While your home may feel like the safest place you could be, the air may contain a number of indoor air pollutants that can cause respiratory problems like asthma, or even diseases like lung cancer.
Here are six of the most common air pollutants found in homes and ways to reduce or eliminate them.
1. Dust Mites
Dust mites are microscopic insects that are commonly found living among humans in bedding, upholstery, mattresses, curtains and carpets. They prefer warm, humid environments and can multiply easily in these conditions. A relative of the spider, dust mites feed on organic detritus, like flakes of human skin. Worldwide, they are a common cause of asthma and allergic rhinitis. Not only is it extremely difficult to see them with the naked eye (an adult mite is about two to four times the diameter of a shaft of human hair), it is difficult to completely rid your home of the ubiquitous mites, but you can reduce their population.
North American house dust mite. Photo credit: FDA / Wikimedia Commons
First, try to keep the humidity inside your home to less than 50 percent. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help. Protect your bed by covering it with allergen-resistant covers. Make sure you wash your sheets and blankets regularly in hot water. You can also put beddings, removable upholstery and curtains in a hot tumble dryer for 20 minutes to kill them. And don't give mites a place to hide and breed: keep your home as dust-, dander- and clutter-free as possible. Regular vacuuming is a must.
People have varying sensitivities to mold, a type of fungi that grows in warm, damp, humid environments. Some symptoms from exposure to mold include eye and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing and nasal congestion. Severe reactions include shortness of breath and fever. People with chronic lung illnesses may even develop mold infection in their lungs. Inside your home, the best places to check for mold are damp and moist environments, such as basements, showers, kitchens and houseplants.
Excess moisture is generally the cause of indoor mold growth. Photo credit: Shutterstock
To clean up mold, you can use soap and water or a bleach solution of one cup laundry bleach to one gallon of water. If you are using bleach, open windows to make sure fresh air is getting inside and protect yourself by wearing gloves and protective eyewear. Also make sure never to mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners, as that will create toxic fumes. When cleaning your bathroom, choose products that contain mold-killing agents. Don't use carpeting in basements and bathrooms, as it can retain moisture. And don't keep firewood indoors, as it can harbor mold. Also, check the soil of your houseplants regularly and replant any plants that have mold growing on the soil. But don't get rid of plants; houseplants can help filter and clean the air.
3. Pet Dander
Pet dander is composed of tiny and even microscopic flecks of skin shed by dogs, cats, rodents, birds and other common pets with fur or feathers that can trigger allergic reactions in some people. According to the American Lung Assocation, about twice as many people report allergies to cats than to dogs.
Keeping your pet's skin clean and healthy reduces dander. Photo credit: Dave Harrison / Flickr
If you have pets and suspect that you or someone in your home is allergic to dander, keep your pets out of the bedroom. Don't allow them on upholstered furniture and get rid of rugs or carpeting, which can retain dander. Keep your home clean by regular vacuuming and brush your pet regularly to remove loose dander and bathe them regularly to keep their skin healthy, as healthy skin that is not dry or irritated sheds less dead skin cells. If you're thinking about getting a dog, consider a smaller dog who will shed less dander. Also, feed your pet high-quality food that has a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These oils will help keep your pet's skin healthy and keep your vet bills down.
Radon is an odorless, tasteless and invisible naturally occurring radioactive gas that is formed by the decay or uranium in rock, soil and water. Once produced, it moves through the ground and into the air. Found in all 50 states, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide, after smoking. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. are radon-related. According to the National Safety Council, "Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime."
Radon can enter your home through numerous ways. Photo credit: Portlandoregon.gov
There is an ongoing concern that granite kitchen countertops emit radon at potentially harmful levels. According to the EPA, most of the radon found in indoor air comes from the soil underneath the home.
According to the Kansas State University National Radon Program Services, one out of 15 homes nationally—about six percent—may have elevated indoor radon levels that should be lower. To test your home for radon levels, visit the U.S. EPA website.
Secondhand smoke from cigarettes is deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds of toxins, about 70 of which can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke is very harmful to children, who can experience ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, and a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome. It's bad for adult as well. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, secondhand smoke caused nearly 34,000 heart disease deaths each year from 2005–2009 among adult nonsmokers in the United States.
The only way to fully protect your home from this health hazard is to eliminate smoking in your home. If visitors would like to smoke, ask them to step outside. If you're a smoker and have children at home, don't smoke indoors and don't smoke near them when you're outside the home.
6. Household Cleaners
Ordinary household cleaners emit a wide array of harmful chemicals, such as chlorine, ammonia, phthalates and triclosan. You can easily avoid exposure to these toxins by avoiding over-the-counter cleaning products. Instead, choose DIY natural non-toxic cleaning solutions, such as lemon, olive oil, white vinegar, baking soda and club soda.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
- Planting Projects, Backyard Habitats Can Re-Create Livable Natural ... ›
- Humans Are Destroying Wildlife at an Unprecedented Rate, New ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Scientists Warn Worse Pandemics Are on the Way if We Don't ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.