October is National Healthy Lung Month, so let's talk about air quality and lung health. On average, Americans spend over 20 hours per day indoors. The home may seem like the safest place to be, however, unbeknownst to the occupants, the air you breathe may slowly be harming you and your family. Let's examine your indoor environment to see if it is the healthiest space for you and your family to be spending 90% of your time.
Indoor air quality is a major factor in keeping a healthy home. From particulate matter, and mold growth, to environmental toxins like radon and asbestos, there are multiple sources that could be impacting your health that you should be aware of when trying to combat a bad air problem. The ideal environment for peak air quality is a balance of ventilation, dry air, and cleanliness.
Common Culprits and their Effects on Health
Composed of all the particles in the air including dust, smoke, pollen, soot and more, particulate matter can cause respiratory health problems like asthma, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is especially dangerous for vulnerable people including children, the elderly, and those already diagnosed with a respiratory illness. To limit these effects, it is important to maintain a clean home which can start with the items inside the home like having a short pile carpet, dusting and vacuuming regularly, and limiting smoking to the outdoors (though smoking at all is not advisable). Using a very good HVAC (MERV 11 or higher) air filter in your central HVAC system is a good start.
Mold thrives in warm, moist conditions. A study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found evidence that exposure to mold can cause upper respiratory tract symptoms of coughing, wheezing, asthma, and pneumonia to otherwise healthy people. Additionally, even with a lack of mold, the damp conditions it grows in can trigger similar symptoms. Thus, homeowners should maintain between 30% and 60% humidity in the home, control airflow and air leaks, and especially install ventilation in high moisture areas such as the bathroom to prevent mold growth.
Often found in old homes, environmental toxins can impact your health in a major way. Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless gas and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, involved in about 21,000 deaths per year. Confirmed levels of 4pCi/L or higher indicate the necessity of installing a radon reduction system.
Two materials once used in construction are formaldehyde and asbestos, both of which can cause cancer upon exposure. Formaldehyde is a strong smelling gas that was often used in furniture, particle board and clothing as a resin and coating. Though a bill was passed in the U.S. that required emissions from wood products to be at .09 ppm by 2013, those products are still in homes emitting formaldehyde into the air you breathe. This gas can cause cancer of the nose and throat in addition to irritation of the airways. Up until the 1970s, asbestos was used in many insulation and adhesive products, essentially as a fire retardant, because the mineral is quite heat resistant. Though use of asbestos is limited today, like formaldehyde, the materials asbestos is in like flooring, boiler insulation, wall plaster and shingles are still found in many homes to this day. If damaged, friable fibers can become airborne and inhaled causing mesothelioma and lung cancers as well as asbestosis.
Combat the Issue
Just because you face a bad air quality situation right now, does not mean it has to stay that way. ecobeco can be part of the solution.
The first step is to install a filtration system in your central HVAC unit like ecobeco’s medical grade Smarter IAQ System, which monitors air quality while it filters. An even better solution would include a whole home approach - insulate the home, seal air leaks, maintain humidity control and improve airflow to filter out the particulate matter that irritate and trigger your health issues and provide only clean pure air.
Because radon generally enters through cracks in the basement from the soil your home rests on, reduction methods vary based on the home’s foundation type. Hiring a contractor to test and remediate radon is highly recommended for all homes.
To limit your exposure to formaldehyde, target it at the source. Begin by removing products it is commonly used in, checking tags on clothing, bedding, upholstery and furniture. The removal of asbestos is much trickier and more dangerous. There is no one true identifier for asbestos because it looks different in every application, so if your house was built before 1980 and you believe your home might contain the material, have your homes tested and the asbestos professionally abated and disposed of before beginning with any construction or remodeling. No amount of asbestos exposure if safe. Professionals will be prepared with respirators, protective clothing and knowledge of proper disposal methods so it cannot be stressed enough to not handle asbestos on your own.
Lastly, if you are committed to improving the overall indoor air quality in your home, take a look at your everyday habits and how they might contribute. Do you cook on a gas stove with a hood and do you use the hood on high speed every time (hint - you should)? Do you know what your air fresheners and essential oils are made of (hint - Volatile Organic Compounds)? Do your household plants create pollen or are they natural air purifying plants (hint - they do both)? What hair, nail, and body products are you using and most likely inhaling at the same time?
Air quality may seem insignificant compared to other issues commonly faced today, but the consequences of ignoring it are serious health issues. Pay attention now so you don’t have to face respiratory illnesses in the future.