Many people keep track of every gram of food going into their body. Yet, the very same people are often totally unaware of what they are breathing in. They would be surprised to find out that we eat about 3 pounds of food a day… and breathe in over 30 pounds of air!
To help get the message out, I’m posting my top 10 indoor air quality concerns found in homes:
1. Mold & dampness
Mold is known to cause respiratory problems, but often dampness gets overlooked. Damp indoor environments can introduce other contaminants such as bacteria, insects, rodents, and all of their by-products.
2. Tobacco smoke
If you live in a multi-family building or share walls with others, tobacco smoke is a large concern. It is near impossible to get a perfect seal between two units. Turning an exhaust fan on in your unit may even make matters worse.
3. Formaldehyde and other VOCs
Large amounts of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, can off-gas from some engineered wood products. Other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may come from cleaners, building materials and even personal care products.
For individuals with allergies, environmental allergens can make life miserable. Common indoor allergens come from dust mites, cats, dogs, mice, rats and cockroaches.
5. Carbon monoxide
CO can be deadly, so it definitely deserves a place on this list. New combustion appliances are commonly sealed and powered, but older units may be more prone to backdrafting. Make sure you have CO alarms functioning and located in all the right places.
Asbestos is a this naturally occurring and carcinogenic substance found in some building materials. Many uses of asbestos have been banned in the US, although we do not have a complete ban. Floor tiles, textured ceilings, and insulation on old pipes and air ducts are all common places to find asbestos.
Lead was banned from paint in 1978. Homes built at (and before) that time may have layers of old paint still containing lead. When the paint starts to chip off or lead dust is created, children are particularly at risk for exposure.
Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that is known to cause lung cancer. Radon is naturally occurring and comes from the ground. It finds its way into homes through openings, especially in areas with direct ground contact (e.g. basements).
9. Lack of ventilation
The trend is to build homes airtight, which is great for energy efficiency. However, air leaks provide “air exchanges” and prevent the air from getting stale. Certain indoor air pollutants can be diluted by introducing outdoor air ventilation.
10. Outdoor air pollution (particulate matter & ozone)
Although outdoor air ventilation is great at reducing some pollutants, it may increase others. Exposure to outdoor particulate matter and ozone have been implicated in both respiratory and cardiovascular health effects.
Now that you know my top 10 list of concerns, take a deep breath and consider what may now be in your lungs!