Even if You Do Everything Else Right - This Frequently Overlooked Threat can Destroy Your Health

your house making you illThe U.S. EPA has stated that levels of about a dozen common chemical pollutants are two to five times higher inside homes than outside of them. Scientists are beginning to suspect that indoor pollutants may be in part responsible for rising rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Indoor pollution has also been known to cause headaches, flu-like symptoms, and even neurological problems.  MSN Health has compiled a list of steps you can take to minimize your family's exposure with a few simple steps. They include:

  • Wait a few days before picking up your dry cleaning. Dry-cleaned clothes emit chemicals that have been linked to cancer and neurological problems right after cleaning.
  • Go fragrance-free. Some scented air fresheners can release compounds that cause headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation.
  • Make sure your fireplace flue is working properly.  This will keep the lung-irritating particles in wood smoke out of your indoor air.

To read the rest of their tips, you can click on the link below.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

According to a study by the California EPA, you breathe anywhere between 10,000 and 70,000 liters of air every 24 hours. Since you cannot live without it, the quality of it becomes extremely important—even minute levels of airborne toxins can pose significant health concerns. Still, air quality is often overlooked, even by many who pay a great deal of attention to the purity of their food and water.

Indoor Air More Polluted than Outdoor Air

Our ancient ancestors spent most of their time outside, and pollution levels were nowhere near where they are today. Nowadays however, the average person spends 90 percent of their time inside buildings, where the air is even more polluted than it is outdoors!

According to the EPA, indoor air contains 2 to 5 times more contaminants—and on occasion, as much as 100 times more. A 2009 study, published in Environmental Health Sciences, used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to examine the air inside 52 ordinary homes near the Arizona-Mexico border, and indoor air was found to be FAR more contaminated than previously thought.

They identified 586 chemicals, including the pesticides diazinon, chlorpyrifos and DDT. Phthalates were also found in very high levels. Even more disturbing was the fact that they detected 120 chemicals they couldn't even identify. As stated on WebMD , indoor air pollution is one of the most serious environmental threats to your health, yet it's not something that can be regulated.

Is the Air Quality in Your Home Jeopardizing Your Health?

Poor air quality has been linked to both short-term and long-term health problems. The EPA warns that the following conditions can be caused or exacerbated by poor indoor air quality:

  • Asthma, allergies, and other respiratory problems
  • Headaches
  • Eye and skin irritations,
  • Sore throat, colds and flu
  • Memory loss, dizziness, fatigue and depression

Exposure to toxic airborne particles may also contribute to more serious diseases down the line, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Reproductive disorders and sterility
  • Cancer

Building Materials Can Be a Constant Source of Toxic Chemical Exposure

As mentioned in the featured article, part of the problem is that homes and office buildings are now very well insulated, and while this is certainly cost effective, it also means that whatever toxins you bring into your home or office, or are emitted by the construction materials used, will stay trapped there for extended periods of time.

Fortunately, this is a factor that you do have control over.

By paying close attention to the products you use indoors, and the materials used in the construction and furnishings of your space, you can minimize your family's exposure. The same goes for office buildings of course, where you spend a large portion of your time.

Since environmental health is a concern of mine, I wanted to create the healthiest office possible for my staff, so a few years ago we built the "greenest" building we could. So green, in fact, the building received the prestigious Gold LEED certification. We also use air purifiers and lots of live plants.

Three common sources of air contamination from building materials include:

  1. Pressed wood products—This faux wood takes bits and pieces of logs and wood leftovers and combines them together. Pressed wood products include paneling, particle board, fiberboard and insulation, all of which were particularly popular for home construction in the 1970’s. The glue that holds the wood particles in place may use urea-formaldehyde as a resin. The U.S. EPA estimates that this is the largest source of formaldehyde emissions indoors.

    Formaldehyde exposure can set off watery eyes, burning eyes and throat, difficulty breathing and asthma attacks. Scientists also know that it can cause cancer in animals. The risk is greater with older pressed wood products, since newer ones are better regulated.

    To limit this exposure:

    • Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
    • Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
    • Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.
    • Ask about the formaldehyde content of pressed wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture before you purchase them.
    • Use solid wood whenever possible.
  2. Chemicals in carpets—Many types of indoor carpeting off-gas VOC’s and contain other toxic materials. The glue and dyes used with carpeting are also known to emit VOCs, which can be harmful to your health.

