The air quality in our home matters when establishing a safe living environment and overall health. Homeowners everywhere should be taking steps to identify and mitigate hazards in their homes to protect their families. It’s important that we educate ourselves on how to improve indoor air quality and recognize threats that may loom within our homes.
3 Major Hazards Hiding in Your Home
Three of the most common air pollutants that compromise indoor home air quality are asbestos, carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
Asbestos is a fiber used to reinforce construction and building materials. It often appears soft to the touch in its unaltered form. Its heat and corrosion resistant properties made it a popular additive in construction materials until its partial ban in the 1980s. In older homes, asbestos may be found in loose fill insulation, pipe wrap, electrical insulation, and adhesives. Should any of these asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) begin to deteriorate, friable asbestos could become airborne and can infiltrate your living space. Asbestos exposure has been known to cause mesothelioma, a rare but terminal type of cancer. Exposure to asbestos can also increase risk of developing other respiratory diseases such as pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
An odorless, colorless gas, carbon monoxide (CO), can cause disorientation, illness, and even death with prolonged exposure. In the United States alone, the CDC estimates that approximately 20,000 people visit urgent care, over 4,000 are hospitalized, and more than 400 die from unintentional CO poisoning annually. Anytime a petroleum-based fuel is burned to use household appliances like a grill, stove, fireplace, gas range, water heater, or furnace, CO is produced in the combustion process. Without proper ventilation, there is a chance that CO could be released from the appliance and permeate into the living space.
If ingested, carbon monoxide can poison your blood and may create flu-like symptoms such as upset stomach, chest pain, headaches, vomiting, and dizziness. Individuals suffering from CO poisoning may also experience confusion, as CO can displace oxygen in the blood and deprive the brain. It’s recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be replaced every five years and batteries should be changed when clocks get reset every fall and spring. In the event of performing home renovations, it’s imperative that chimney’s and other appliance vents are not blocked to avoid CO build-up.
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is similar to CO but is easier to detect due to its pungent odor and yellowish-brown appearance. More common in older homes, NO2 can be produced with the use of older combustion appliances that have not been properly maintained. Such appliances include gas stoves, water heaters, natural gas and kerosene furnaces. Exposure to this gas in an unventilated area can cause reduced lung function, increased risk of asthma, headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, and sensory irritation. Long-term, repeated exposure can also lead to pulmonary edema, acute or chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory infections.
Testing Air Quality in Your Home
The everyday homeowner should take steps to improve indoor air quality by purchasing carbon monoxide detectors and indoor air quality monitors. The proper usage and regular maintenance of appliances as well as adequate ventilation is critical to the health and safety of your home. For the best readings on your home’s air quality, nothing beats hiring a professional to measure levels safely and identify any potential threats. Proper and regular testing will lead to improved home air quality, ensuring the health of you and your family from these common, yet preventable, indoor toxins.