacuuming regularly and using a HEPA air filter.
You’d be surprised what common household items could be polluting your air. The most common culprits are pesticides, especially when used in an improperly ventilated space. The risks involved when using pesticides are virtually eliminated as long as the user follows the instructions on the products’ label and MSDS.
Products containing benzene, such as adhesives, detergents, paints, and resins, can emit harmful vapors. Benzene exposure has been linked to serious conditions like aplastic anemia, leukemia, and bone marrow failure. To reduce your exposure to benzene, don’t allow smoking in your home, and research what products you may be using that contain benzene so that you can switch to alternatives.
While many chemicals can be avoided simply by being more selective about what products you allow in your home, others are not as easy to keep out. Certain neighborhoods and industrial areas are more susceptible to increased radon and carbon monoxide exposure. High levels of either can be dangerous to inhale, sometimes leading to lung cancer, birth defects, and other conditions.
Many people suffer allergic reactions to environmental factors in their air quality. High levels of plant pollen, insect feces, or mold can exacerbate allergy and asthma symptoms, and can be difficult to avoid. If you believe that your home may have high levels of any of these, you should consult an allergist or a pulmonologist.
Many homeowners use their fireplace seasonally, and some burn firewood almost year-round to stay comfortable. Unfortunately, a fireplace can be the source of some harmful air pollutants that can cause or exacerbate symptoms.
Heart or lung issues can be made worse by chemicals found in the smoke or ash of even the cleanest firewood. If the firewood was gathered by hand and not through a clean process, it could contain mold, which could cause allergic reactions or respiratory symptoms. To prevent buildup of these toxins, you should have your chimney inspected annually to ensure that it is adequately ventilated, and doesn’t have any blockages or damage.
Old building materials
If your home or apartment building is more than 40 years old, there’s a chance that it could contain some harmful materials from outdated construction methods. Asbestos is commonly found in older buildings; once used for insulation, asbestos has been linked to serious lung conditions. Lead from old paint and water pipes often cause lead poisoning, which can affect the heart, kidneys, bones, and more.
If you are living in or considering moving into a home built before 1980, you should consider getting the building tested for lead and asbestos. Contact your local housing authority; they can tell you what local laws affect testing, and can give you referrals to trusted and inexpensive testing services.