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June 18, 2018  |  Login
Understanding Potential Health Threats in Your Home
By Elizabeth B. Goldsmith PhD, Betsy Sheldon
The cleaning-product industry seems to view housekeeping as germ warfare: With liberal use of descriptives such as "kills on contact" and "decimates," "destroys," and "wipes out," the manufacturers of commercial cleaning solutions approach their work as a room-to-room battle against bacterial insurgency and house-born illnesses.

Most of this "defenders-of-the-clean-world" positioning is simply part of the advertising hype. But the fact is, your home - and buildings in general - can pose a threat to your well-being, and that threat isn't just from the germs and dirt that conventional cleaners vow to protect you against. Within the four walls that make up your sanctuary from the world lurk an army of hazards, hidden in dark corners, under floors and carpets, inside showers, and behind the walls. Your home can make you sick. Literally.

In addition to choosing the right building materials and furnishings, keeping your home dry, well ventilated, and clean helps protect against many household health risks. But how effective are green cleaning practices? Promoting themselves as "earth-gentle," "ecofriendly," and "safe for plants and animals," they do seem to lean more toward the speak-softly strategists than the carry-a-big-stick camp.

By understanding the potential health threats in your home, you can easily see that among the strategies for combating sick-building syndrome, good green housekeeping practices are your No. 1 ally.

Factors in Poor Indoor Air Quality

A confluence of forces within your home can create an unhealthy environment. From that old carpet where the dog has slept for the past ten years to the vinyl floor in the kitchen that still gives off the new smell, your home exudes its own atmosphere in more ways than one - and I'm not talking about bad feng shui. The combination of all sorts of elements can bombard you on a daily basis with substances unseen but highly potent.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Levels of pollutants inside a private home are often five times higher than they are outdoors; under certain circumstances, they can be as high as 1,000 times more. This pollution can result in a slew of respiratory problems, including asthma. Poor indoor air quality can cause headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea, fatigue, and other symptoms. Children and people with respiratory illnesses are at an even greater risk.

Don't count on being able to see signs of poor air quality. Although you may be able to pick up on the strong acrid smell of a new furniture stain or "feel" that a room is too humid, indoor air pollution is particularly insidious in that it's often invisible. Primary culprits of poor indoor air quality include

Poor ventilation: When the air inside a home doesn't have enough circulation, unhealthy particle matter - dust and pollen, for example - and gases from chemicals in furnishings and household products stay in the atmosphere, creating their own form of smog.

• Humidity: Bathrooms, basements, kitchens, and other areas where moisture can collect in dark, warm spots are prone to structural rot and the growth of mildew and mold, which may not be visible when the damage is spreading behind the tiles of a bathroom shower or under the floorboards where a pipe is leaking.

• Biological pollutants: In addition to mildew and molds, bacteria, dust, dust mite droppings, pollen, and pet hair and dander are other biological contaminants that wreak havoc.

• Radon: A gas created when uranium in the Earth decays, radon can enter your home through cracks and other entry points in the foundation. It's the second-leading cause of lung cancer. The good news is you can test for radon - and prevent it from getting into your home. For more information, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site at www.epa. more



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