Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Cuddle Up Inside Your Home…
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Coughing. Headaches. Burning eyes. Difficulty sleeping - even breathing.
If this describes symptoms experienced by you or anyone else in your household, you may be victimized by what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls one of America's five most serious environmental health risks - indoor air pollution.
According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, air pollution inside homes is often 10 to 20 times higher than air pollution levels outdoors. ("Indoor Allergens: Assessing and Controlling Adverse Health Effects," National Academy Press, 1993). Infants, young children and the elderly are especially susceptible to indoor pollutants because they tend to spend a large proportion of time indoors. People with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular ailments, or immune system diseases, are also more at risk.
The basic cause of indoor air pollution is increasingly airtight construction, coupled with an ever widening array of household chemical products. Hazards may also be associated with household combustion appliances, such as space heaters, ranges, ovens, stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters and clothes dryers. Combustion always produces water vapor. While not usually considered a pollutant, water vapor can act as one when it results in high humidity and wet surfaces that encourage the growth of molds, bacteria and dust mites. When choosing an appliance, look for those that are vented to the outside, and that vents are clear of blockages, cracks and leaks.
Other common household pollutants include pollen, pet dander, gases and smoke (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). More than 1,000 indoor air pollutants have been identified, of which 5 - 10% are suspected carcinogens. These include radon gas, tobacco, smoke and a wide variety of VOCs given off by cleaning solvents, paint, paint thinner, glue, sealant, disinfectants and synthetic carpeting and furniture.
Indoor Air Specialists
As a result of this increasing concern over indoor air, companies have arisen that specialize in remediation of indoor air pollution. Some problems, such as mold and mildew, are easy to spot with a simple visual inspection. Other problems require sophisticated testing and air sampling.
This includes the use of special sensors connected to a laptop computer to measure and graph the levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, temperature and humidity, usually over a 24-hour period.
A laser particle counter measures the concentration of airborne particles in individual rooms and the number of particles entering and exiting the heating/cooling duct system. Air samples can be sent to a laboratory to determine whether unusually high amounts of troublesome particles - such as pollen, mold, pet dander or fiberglass fibers - are present.
Many problems are easily solved by simply removing the source of the pollution. Other times it is recommended to improve the ventilation and air filtration in the house. Products and procedures to do this include:
1 Electronic air cleaners. The best whole-house products are up to 95% efficient at removing airborne particles as small as bacteria and even some viruses. Portable room air cleaners achieve efficiencies upwards of 99%.
2 High efficiency fresh air ventilation systems. A whole-house energy recovery ventilation systems expels polluted air and brings in fresh outside air. Moreover, it can also recover nearly 80% of the energy used to heat or cool the home.
3 Dehumidifiers. These help control mold and dust mites.
4 Duct Cleaning. Many allergies and ailments can be traced to heating cooling ductwork that has never been cleaned. Recognition of this hazard has grown in recent years and companies have arisen that specialize in duct cleaning.
A recommendation: if your home is in need of duct cleaning, spend a little more to get it done by a company that does a thorough cleaning, including the use of insect and bacteria-killing compounds. Many companies merely vacuum the ducts, which will remove all the obvious dust and debris; however, this will not do much to remove bacteria, mold spores, viruses and other microscopic agents that could be causing ailments or discomfort.
For more information about indoor air pollution, check out the EPA's Indoor Air Quality home page on the Web at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/. To find the IAQ specialist in your area, check out Contractors 2000 web site at http://contractors2000.com