The Greatest Health Risk of the 21st Century?


Indoor air can be five times more polluted than outside air. Some experts call it the greatest health risk of the 21st century.

Over 3000 people a year die of lung cancer caused by second hand smoke. Many others suffer from chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and illnesses caused by toxic indoor environments.

Nothing demonstrated how toxic a home could be better than when we moved into our new home. I was aware of the potential indoor pollution problem and was careful to air the house out for a few months that summer. I hoped that would take care of the worst of it before winter.

When cold weather came around, we fired up our new vent-free propane fireplace. These work by combusting the air in the house. The problem was, every time it turned on, it produced an acrid, terrible odor. Or so we thought.

The representative at the company said the problem was likely indoor air pollution. Sure enough, when we cracked a window to let fresh air in, there was much less odor when the fireplace was running.

It was scary to think we were breathing in those out-gassing chemicals all that time without even knowing it. If it wasn’t for the fireplace, we never would have realized how big the problem was. From then on, the house got a good airing out every week, freezing temperatures or not.

Indoor pollution can be caused by the oil, wood, or coal you heat your home with. Building materials and furnishings such as carpets and pressed wood furniture and cabinets out gas formaldahyde and other harmful chemicals for years.

Chemical cleaning products, insecticides, hair spray,cosmetics and adhesives are examples ofcommon substances that contain pollutants. Outdoor sources such as radon (common with granite countertops), pesticides and outdoor pollution add to the chemical soup we live in.

There are several strategies you can use to protect your health:

peace lily
Some house plants help remove pollutants in their vicinity. Bamboo palm and the peace lily reduce formaldahyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. Other helpful plants are the spider plant, mother-in-laws tongue and gerbera daisies. Air purifiers also help.

The most effective strategy is to eliminate pollution at the source. Use natural cleaning and personal care products. Make sure your heating appliances are running efficiently and are well maintained. Keep your duct work clean. Store any necessary chemicals well sealed and away from your living space. Follow safety guidelines to dispose of any chemicals you can live without. Or phase them out and replace with safer choices when used up.

Ventilation is a big help. If you live in an older, poorly insulated home, you probably have plenty of air flow through the house. Newer homes and apartments need more ventilation. Air them out thoroughly at least once a week, more in nicer weather. Pick a windy day and open the windows. Get cross ventilation if possible. Let some fresh air in every day.

In warmer weather, use window or attic fans. Run a window air conditioner with the vent control open. Bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust outdoors help remove contaminants in all kinds of weather.

Using all or even some of these strategies will go a long way in protecting your health and wellness.

To read more healthy living tips visit the Healthy Living Guide.

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The Greatest Health Risk of the 21st Century? — 4 Comments

  1. Val,
    Great info on the indoor air. I forwarded a copy to our EHS ( Environmental Health and Safety) person we have here at work. Enjoy the weather!

    Cuz