We are officially into winter when we batten down the hatches and settle indoors for a few months. It’s an excellent time to think about your indoor air quality. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the CT Dept. of Public Health (CTDPH) designated January as “Radon Awareness Month.” Why January? Because this time of year is best for radon testing for since windows and doors are generally kept shut. But radon is not the only pollutant that affects your indoor air quality. Read on to learn the top 5 indoor air pollutants along with suggestions on testing and/or improving it.
- Radon – Of course, radon is at the top of our list since it’s the best time to test for it. Radon is naturally occurring, has no taste, color or smell, and is naturally released from rocks, soil and water, quietly seeping into our homes and businesses. Exposure causes more than 20,000 deaths annually and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers according to the EPA. The good news is that Chesprocott Health District is offering free radon testing kits to Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott residents on a first come, first served basis. Beginning Jan. 11th, residents can pick up tests at the 1247 Highland Avenue, Cheshire office after calling 203-272-2761. There is no charge, but residents must leave a $20 refundable deposit which is returned when the testing kit is brought back to the office.
- Carbon Monoxide – Another invisible pollutant, carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and poisonous gas. According to OSHA, CO can be inhaled when mixed with other gases that you can smell, yet we may still be oblivious to the presence of CO. Initial symptoms of poisoning may include headache, drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and chest tightness, but be aware that signs may vary for different individuals. Your best line of defense is an up-to-date smoke detector which will sound off if there is smoke OR carbon monoxide. Additionally, be sure to refresh the batteries at least once a year. If the alarm does go off, or you suspect you may have CO, check anything in your home that creates fumes such as stoves, lanterns, indoor grills, fireplaces gas ranges or furnaces, and remove it or get it repaired.
- Asbestos – It’s no secret that asbestos is a serious health hazard and many regulations are in place to protect consumers. According to OSHA, there is no safe levels of exposure for any type of asbestos fiber. However, when homeowners tackle DIY house repairs, many are unknowingly disturbing asbestos during their renovations. The most common areas containing asbestos are floors and drywall. ServiceMaster Apple Valley, which provides disaster recovery services, encourages DIYer’s to have any questionable materials tested before disturbing. Owner Isa Criscitello states “we have frequently received back positive test results of asbestos contamination when restoring a customer’s home. In these cases, it is best to NOT disturb the area which would release particles into the air.” If it’s not possible to complete your project without disturbing asbestos, ServiceMaster Apple Valley can recommend a certified asbestos abatement team to safely remove this dangerous substance.
- Mold – It’s not just the slimy, black stuff seen on bathroom grout when not frequently cleaned, mold can also lurk in areas you never thought of indoors. According to the EPA, hidden sources of mold include inside walls around pipes (when condensation or small leaks present), the surface of walls behind furniture (where condensation forms), inside ductwork, and in roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation). It thrives in high humidity environments, and can cause stuffed nose, eye irritation and wheezing, especial for those with lung related health issues. For the DIY’er, ServiceMaster Apple Valley stresses the importance of getting the mold tested first to know if you are dealing with toxic mold. Be sure to wear PPE (personal protective equipment), such as air-tight masks with ventilation, and the homeowner must encapsulating the work area with plastic sheeting to prevent mold spores from traveling to other areas of the home When in doubt, call a professional. To read more on mold recognition and steps to take, go to https://www.osha.gov/mold
- Smoke – There’s several sources of indoor smoke that seriously affect air quality. The most obvious is tobacco smoke. Whether first or second-hand smoke, both affect the lungs with over 7,000 substances supporting its carcinogenic label. But less obvious offenders include wood smoke and even candle smoke. Although candle smoke is minimal, burning paraffin wax may leave soot particles airborne hours after being extinguished. The more robust smoke to cause concern is wood smoke, which is a combination of gases and microscopic particulate matter. Even with an airtight woodstove, it’s critical to ensure the venting is done properly to ensure the little bit of gases, creosote and smoke left from the fire go directly outside the home.
If any of the above cause concern, consider a true HEPA filtration air purifier which will remove 97.97% of particulates in the air. And of course, eliminate or minimize the pollution source. Having several indoor plants also can improve air quality as plant remove toxins from the air and expel oxygen. Throw open those windows whenever a mild day is present and last, start counting those days to spring.
Author: Kathleen Kiley. Article submitted as a community service communication with joint effort of Chesprocott Health District and ServiceMaster Apple Valley