Few think that their home may be a source of pollution but the truth is that the air may be up to 100 times more polluted than the air outside their home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is the biggest health problem in America.
Over 40 million people in the United States are affected by allergies. An estimated 20.3 million Americans suffer from asthma and even more people suffer from upper respiratory problems that are caused by pollutants such as mold, fungi, smoke, and dust. On average we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors – which 65 percent is spent at home.
What is Indoor Air Pollution?
Airborne pollutants are generally divided into two classes: Particulate matter (such as plant, animal, mineral, pollen, mold, dust mites, lead, asbestos, soot, smoke, and manmade dust, etc.) and gas (combustion products, natural gas, propane, radon, plus vapor outgassed from building materials or household products).
House Allergies Effect Some Worse
The people who are especially susceptible are the very ones who spend the most time at home. However, many chronic illnesses are caused by short term exposure to indoor air pollution. What’s worse, like so much air pollution, many of the contaminating substances give no warning and produce vague and sometimes similar symptoms that are hard to narrow down to a specific cause.
Allergies Are Not From the Ducts
Advertising campaigns by duct cleaning companies in recent years has lead people to point the finger to their ductwork as the source of their indoor air pollution. However, dirty ducts are usually the symptom of a problem not the actual problem itself. The ductwork of your house in effect acts as the respiratory system allowing conditioned air to circulate throughout the structure. If your ducts are getting dirty, you are also breathing dirty air. The initial cause of dirty ducts is the lack of particulate control. Particulates can be filtered efficiently thus reducing buildup in the air conditioning system as well as the living space.
How Many Particles Are in Indoor Air?
Each cubic foot of air in your home can contain millions of particles. Particles are commonly measured in microns, a metric unit of measure. There are 25,400 microns in one inch. A human hair can range from 40 to 300 microns. The average person breathes in about 16,000 quarts of air per day. Each quart contains over 60,000 visible and invisible particles. Approximately 98-99% of all particles by count are in the size range of 10 microns or less.
Particles 5 microns and smaller are known as respirable and typically remain in the lungs for the body to process. They will often lodge themselves in your mucous membranes and the linings of your lungs. Breathing respirable particles long term can lead to severe allergic reactions and may also lead to chronic respiratory disorders.
Living Particulate Matter
Living particles from organic sources are often referred to as bioaerosols. They can make up a very large percentage of airborne particles. One of the most alarming bioaerosol polluters is the common dust mite and is believed to be the leading cause of asthma in the home. Microscopic particles from non living mold spores, pollen spores and dead insects are also very common in the typical American home and are believed to be the primary cause of mild to severe allergies in the indoor environment.
How Can I Improve my Indoor Air?
FOUR primary methods of controlling indoor air quality is:
- Identify the source of pollution in your house. The first step to improving your indoor air is to identify the sources of air pollutants. Be aware by reading articles such as this. Pay attention to chronic illnesses and symptoms you feel is worse in the home environment. Hire an indoor air consultant if you feel there is something wrong in your house you can’t seem to identify.Testing can determine the presence, amount, and type of allergens, molds, gas, bacteria, chemicals and other pollutants that may exist.
- Remove and prevent the source of pollution. Preventing the sources through awareness is the most effective way to improve your indoor air. Be aware when using household cleaners. Remove identified sources when possible. Pay close attention to damp areas which can quickly become the breeding ground for pollutants such as mold and other microbes. Although it is not possible to eliminate every contaminant source, reducing the sources and/or the amount of pollutants they emit, will contribute to a healthier living environment.
- Control the indoor temperature and humidity. Try to maintain an indoor temperature in a comfortable range at all times. Your ideal indoor humidity level should be between 30 to 50%. Be aware of drastic changes to temperature and humidity which can lead to condensation. Remember that molds, bacteria and dust mites thrive readily when the indoor humidity is 60% or more.
- Clean the air with scientifically proven devices. Utilizing HEPA (High Efficient Particulate Air) vacuum cleaners and air purifiers are the most valuable tools available to remove all types of particles down to the sub-micron range. Additional filtration devices utilizing carbon or potassium permanganate can control organic and non-organic chemical vapors. Certain electronic air purifiers can assist in controlling bacteria, viruses and odors.
The greatest hazard to the indoor air quality issue is misinformation. There are a host of claims from individuals and companies which are attempting to sell a service or product to address the issue. Improving and controlling the indoor environment requires a complex approach and should only be addressed with scientifically proven products and practices which form a protocol to improve and maintain acceptable indoor environmental quality.
The subject of Indoor Air and Environmental Quality in the home is vast, yet resources for factual data are becoming readily available. Your home can be your “haven” by being aware of the issues regarding the cause and effect of indoor pollutants combined with making simple changes to your everyday routine.
About the Author:
The Sick House Center is a resource and information center about indoor air pollution and related issues. Read about What Causes Allergies in the home at the Sick House Center.
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