    Limit or eliminate exposure by carefully selecting non-toxic carpeting, such as those made of wool, or opt for non-toxic flooring like solid wood or bamboo instead.
  3. Paint—While paints have gotten a lot less toxic over the past 25 years, most paints still emit harmful vapors, such as VOC’s, formaldehyde and benzene, just to name a few. These types of fumes may be harmful to your brain over time, and they’re released daily for about 30 days after application. Low levels can continue to leak into the air for as long as a year afterward, so you’ll want to make sure you ventilate the area repeatedly.

    Another danger is lead-based paint, which can be found in many homes built before 1978. Once the paint begins to peel away, it releases harmful lead particles that can be inhaled. In 1991, the U.S. government declared lead to be the greatest environmental threat to children. Even low concentrations can cause problems with your central nervous system, brain, blood cells and kidneys. It's particularly threatening for fetuses, babies and children, because of potential developmental disorders.

    Fortunately, it’s getting easier to find high-quality non-toxic paints, also known as “low-VOC” or “no-VOC” paint. Both large paint companies and smaller alternative brands now offer selections of such paints. For a list of distributors and manufacturers, see this link.

For more information and guidelines on selecting healthier alternatives for these three, see this helpful article by Healthy Home Plans.

Are You Contaminating Your Indoor Air with Toxic Scents?

Next, take a good look at the household products you use, such as air fresheners and cleaning supplies. Many of these release toxic contaminants into your air that will linger unless you ventilate properly. Two primary culprits are ethylene-based glycol ethers and terpenes. While the EPA regards the ethers as toxic by themselves, the non-toxic terpenes can react with ozone in the air to form a poisonous combination.

Air fresheners in particular are linked to a number of volatile organic compounds, such as nitrogen dioxide, and some fresheners also contain paradichlorobenzene, the same chemical emitted by mothballs. Studies on paradichlorobenzene, found that it can cause cancer in animals. Another common ingredient found in air fresheners, toilet bowl deodorizers and moth balls is 1,4-dichlorobenzene, or 1,4-DCB, which may harm your lungs. Amazingly, this chemical is present in the blood of over 95 percent of Americans!

According to the featured article, lemon and pine scented products are perhaps of greatest concern, as the chemicals used to produce those scents react with ozone in the air, forming formaldehyde and ultra-fine particles that can collect in your lungs.

Moral of the story: Ditch the air fresheners! If you need to add a scent, opt for natural aromatherapy products instead.

Your Cleaning Products May Also Compromise Your Air Quality

While dust has its own health hazards, the products you use to keep your home spic 'n span may do far greater harm. Cleaning products are in fact a major source of air contamination that, again, will linger long after you're done unless you ventilate. Other products you might not immediately suspect include laundry detergents, liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets. As mentioned in the featured article, many of these emit chemicals deemed as carcinogenic air pollutants by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Also be very careful when ridding your home of bugs and other critter infestations. Ninety percent of households in the United States use some form of pesticide, a broad term that encompasses a variety of chemical formulas that kill everything from tiny microorganisms up to rodents. In 2006, the American Association of Poison Control Centers received nearly 46,000 calls regarding children under 5 years old who had been exposed to potentially toxic levels of pesticides. And besides the danger of acute toxicity, low level, long-term exposure can also cause significant health problems. 

These chemicals are also one of the primary causes of the irreversible brain disease Parkinson's, which is another powerful reason to avoid them.

One 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics also found disturbing links between some of the most commonly used pesticides and a significantly increased risk of ADHD symptoms in children. Organophosphate pesticides are the most common, accounting for as much as 70 percent of the pesticides used in the U.S. Unfortunately, these may be particularly detrimental to human health.

How to Clean and Sanitize Without Harmful Chemicals

Items, such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can get the job done just as well -- sometimes even better -- than their toxic counterparts. Here's a simple starter list of what you need to make your own natural cleaning products:

Baking soda White vinegar Lemon juice
Hydrogen peroxide Liquid castile soap Organic essential oils

For a great video on how to use these ingredients and other tips for cleaning your home without hazardous chemicals, please review the article: How to Keep Your Home Clean Naturally. For example, vinegar combined with hydrogen peroxide works exceptionally well as both a disinfectant and sanitizer.

