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Breathe Easy

Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality

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For much of the country, winter means spending more time indoors—and exposed to potential toxins. Indoor air quality is critically important to children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems that may be especially sensitive to pollutants, according to WebMD.com. Recognizing and avoiding some of the most common sources of toxins in the home can safeguard everyone’s health year-round and notably now, at the height of the season when humans tend to hibernate in their warm abodes.

• The Environmental Working Group warns about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be found in many household products from new carpets and furniture to paints and air fresheners. These airborne toxins can irritate eyes and respiratory systems, and increase the risk of cancer and liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Look for low- and zero-VOC products; buy solid wood, hardwood or exterior-grade plywood and antique furniture. Open the windows once in a while as a natural, refreshing way to ventilate.

• How, when and how often we vacuum is also important. The Indoor Air Quality Association recommends a slow and steady motion “to keep dust from flying up into the air.” They also suggest pet owners should vacuum every two days. When choosing a vacuum cleaner, go with a model that includes a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to pick up microscopic particles a regular vacuum cannot remove.

• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends using and properly maintaining home ventilation systems, including exhaust fans, air conditioning and heating units; preventing mold by controlling moisture and humidity, including checking pipes and window sills for condensation; and keeping the home smoke-free, because burning cigarettes release at least 69 chemicals that can cause cancer.

• Place a large floor mat just inside each outside door, suggests WebMD.com, as people track in many chemicals—especially from pesticides and other pollutants—via the dirt on their shoes, which also can be removed before entering.


This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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