Indoor Air Quality May Be Hazardous To Your Health – Part Two

Identifying and controlling indoor air pollutants can improve indoor air quality and may reduce the risk of health problems for your family.

The air in today’s homes and buildings may be more polluted than outdoor air. The average person spends more than half of their lives in a home, school or workplace. Airtight buildings or improper venting of fuel-burning appliances can lead to poor indoor air quality. If you suspect poor air quality, the first thing to do is to find all possible sources of pollution (Part one addressed sources and kind of pollutants). Then you can take steps to improve air quality at little or no cost.

Increase fresh air indoors through improved ventilation. During good weather, open windows and doors. During cold or bad weather, crack a window or two to allow for cross ventilation. Use bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans if they blow indoor air outdoors to remove pollutants. If you have a window air conditioner, run it with the vent control open so the indoor air runs through the filter.

Change filters regularly on the furnace and air conditioners. Filters trap pollutants and dust as it moves through the system. In most cases, it will not reduce gases in the air. Gases pass right through most filters.

Check humidity levels regularly. If you see some mildew in showers or bathtubs, it could mean the humidity in the house is too high. Indoor humidity should be from 30-50 percent. An inexpensive humidity gauge can monitor levels. If it goes above 50 percent, opening a window or using a dehumidifier may be necessary to reduce moisture in the air. If it is below 30 percent, a humidifier can add moisture to the air.

Updating or remodeling your home may compromise indoor air quality. Ask questions and read material labels to insure that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from new products will not reduce air quality in your home. Look for products, such as paint, carpet and furniture that contain no or low VOC.

Use household cleaners and pesticides correctly and sparingly. Choose the least hazardous cleaners available, follow directions and make sure the area is well ventilated.

Most households have used some type of pesticide and 80 percent of pesticide exposure is indoors. Choosing the best and most appropriate option will reduce exposure and residue in and around the home.

Use monitors to check carbon monoxide (CO) levels. CO is an odorless, colorless gas that is not easily detectable and can be deadly. Make sure your furnace is working properly and the flue pipe is not blocked or disconnected. This can result in CO getting into the home. Even running a car in an attached garage can increase CO levels in the home. Carbon monoxide detectors are relatively inexpensive. If only one is used, place it near the master bedroom where the alarm will be heard if it goes off.

Inexpensive radon test kits can be used to check radon levels. Radon gas is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas found in many soils and rocks. It enters the home through openings in the foundation, floors or walls that are in contact with the ground. Each test lasts four to seven days and should be conducted when windows and doors are closed. Make sure the label states “meets EPA requirements.”

For more information on ways to improve indoor air quality, see Michigan State University Extension’s Home*A*Syst: Home Assessment Guide, bulletin WQ51, available through your local Extension office or at the MSU Extension Bookstore.

You can also find individual Home*A*Syst chapter’s at MSU Extension’s Oakland County page.

The EPA also has several valuable resources including a virtual tour of a house and everything in it that affects indoor air quality. Also available is the guide The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.

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