Furnishings May Also Contribute Toxic Air Pollutants

One of the primary hazards when it comes to furnishings is flame retardants: polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These are commonly found in:

  • Mattresses
  • Upholstery, drapes and curtains
  • Television and computer casings and circuit boards

Studies have linked PBDEs to learning and memory problems, lowered sperm counts and poor thyroid functioning in rats and mice. Other animal studies have indicated that PBDEs could be carcinogenic in humans, although that has not yet been confirmed.

Your mattress may be of particular concern, as many contain not only PBDE's, but also toxic antimony, boric acid, and formaldehyde.

  • PBDEs, which have been banned in Canada, Europe and several US states, accumulate in your body over time, and since you spend as much as a third of your life in bed, sleeping on a toxic mattress could be of considerable concern.
  • Boric acid, another agent found in many mattresses, is a toxic respiratory irritant used to kill roaches.
  • Antimony is a metal that may be more toxic than mercury and formaldehyde. A person sleeping on a chemically treated mattress will absorb 0.8 mg of antimony every night; an amount that is 27 times more than the proclaimed safety level by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Five-year-old children, meanwhile, can absorb 0.5 mg of antimony every night, which is 63 times more than the EPA's safety limit.

Shopping for a safe mattress can be tricky, as manufacturers are not required to label or disclose which chemicals their mattresses contain. However, some manufacturers now offer toxin-free mattresses, such as those made of 100% wool, which is naturally fire resistant. There are also mattresses that use a Kevlar, bullet-proof type of material in lieu of chemicals for fire-proofing. These are available in most major mattress stores, and will help you to avoid some of the toxicity.

Basic Guidelines to Help Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

While it may seem like an overwhelming task at first, once you become cognizant of the primary sources contributing to poor air quality, there's a lot you can do to improve it and protect your family's health. Here's a run-down of some of the basics:

  • Increase ventilation by opening a few windows every day for 5 to 10 minutes, preferably on opposite sides of the house.
  • Add live houseplants. Even NASA has found that plants markedly improve the air! This previous article lists the 10 best pollution-busting houseplants.
  • Take your shoes off as soon as you enter the house, and leave them by the door to prevent tracking in of toxic particles.
  • Discourage tobacco smoking in or around your home.
  • Switch to non-toxic cleaning products (such as baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar) and safer personal care products. Avoid aerosols. Look for VOC-free cleaners. Avoid commercial air fresheners and scented candles, which can off-gas thousands of different chemicals into your breathing space.
  • Don't hang dry cleaned clothing in your closet immediately. Hang them outside for a day or two. Better yet, see if there's an eco-friendly dry cleaner in your city that uses some of the newer dry cleaning technologies, such as liquid CO2.
  • Vacuum and shampoo/mop carpets, rugs, and floors regularly, ideally using a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a central vac.
  • Upgrade your furnace filters. Today, there are more elaborate filters that trap more of the particulates. Have your furnace and air conditioning ductwork and chimney cleaned regularly.
  • Avoid storing paints, adhesives, solvents, and other harsh chemicals in your house or in an attached garage.
  • Avoid using nonstick cookware. I now carry my favorite alternative, ceramic cookware, in my store.
  • Ensure your combustion appliances are properly vented.
  • When building or remodeling, opt for safer and more eco-friendly materials.
  • Opt for sustainable hardwood flooring instead of carpet. Carpet traps a multitude of particles such as pet dander, heavy metals, and all sorts of allergens. If you choose to install carpet, look for one labeled "VOC-free" to avoid toxic outgassing.
  • The same principles apply to ventilation inside your car—especially if your car is new—and chemicals from plastics, solvents, carpet and audio equipment add to the toxic mix in your car's cabin. That "new car smell" can contain up to 35 times the health limit for VOCs, "making its enjoyment akin to glue-sniffing," as this article reports.

Additionally, you may want to consider an active form of air purification, rather than passive air filtration. I personally use two of our Pure & Clear air purifiers  to constantly purify the air in my home, There is not a filter in these units; they merely circulate particles that decimate VOCs and mold spores that happen to be in the air.

For even more information, see The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality issued by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

+ Sources and References