Be kind to your body and clear the air
By Debra Lynn Dadd
Over the 23,000 times we
inhale each day, our lungs suck in 35 pounds of oxygen. While oxygen is vital to live, at the same time we breathe in hazardous pollutants that aren't so good for us.
In 1987, the Environmental
Protection Agency undertook a program to identify and compare the urgency of environmental problems in order to focus their limited resources on pollutants posing the greatest risk to society. Among
the top hazards were those found indoors.
Studies found that, even in
urban areas, the concentration of toxic chemicals was higher indoors than outdoors-in some cases 10, 20, 30, and even up to 70 times higher.
These same studies showed that
what we breathe not only enters our lungs, but travels through our bodies. Samples showed residues of gasoline on the breath of some people hours after filling their gas tanks, while a short visit to
the dry cleaner resulted in tetrachloroethylene on the breath.
More than a decade later, this
is still an issue each one of us needs to address in our own homes.
Nip it in the
The EPA recommends, "For most indoor air quality problems in the home, source control is the most effective solution," and I agree.
In particular, try to
• Combustion by-products from gas appliances, kerosene heaters, fireplaces, and woodstoves
• Synthetic wall-to-wall carpet
• Formaldehyde emissions from particleboard
• Scented beauty and hygiene products
• Toxic cleaning products and pesticides
Ventilation allows indoor air pollutants present to escape, and exchanges polluted indoor air for cleaner outdoor air. Keep your windows open as much as weather allows. Even better, invest in a
window fan or whole-house exhaust fan. Skylights that open are great because pollutants tend to rise and will easily float out through an opening in the roof. Opening windows or doors on opposite
sides of a room creates cross-ventilation. If you need more ventilation but don't want to lose heat, consider an air-to-air heat exchanger (for more information, contact an HVAC
If you can't solve indoor air
pollution by removing pollutants at their source or diluting them with added ventilation, then air filters are the next step.
I don't usually recommend air filters as a fix for indoor air pollution problems because it's much more effective to remove pollutants and ventilate. But If you've taken these steps and still have a
problem you can't otherwise solve—such as living in an apartment above a nail salon—an air cleaner is the next step. Make sure to choose one that's adequate for your needs.
How Toxic Exposures Affect Kids
Most studies in the past that
have established toxicity have been done on adults. However, children are at even higher risk.
Their nervous, respiratory, reproductive and immune systems aren't fully developed
so their ability to detoxify and excrete toxins differs from that of adults.
• Developing cells in children's bodies are more susceptible to damage than cells that have completed development, especially for the central nervous system.
• They drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults.
• They put their hands and objects in their mouths more often than adults do, and so transfer more foreign substances into their bodies.
• Because they are smaller and often play in the dirt or on the floor, they are closer to pollutants that adults aren't even exposed to.
• They absorb a greater proportion of many pollutants from the intestinal tract and the lungs.
• Because they are exposed to toxicants at an earlier age than adults, children have more time to develop environmentally-triggered diseases with long latency periods, such as