Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air can be unhealthier and more polluted than outdoor air.  Pollutants can be cleaning chemicals, cigarette smoke, cockroaches, dust mites, mold, carbon monoxide, and radon.  An occasional hazard that may arise includes lead dust.  A rare hazard that one may encounter when buying a dwelling is residue left from the manufacture of methamphetamine.  Good indoor air can help create a healthy home for you and your family.

Mold & Moisture

Mold needs moisture in order to grow.  Moisture can enter the home (leaks) or be generated by the people in the home (hot showers, cooking).  Mold can grow anywhere there is water and a suitable surface.  These surfaces are called porous, because when they get wet, they retain the water and stay damp (carpet, drywall, fabric, wood, and paper-based items).

There are hundreds of thousands of molds of various colors: white, black, brown, orange, green, etc.  Mold serves a useful purpose in the right setting, such as in the in manufacture of cheeses and medicines.  However, infants, children, elderly, asthmatics or anyone who has mold allergies, and those persons who are immuno-compromised due to an illness are more at risk for upper respiratory problems.  Symptoms can include runny nose, itchy watery eyes, and sore throat.  Not all people are affected the same.

Cleanup of mold may be done by the resident.  There are recommended steps for cleanup of visible mold growth.  The first is to correct the water problem.  This is similar to flood cleanup, but after water has receded and mold has developed.  There are currently no standards for the type nor amount of mold nor mold spores that is acceptable nor certifications necessary for cleanup.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas.  Every year hundreds of people in the United States die of CO poisoning.  CO is generated from combustion appliances (those that use fuel-gas, oil, kerosene, charcoal, or wood to produce heat).  Some of these appliances in the home are: gas furnaces, hot water tanks, ovens, dryers, wood burning fireplaces, grills (both gas & charcoal), tobacco smoke, vehicles, and gas powered yard equipment.  If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous.  However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.

Signs of low level CO poisoning are flu-like symptoms (headache, nausea, tiredness, weakness, & dizziness) and may have long term effects on your health.  After extended periods of time at this low level, brain damage and heart problems may occur.  High levels can cause loss of consciousness, coma, and death.  If you are feeling these symptoms get fresh air immediately.  Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances, and leave the house.

DON'T:  Leave your car idling in the garage (even with the door open)

DON'T: Use gas powered equipment or grills in enclosed spaces nor close to the side of the home

DON'T: Use your gas oven to heat your home

Install a CO detector in the home.  This is not a replacement for having your heating appliances checked at the beginning of every heating season to ensure proper functioning and venting of all combustion gas.           

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO 2) is an indoor air pollutant caused by poor exchange of indoor air and fresh outdoor air.  High levels may cause occupants to become drowsy, get headaches, or function at lower activity levels.  By exhaling, humans are the main indoor source of carbon dioxide.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas.  It originates from the earth and may enter your home from below the foundations through cracks in the floors, walls, floor drains, and sump pumps.  Radon levels are generally higher in the basement and ground floor rooms that are in direct contact with the soil. 

Radon gas can by inhaled and the radioactive particles may cause damage to the lung tissue and initiate lung cancer.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US.  Radon may be tested through a short term test kit, and mailed to a laboratory.  Radon levels found in a home can be reduced by a professional remediator. 

Dust and Dust Mites

Household dust is a mixture of shed human skin cells, pet dander, fabric fibers, mold spores, bacteria, dirt, and dust mites.  Dust may not indicate a dirty house, however, a dirty house can irritate your respiratory passages.  To control dust, clean regularly.  Vacuum carpets that cannot be laundered, vacuum fabric upholstery, dust surfaces with a damp cloth, mop floors, and wash linens.  Use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter or a filter that is advertised to trap dust mites and other small particles.  These cleaning procedures are similar for control of dust mites.

Dust mites are second only to pollen in causing allergic reactions.  Dust mites are not visible to the naked eye. They live in bedding, couches, carpet, stuffed toys, and old clothing.  Dust mites feed on the dead skin that falls off the bodies of humans and animals and on other organic material found where they live.  When dust mites grow, they shed their skin.  The shed skin and feces are what cause allergic reactions in people.  Allergic reactions range from itchy noses and eyes to severe asthma attacks.  Dust mites need over 50 percent relative humidity to live, and they need food.  Areas where people spend much time, like a bed or a favorite plush chair, are prime sites for dust mites.

Control of dust mites can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Dust mite control ranges from deep vacuuming of mattresses, washing all bedding and stuffed toys bi-weekly in hot water and enclosing mattresses and pillows in hypo-allergic coverings, to the extreme of removing carpeting, curtains/drapes, and upholstered furniture and replacing with wood or tile floors, plastic shades, and wood or plastic furniture. 

Cockroaches

Cockroaches live in various environments, but thrive in warm, dark, moist environments.  A cockroach is considered a scavenger due to the fact it can and will consume any food source.  The average life span of a cockroach is one year.  In that time frame a female may have up to 8 egg cases, each case containing up to 40 eggs.  That would equal up to 400 offspring in one lifetime (one year).

Some people have a problem with cockroaches in their homes.  Most people do not know they have a problem until it is excessive.  People that are asthmatic or have allergies may react to cockroach dust (dried body parts or droppings).  Cockroach dust is considered the most severe asthmatic trigger.  To limit having a cockroach problem:

  1. Keep all food, including dog food and garbage in closed containers (NEVER leave food out)
  2. Do not leave dirty dishes or food containers out
  3. Eat only in the kitchen
  4. Thoroughly clean kitchen floors with a household cleaner and clean rinse water to remove any food or cockroach dust
  5. Clean up clutter 

Animal Dander

Dander is dead skin shed from animals.  Some people with asthma or allergies may have a reaction to the dander from pets in the home.  Cats are usually the problem.  The best thing to do is keep furred and/or feathered pets out of your home if you are sensitive.  If you can't remove them from your home:

DON'T: Allow pets in the bedroom or sleep with them

DO: Wash hands and face after handling the pet or being in a house with a pet (dander sticks to clothes and hands)

DO: Vacuum and clean pet sleeping areas often.  The vacuum should be used with a filter that is advertised to pick up allergens.

DO: Vacuum carpet and furniture often.

DO: Bathe the pet often (check with your veterinarian first)

What can you do?

You can take simple steps to help improve indoor air quality at home.  Some of those steps include:

• Regularly clean the vents in your kitchen, bathroom, and dryer, and make sure they operate properly
• Do not smoke or allow smoking in your home
• Avoid or reduce mold growth by repairing leaks and maintaining dehumidifiers and air conditioners (emptying water trays in dehumidifiers and window air conditioners frequently)
• Avoid and/or reduce mold growth by drying or removing any water-damaged carpets, building materials, furniture, or paper based materials
• Routinely clean bedding and flooring
• Prevent carbon monoxide exposure by keeping gas appliances properly vented and serviced, and having your heating system cleaned and checked at the beginning of every heating season
• Change filters on central cooling and heating systems and air cleaners according to the manufacturer’s directions.
•  Test your home for radon

Contact Information:

For further information or questions about any of the Indoor Air Quality activities, please contact:

Ray Herbst, RS, REHS, 419-282-4295, rherbst@ashlandhealth.com

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