Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quiz: Is Your Indoor Air Unhealthy?

We've all heard about recent reports regarding home structural problems and illnesses associated with indoor airborne contaminants such as fungal problems, toxic mold, dust, and chemicals. These pollutants can cause health problems such as eye and nose discomfort, skin irritation, increased asthma and allergy attacks, airway stress, and even cancer after long-term exposure. Although you may think your immaculate home is free from these pollutants, think again. Take this quiz and see if your air may be affecting your health.

1. Do you live near a street, commercial area, or farm?
Yes
No

2. Does your home have carpeting?
Yes
No

3. Do you have other occupants in your home?
Yes
No

4. Do you have an attached garage?
Yes
No

5. Do you get some of your clothes dry cleaned?
Yes
No

6. Do you have any pets?
Yes
No

7. Do you use cleaning products in your home?
Yes
No

8. Do you smoke in your home?
Yes
No

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may be breathing in polluted air. Read below for the reasons why:

1. Cars, businesses, and animals can create large amounts of pollution such as odors and chemicals which can enter your home.
2. Carpets have the ability to capture dust, chemicals, and dirt that is tracked in from outdoors.
3. People constantly shed skin, cough, and sneeze; therefore, we’re naturally pollution producers.
4. Even if a car is running for a few minutes, carbon monoxide can enter the home (regardless of how well insulated it is).
5. Dry cleaners use many chemicals to clean clothes, and these can oftentimes offgas into the air.
6. Pets are notorious for creating dander, dust, and odors in the home.
7. Ninety-nine percent of cleaning products available in stores are toxic, and the fumes often linger in the air and on surfaces.
8. Smoke is composed of over 400 chemicals, and is one of the most difficult odors to remove.

Indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental risks, and one of the best ways to control this risk is to eliminate the source of pollutants and ventilation a home with clean air from outside. Due to weather restrictions and/or contaminants, this may be impractical, and for this reason, an air cleaning device such as an air purifier may be extremely useful, as they help control the levels of particles, chemicals, and gases.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Space Heater Safety Tips


Although space heaters can provide warmth and comfort when the main heating system is inadequate or when operating or installing a central heating system is just too costly, consumers should be aware that there are hazards associated with operating any type of space heater, such as fires or burns caused by contact or close proximity to the heating element; fires and explosions caused by flammable fuels or defective wiring, indoor air pollution caused by improper venting; or even carbon monoxide poisoning. As such, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has published the following general safety guidelines for using a space heater:

1. Equip your home with at least one smoke alarm on each floor and outside sleeping areas.
2. Have at least one dry-powder, ABC-type fire extinguisher available at all times.
3. Install a CO alarm.
4. Keep areas around heat sources free of trash, debris, and paper.
5. Store paints, solvents, and other flammable liquids away from heat and ignition sources.
6. Have annual safety checks performed on all home heating equipment.
7. Develop a fire escape plan before a fire occurs, and ensure that all household occupants understand the plan and are able to carry it out in the case of emergency.
8. If clothing catches on fire, the Safety Commission also advises one to drop down immediately, cover the face with hands, and roll to smother the flames.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Air Purifiers - Buyer Beware!

With so many air purifiers on the market today, choosing one may seem difficult. Most consumers who purchase air purifiers do not perform sufficient research prior to settling on a model. Unfortunately, because air purifiers are considered “health products,” making a mistake in your purchase can cost you money or even your health. Here are some important factors to look for when purchasing an air purifier:

Can an Air Purifier HARM Your Health?

While you may think an air purifier is a harmless appliance, think again. Certain types of air purifiers utilize components which may be hazardous to your health, such as ionizers which emit small amounts of ozone, or even plastic parts which can off gas harmful VOCs and chemicals.

The Ozone Controversy
Ozone is known for its ability to filter out UV light in the upper atmosphere, and many air purifier manufacturers claim that ozone air purifiers are safe because ozone found in the lower atmosphere can be used to reduce airborne pollutants. However, the EPA notes the following: "When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation." Therefore, many consumers may not be aware that ozone is a severe respiratory irritant. In actuality, ozone is a reactive oxidizing agent that reacts with chemicals and forms oxygen as a byproduct. While it is true that ozone can change the chemical structure of a pollutant and neutralize it, exposure to ozone has been shown to cause lung, nose, throat, and eye irritation. In fact, California has even recently signed a bill that will ban ozone air purifier sales in the state by 2009. If you are sensitive to ozone, be wary of air purifiers which utilize ionizers or ozone to clean the air.

