Are you playing it safe when it comes to toxic fumes? Find out if one of these top offenders is poisoning the air in your home.
Inspired by research on indoor air pollution, Trina Masepohl founded MIXX Modern Interiors to help homeowners find safer building and decorative materials. "Physicians and scientists today are finally beginning to realize the possibly harmful effects of environmental chemicals and are recommending a more precautionary approach, suggesting that we limit our exposure to these chemicals until their effects are better understood," she says. If you're concerned about potential sources of indoor air pollution in your home, start with this list of surprising offenders.
"Your nose knows. Trust it," says Alexandra Zissu of Healthy Child. "If something smells bad — a shower curtain, the inside of a new car — it is bad. These are off-gassing phthalates, hormone disrupting chemicals." Identify PVC plastic by looking for the number 3 on the recycling symbol on many plastic items. Avoid major sources of PVC such as plastic shower curtains, raincoats, vinyl and plastic makeup bags.
Mold in your home can trigger asthma and allergies, as well as cause uncomfortable symptoms in those who are sensitive. It's not always easy to find mold, since it can grow virtually anywhere there's moisture in your home. Even paper documents and books can breed mold. Fix leaks, control moisture in the air, ventilate your home well and dry any wet surfaces to inhibit mold growth. Consult a professional for serious mold-removal jobs.
"One of the best ways to remove toxic fumes and indoor pollution from your home is by cleaning out your air ducts," says Lynn Mitchell of Restoration 911, who explains that air ducts can collect dirt, allergens such as pet dander, bacteria, fungi, mold and dust mites. "Every time your family uses your heating or cooling system, these allergens circulate your entire home. These allergens can lead to fatigue, dizziness, sinus complications, asthma, and facial and chest discomfort." Hire a professional who can give your air ducts a deep cleaning.
Be cautious when you're shopping for scented candles. Not every candle is created equally. Many candles and air fresheners emit VOCs — volatile organic compounds. According to WomensHealth.gov, these compounds may contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, alcohol and esters. Reactions can include allergic reactions such as headache, nasal stuffiness and coughing. Stick to organic alternatives or remove sources of offending odors instead of masking them.
"One of the biggest sources of toxic fumes is old paint fumes that off-gas from higher VOC paints," says Robin Wilson of Robin Wilson Home. Paint can continue to pollute the home for a long time. It's not just a problem while you can still smell it. Wilson advises anyone with allergies or asthma to use low- to no-VOC paint in the home. "You can't even tell the difference in how it looks," she says, "plus it's a much healthier alternative to traditional paints."
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 1 in 15 homes has elevated levels of radon gas, a radioactive material that seeps up from the ground beneath homes. Radon causes an estimated 21,000 deaths from lung cancer a year. You can't detect this gas without a special testing kit. Find your state radon contact and get a test kit today.
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