Indoor Air
Indoor Air – The movement for clean air now, urges us to protect our indoor air this winter

Indoor Air – The movement for clean air now, urges us to protect our indoor air this winter

This fall and winter as we close our windows or seal our homes to save on energy costs, The Lung Association is urging us to remember the air inside our homes.

Over the past few years, studies in both Canada and the U.S. have shown that indoor environments can contain an array of potentially harmful pollutants, and that a typical home may contain concentrations of some contaminants that are between two to five times higher than outdoors levels. In fact, in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has listed indoor air quality among the top five environmental risks to public health.

Says Brian Stocks, Air Quality Manager at The Lung Association, "The average home contains a range of pollutants including, for example, toxic chemicals, and biological contaminants like pet dander, mould and mildew, as well as household dust.

"Taken together, these household pollutants can have an impact, especially on vulnerable populations-young children, seniors, and those with allergies and asthma-and particularly when combined with poor ventilation. By sealing our homes over the winter, we may actually create indoor air issues, unless we take proper precautions."

There are two kinds of basic indoor air pollution. Chemical contaminants are either gases, such as carbon monoxide, or particulates, which are substances small enough to remain suspended in the air. Sources include tobacco smoke, cleaning products, paints and solvents, pesticides, personal care products and even furnishings. Biological contaminants are living things such as dust mites, mould and mildew or originate from living things, such as pet fur and dander. Added to this is a third area of concern; poor ventilation which can mean pollutants are trapped in the home.

While individual reactions to pollutants vary, some symptoms of bad indoor air include: headaches, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and scratchy throat. And for those already suffering from a respiratory condition, such as asthma, poor indoor air can exacerbate the condition.

The Lung Association's environmental health program, C.A.N. DO - The Movement for Clean Air Now is dedicated to assisting people to take action to protect their respiratory health. The program provides information about the actions that individuals can take to control their level of indoor air pollution both through the winter and throughout the year.

Here are some useful household tips offered by the C.A.N. DO program:

  • Ventilate to reduce indoor air pollution. One of the easiest actions that can be taken is to open windows whenever possible to help dilute any pollutants that may be inside the home. Leaving the doors between rooms open also helps air to circulate freely.
  • Ensure home systems and appliances are operating effectively, and schedule a furnace inspection. Any system that burns a fuel (gas, oil or wood) can produce dangerous levels of combustion pollutants into the home if not properly installed, used and maintained. Poorly maintained oil and gas furnaces, for example, can release hazardous pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
  • Check all exhaust ventilation systems for blocks. Blocked vents, air intakes, and chimneys prevent the proper operation of your home systems. Check for debris and for cracks that could permit fumes to enter the home.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home and garage. This will help determine unsafe levels of carbon monoxide, which could be caused by a malfunctioning heating and cooling system.
  • Clean regularly to keep dust mites and other allergens to a minimum. Dust mites accumulate in household dust, and particularly in bedding because sweat and saliva create the moist atmosphere that allows them to thrive. Consider area rugs that can be taken up and washed often and wash bedding materials in hot water weekly.
  • Keep humidity and moisture levels low. Humidity is a breeding ground for mould, mildew and bacteria. So, keep bathroom moisture down by opening the window or using a fan vented to the outside and ensure that the drier is vented to the outside. (If using a humidifier or dehumidifier to keep moisture under control, clean it regularly to ensure it doesn't become another source of mould and other indoor air pollution!)
  • Watch out for wood smoke. It can contain numerous pollutants, including fine particulates and an array of chemical compounds. When burning wood, a window should always be kept open and the fire should be burning bright. Dull, steady flames are a sign of oxygen starvation and incomplete combustion. The more efficiently the wood is burning, the less smoke you'll see coming out of the chimney.
  • Ban smoking inside the home. Containing more than 4,000 chemicals, second-hand smoke puts non-smokers at risk for various respiratory conditions, including lung cancer.

C.A.N. DO is the official environmental health program of The Lung Association. Its aim is to help Canadians breathe cleaner air by providing solutions-oriented resources that address air quality issues and are based on the latest research and information. The public can learn more about the sources and solutions to indoor air pollution by contacting The Lung Association at 1-888-566-5864 to obtain a copy of the free "What You Can Do" guide.

For other news editorials, see; indoor air polution.

Author Notes:

Ian DeBruyn contributes and publishes news editorial to  Learn more about air health and purifiers, plus allergies, molds and asthma and what to do about it.

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