Guarding against indoor air pollution will let you breathe easier


January 29, 1992|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

In the past I've covered in some detail many of the nasty things that have infiltrated our homes. Depending on our habits and where we live, some of us have a much bigger problem than others.

Some of us are a lot more sensitive to toxic products, too. Some people appear to be so sensitive that the merest whiff of a certain volatile organic compound sends them reeling off to bed. A woman was recently hospitalized in critical condition, for example, when a salesperson at a department store sprayed her with a perfume sample.

Medical science is divided (to say the least) over whether these extreme sensitivities are for real. But whether you are chemically sensitive or a chemical lout, it's smart to reduce your exposure to home toxics where you can.

Two indoor air quality experts based in Seattle, Wash., Richard L. Knights and John W. Roberts, put together a list of toxic do's and don'ts to present at a professional meeting. It's basic, but very helpful. With their permission, I will reprint it here, as a sort of indoor air roundup:

* Make a shoe-changing station where shoes can be removed before entering the house.

* Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.

* Avoid breathing smoke from cigarettes, wood stoves and fireplaces.

* Hang dry-cleaned clothes in a well-ventilated area before hanging them in the closet.

* Wash work clothes separately if contaminated from working with paints, solvents or other toxics.

* Ventilate gas cooking stoves and kerosene heaters.

* Provide timed ventilation in the bathroom to reduce moisture and mold.

* Vacuum floors once a week. Change bags before they are full.

* Choose floor coverings, curtains and furniture that are easy to clean, not rugs and fleecy surfaces that provide a reservoir for toxics.

* Clean air ducts once a year.

* Store paints, pesticides and solvents in a detached building. Recycle (for example, motor oil) and dispose of toxic substances in an approved manner.

* Wear rubber gloves and a protective mask when working with toxic substances. Provide adequate ventilation. Paint furniture outdoors.

* Replace and avoid buying cabinets, shelving and furniture made with particle board, which releases formaldehyde gas.

* Be careful around materials that may contain asbestos fibers, such as textured ceilings and old furnace or duct wraps. Make repairs with stringent precautions; contact regulatory agency. Keep the surfaces that are in good repair sealed with paint.

* Avoid disturbing attic or crawl space dust; restrict access.

* Increase housecleaning during remodeling.

* Ventilate an attached garage to the outside, and weatherstrip the door into the house.

* Use pesticides sparingly, and consider alternatives.

* Pave gravel roads -- road dust may contain lead and toxic organics.

Some of these suggestions are easier to implement than others, but any steps you take in this direction can help make your home a healthier one. For more help with indoor air problems, here are some good resources to turn to:

Your local branch of the American Lung Association. Ask for their Indoor Air Pollution fact sheets.

The Environmental Protection Agency. Write Public Information Center (PM-211B), U.S. EPA, 401 M Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20460, and ask for a copy of the free booklet "The Inside Story, A Guide to Indoor Air Quality."

Consumer Product Safety Commission. Write U.S. CPSC, Washington, D.C. 20207, and ask for the series of pamphlets on indoor air pollution, including formaldehyde,combustion pollutants, biological pollutants and others.

For more detailed, technical information, consult the library or a bookstore for these two indoor air bibles: "Indoor Air Pollution, A Health Perspective," edited by Samet and Spengler, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, and "Indoor Air Pollution Control," by Thad Godish, Lewis Publishers, 1990. And if you are building or remodeling, consult John Bower's "The Healthy House."

Feeling environmentally incorrect? Write a letter to the Household Environmentalist -- on recycled paper, of course, using soy-based ink -- and send it to Susan McGrath at P.O. Box 121, 1463 E. Republican St., Seattle, Wash. 98112.

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