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Is Your Home Unhealthy?

zongxujian 于2008-11-27发布 l 已有 人浏览

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All of us have heard about the problems of outdoor air pollution -- such as smog, belching smokestacks, and automobile emissions -- and indoor pollution has been in the news enough over the past decade that most people have probably heard of that too. But what many people may not know is that the risks to health may be greater from air pollution indoors (which is where we spend 90 percent of our time) than outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Although levels from individual pollutants may not pose a hazard, most homes have more than one source that contributes to indoor air pollution, and the cumulative effect can be serious indeed.

Mold and Mildew

"We're concerned about sources of pollution that have the greatest impact on health," says Elissa Feldman, associate director of the EPA's Indoor Environments Division. And mold is right up there with the front-runners. "A lot of people with other allergies are also allergic to mold. They respond with watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, and even digestive problems."

Mold grows in places where moisture levels are too high, such as inadequately ventilated bathrooms, damp sheetrock walls, or carpets. Controlling the relative humidity in a home can minimize the growth of not only mold but mildew as well, and exhaust fans vented to the outdoors help eliminate excess moisture.

Hazardous Household Products

Many cleaning, cosmetic, and disinfecting products contain organic chemicals, which can be released during use. The EPA found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be two to five times higher inside homes than outside. Some of these chemicals are highly toxic, some merely annoying. People may suffer from irritated eyes, headaches, and dizziness after exposure.

So read the label on the product carefully and pay attention to the instructions for using it. If it says to use the product in a well-ventilated area, go outside or open the windows. Two chemicals to treat with utmost respect are benzene, which causes cancer in humans, and methylene chloride, which has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Stored fuels and paint supplies contain benzene, and paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints contain methylene chloride. Also air out dry-cleaned clothes before wearing them or hanging them in a closet to avoid breathing perchloroethylene, the chemical used in cleaning.

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Pesky Pesticides

Three out of four households made use of at least one pesticide product indoors during the past year, according to the EPA. Pesticides come in spray form or as liquids, sticks, powders, crystals, balls, or foggers. The products most often used indoors are those that control insects, termites, rodents, and fungi, as well as microbes (disinfectants). According to the National Safety Council's Environmental Health Center, the effects of exposure to pesticides include irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat; damage to the central nervous system and kidneys; and, for some, an increased risk of cancer.

Apply the pesticide only in recommended amounts. Using more does not offer better protection. Try not to use an aerosol pesticide if a substitute is available. Baits, for example, are generally safer than sprays because people are less exposed to them.

In addition, be careful about using moth repellents. Although scientists disagree about the long-term health effects of exposure to the commonly used active ingredient (paradichlorobenzene), the EPA requires labeling moth repellents with warnings such as "avoid breathing vapors" to alert users. As an alternative, use herbal moth preventives (a combination of several herbs) or store only freshly washed or dry-cleaned clothing so that moths aren't tempted.

Chemicals in Carpets

Some people are sensitive to chemicals emitted by new carpets. "The carpet industry has developed a voluntary testing program for emission levels," says Feldman. "People now have the option of buying carpets that have the industry's seal of approval."

Sometimes carpeting can be stored in places where it absorbs any nearby chemical products. So if you're sensitive to chemicals, ask that the carpet be rolled out and aired in a well-ventilated space before it's brought into your house. Once the carpet's in place, open the windows for a couple of days if possible. If not, use window fans or air conditioners to exhaust the fumes to the outdoors.

By taking some of these simple steps, you'll breathe easier inside your home.

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