The Problem With Plastic
Materials such as plastics and Styrofoam are made from hundreds of different chemicals, and they all off gas. Plastics release toxic chemicals into the indoor environment; they are usually made from petro-chemicals and are compounds of VOCs. If air is blown through a plastic air purifier, these harmful chemicals are quickly released into a room. To prevent this chemical off gassing, look for air purifiers constructed of quality, all-metal housing.

Air Purifiers & Parkinson's Disease?
Activated Carbon is commonly used in air purifiers to help adsorb odors, gases, and chemicals. However, certain types of activated carbon are coated with potassium permanganate to increase VOC adsorption. Although this is an effective way to remove VOCs, potassium permanganate also releases manganese, and even in low concentrations, exposure to manganese can cause a form of Parkinson’s disease called Manganism, as well as other neurological disorders. Check with an air purifier’s manufacturer to see if they use potassium permanganate in their carbon filters.

Design Flaws

Unfortunately, poorly engineered air purifiers are also not uncommon. Many consumers may find themselves spending money on products with design flaws when a well-designed model can be had for a comparable price.

How Effective is the HEPA Filter?
HEPA Filtration is the most common method of air purification employed by today’s popular air cleaners, but many air purifiers do not use it well. True HEPA filters must be able to remove 99.97% of particulates as small as 0.3 microns, and the only way to ensure this is through the use of warm-rolled HEPA filters. If the HEPA is not warmed prior to installation, it can crack and lose its effectiveness. If you are in the market for a HEPA air purifier, make sure that the filters are warm-rolled and pleated to increase filtration efficiency.

Combination Filters Save Time But Waste Money
You may also find air purifiers that utilize combined HEPA and Activated Carbon Filters. While this may seem convenient, combination filters may actually cost you more money, as you are forced to change both filters at the same time. HEPA filters typically last 5 years, carbon filters should be changed every 2 years, and combination filters can add a significant amount to the overall cost of the unit.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Are Your Children Being Exposed to Pollutants at School?


Although many of us may think that air pollution only exists outdoors, numerous government-sponsored studies published by organizations such as the EPA have found that poor indoor air quality is also a threat as well. Indoor levels of air pollutants are frequently many times higher than outdoor levels, and thousands of harmful chemicals are currently used in commercial and industrial areas, with schools not being exempt from this epidemic.

Indoor air pollution in schools is a serious and overlooked problem. Children are much more vulnerable to airborne pollutants than adults because of their anatomy. Their breathing passages are smaller in diameter when compared to those of adults, and even minor irritations have the potential to narrow airways to dangerous degrees. In addition, children have higher metabolisms and require more oxygen relative to their weight and height than adults. This ultimately results in more rapid breathing and greater chance of inhaling pollutants when compared to the average adult.

In fact, studies have also shown that in the past decade or so, the number of children suffering from asthma has doubled, with almost 5 million children currently suffering from this disease. Asthma is also the number one cause of school absenteeism and is a leading reason for hospital admissions in children. Although school air pollution may not be the primary cause of the significant increase in asthma cases, it cannot be argued that indoor air quality is certainly part of the problem, as seemingly benign airborne pollutants such as pollen and dust are known to be asthma and allergy triggers. The EPA also notes that in addition to increased asthma and allergy symptoms, indoor air pollution can lead to headaches, nausea, and dizziness.

With this mind, while we can regulate the air quality in our homes, addressing the pollution levels present in our children’s schools may be more difficult. Unfortunately, children spend the majority of their day in school and they are exposed to harmful pollutants on a repeated basis. If you are concerned about your child’s school air quality, alert your school’s faculty and urge them to implement a clean air program. Airborne pollutants can be minimized by reducing the use of harsh or toxic chemicals and pesticides, and also by increasing ventilation. Also be aware that dust and particles from mold, crumbling building structures, and even lead-based paint are all contamination sources that are often found in schools and they should also be brought to your school’s attention.

For additional information on school indoor air quality, contact that EPA and request their Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools (IAQ TfS) Action Kit. This kit shows schools how to carry out a practical plan to cost effectively improve indoor air problems using straightforward activities and in-house staff, and it also includes helpful components such as checklists and backgrounders designed for school personnel to use to ensure a complete assessment of your school’s IAQ.

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