Protecting the Environment Closest to HomeMichael Downey December 1, 2002
No matter how much care you take with diet and lifestyle, environmental factors at home will affect your health. Many cleaners and building materials contain toxins. In fact, indoor levels of air pollutants are two to five times higher (and sometimes, 100 times higher) than outdoor levels, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the 2001 PBS documentary Trade Secrets, the chemical industry and our governments have allowed dangerous chemicals to infiltrate our lives so completely that most of us have measurable levels of these chemicals accumulated within our bodies.
Short term, some people suffer allergies, asthma, headaches and rashes from exposure. Long term, chemicals build up in the body, overwhelm the immune system and cause cancer and autoimmune diseases (arthritis, hives, diabetes, etc.).
How to Make Your Home Healthier
• Cleaning – Conventional cleaning products contain toxic ingredients, many of which are known carcinogens (cause cancer). Manufacturers don’t have to include all ingredients on labels. Your safest bet? Buy cleaners from a natural food store or make them yourself.
• Air Pollution – Open your windows for 15 minutes each morning and evening (even in winter) to air out your house.
Formaldehyde is a volatile carcinogenic gas found in products like plywood, particleboard, panelling, wood finishes, carpeting, furniture, permanent press fabrics and cleaners. To minimize out-gassing, maintain a temperature below 22ºC and humidity of 35-50%. Buy temperature and humidity gauges; read them regularly.
A low humidity will control mold, mildew and dust mites and thus, allergic reactions. Vent bathrooms, dryers and gas stoves to the outside. Open doors between rooms to improve circulation. Use a dehumidifier and an air conditioner. Remove all conventional air fresheners. They contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates and aerosol propellants.
• Dry Cleaners – Many use perchloroethylene, a solvent linked to cancer — and it stays in your clothes. If you do dry clean, air your clothes for several hours before they enter your home.
• Appliances – Malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances emit carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Furnaces and chimneys should be inspected annually. Change filters every two months during winter. For appliances burning gas, the flame should be blue. Flames with a persistent yellow tip generally indicate maladjustment and increased pollution. Call your gas company to have the appliance adjusted.
If you have a fireplace, have it cleaned regularly. Open the flue when you use it and burn only aged or cured wood. Because carbon monoxide is odourless, install a CO detector.
• Radon – Radon is a radioactive gas, occurs naturally in some soils. It can accumulate in houses to dangerous levels and long-term exposure is linked to lung cancer. Buy a radon test kit at a hardware store. If your house is pre-1980, have it checked for lead, formaldehyde and asbestos.
• Chlorine – Opt for water-efficient showerheads that filter chlorine. Fumes from chlorinated water can cause headaches and nausea.
Finally, bring the natural environment indoors. Some plants actually filter pollutants from indoor air. They also add oxygen.