Ending indoor air pollution lets you breathe easier

HOME WORK

March 18, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Most people can hardly wait for spring to arrive, to escape from the cold, damp, foggy, rainy, sleety, icy weather that characterizes winter in many climes. But for some, spring is a time of torment, as asthma, allergies and colds attack.

There's no need to be a complacent victim, however. Much can be done to alleviate health problems -- if you deal with indoor air pollution.

Indoor air can become more polluted than outdoor air, especially in winter and early spring when the house has been sealed up. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is one of the top five environmental issues facing the nation today.

How does it happen? Keeping a house sealed up traps pollutants and concentrates them in a relatively small space. How do the pollutants get there? Here are some sources:

*Pet dander, especially cat dander.

*Excess moisture from bathing, cooking, laundry.

*Fumes from cooking.

*Dirt from clogged furnace filters.

*Dust, including the 2 million dust mites that can harbor in your sheets.

*Noxious gases, which can come from microwave ovens, water heaters, insulation, plywood, inadequately vented gas appliances.

*Soot and smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves.

*Biological sources, such as pollen, viruses, bacteria.

*Tobacco smoke.

*Radon, a colorless, odorless gas that is considered a cause of lung cancer; it seeps from the soil into houses and can accumulate to dangerous levels.

*Humidity, which encourages mold and mildew.

*Chemical vapors and fumes from carpet, furniture, building products, and processes such as painting and paint-stripping.

That's quite a list. If you have allergies, or if you're sensitive to any of these substances, you might be able to improve matters if you take steps to clean up the house. Here are some solutions to indoor-air pollution:

*Try to get rid of as many sources of indoor air pollution as possible. Keep pets bathed and brushed. Limit the amount of new furniture and new construction materials you bring into the house at one time. Save household projects that create fumes, such as painting and paint-stripping, to warmer months, when they can be done outside or the house can be opened up for ventilation. Wash bedding (don't forget pet bedding) in warm or hot water to get rid of mites. Monitor for radon and take steps to alleviate gas buildup if you have it. Insist that smokers go outdoors to smoke.

*Don't seal the house up too tightly. Allow it to breathe, allow some air exchange. Occasionally open a window, or turn on kitchen and bathroom ventilating fans.

*In serious cases, use or install high-quality air filters or air-filtration systems. Air filtration systems installed as part of central heating units can remove even extremely small particles from the air. Air-to-air heat exchangers can provide fresh air without heat loss. If you have asthma attacks or allergies and cleaning up and opening a window doesn't help, you may want to consider spending money on a more sophisticated air-filtering system.

The Home and Building Control Division of Honeywell Inc. offers a pamphlet called "Comfort in the Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality," which tells how to spot and solve potential problems. For a free copy, call (800) 345-6770, extension 7122.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278.

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