Safe at home? Maybe not

September 26, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN


It's the invisible mixture of gases that surrounds the earth. It's what people breathe, but it can get dirty and cause health problems.

Eye irritation, headaches, dizziness are among immediate effects. Others, including respiratory and heart disease and cancer, might not show up until years later.

The results of a recent study published in the Sept. 9 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine indicate that exposure to air pollution can adversely affect growth of lung function in 10- to 18-year-olds.


Air pollution happens inside the home as well as outdoors. Research has shown that air inside homes and other buildings can be more polluted than air outside, according to information on the Web site of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at Other research shows that people are indoors about 90 percent of the time.

People need to be careful about the quality of indoor air.

The main cause of poor indoor air quality is sources that release gases or particles into the air, according to the EPA.

Sources of particles include combustion sources, such as oil, gas, coal, wood and tobacco. Gases are released by new building materials, including asbestos-containing insulation, carpet, certain pressed wood products and heating and cooling systems.

Also affecting indoor air quality are ordinary household chemicals - including cleaning and personal care products - and outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides and polluted air.

Of course, prevention is worth an ounce of cure, and the EPA recommends improving air quality before problems occur.

· Control sources of pollution: Seal or enclose materials, such as those that contain asbestos; adjust gas stoves to decrease emissions.

· Ventilate: When weather permits, open doors and windows; run window or attic fans, use bathroom or kitchen fans. Check out mechanical systems, known as air-to-air heat exchangers, that bring outdoor air inside.

· Clean the air: A variety of air cleaners is available - from tabletop models to systems for the whole house.

· Radon: "The predominant health effect associated with exposure to elevated levels of radon is lung cancer," the EPA states. The most common source of the indoor invisible gas is uranium in the soil or rock on which the house is built. Inexpensive do-it-yourself radon testing kits are widely available, or contractors can be hired to do the testing.

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