Air Pollution: An Inside Job

We’re lucky enough to live in a hundred-year-old house. Believe it or not, on blustery, frigid winter days, draftiness has its upside. As tight as we try to seal it, as many “draft dodgers” as we employ at doors and windows, this old house still lets in outside air. And that’s a good thing.

Since Americans typically spend 90 percent of the day indoors and 65 percent of that in our own home, it’s common to hear of people suffering from “sick building syndrome” or the effects of indoor air pollution. Various agencies have estimated that indoor air is often ten times more polluted than outside air, even in LA.

On many occasions, it’s modern building design that lead to bad indoor air. When was the last time you were in a contemporary office building that had windows that open? How about the last time you were traveling and stayed at a hotel with windows that had access to outside air? Our attempts at controlling nature have led us to seal our homes and buildings as tightly as possible. And that’s a problem.

Studies have found that hospitals allowing exchange of air with the outdoors (windows that open) have lower infection rates and better health outcomes than the sealed-up-tight versions. And the tight-ass window syndrome strikes closer to home. Many of the very construction materials used in homes off-gas toxic chemicals. On top of that, we consumers insist on filling our homes with electronic appliances, furniture, even clothing, that emit chemicals long after they lose that “new” smell. I made the mistake recently of spending an afternoon in a sealed room setting up a new TV without letting it air out for a day or two. I had a whopping “new TV hangover” headache the next morning.

Gas it. Problem chemical gases emitted by furnishings or building materials are collectively called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). That’s a catchall term that can include some pretty nasty characters: formaldehyde, benzene, bromine, lead, mercury, trichlorofluoromethane, dichlorodifluoromethane and a long list of other tongue twisters.

VOCs can cause chronic and acute health problems. Many are known carcinogens. Even low to moderate levels can produce acute reactions so it’s a good idea to avoid them as much as possible.

Formaldehyde is often the most common toxic gas found in the home. It’s found in permanent press fabrics, carpets, building materials, flooring and seeps into the air from fiberboard furniture. It can be in toothpaste and even the vaccination shot your infant got. Cabinets, paneling, walls and anything made of plywood can off-gas formaldehyde. It is carcinogenic and one of the worst indoor threats, especially because it is so pervasive.

75 percent of American homes have used a pesticide (like Raid, flea powder, mothballs) indoors in the past year. That alone doesn’t explain the high levels of deadly pesticide pollution in homes. Most comes from stored containers. If a chemical is designed to destroy biological life, be it snail or cockroach, it isn't likely to be benign to humans.

Grow out of it. There is a natural way to purge the toxic air in your home. And it’s easy. Houseplants can remove huge amounts of indoor air pollution and replace it with clean, clear oxygen. Plants are natural air filters and so efficient, NASA has used them in experiments to purify air aboard spacecraft. Place some of these around the house and they’ll grow on you while cleaning the air.

Philodendron is common, cheap and easy to grow. Like all plants, it breathes in surrounding air and releases clean, fresh oxygen. It’s expert at removing formaldehyde.

English Ivy is a superplant when it comes to detoxifying air. NASA found it removes formaldehyde, toluene, benzene and xylene and decreases airborne mold spores by 60 percent.

Peace lilies are especially adept at eliminating trichloroethylene, formaldehyde and benzene. Also removes mold spores. Try one in the bathroom.

Palms are top purifiers and also humidify. NASA successfully tested the areca, the lady palm, bamboo palm and rubber plant to clean air. They literally take the place of an electric humidifier and recycle air while removing toxins.

Chrysanthemum can beautify while removing trichloroethylene. It also eliminates formaldehyde and benzene.

Boston fern can humidifies and removes toxins as well. Boston ferns also control mold and bacterial growth. They can make it easier to breathe in your bedroom at night by keeping allergens at bay. They are great for kitchen areas and other rooms where moisture is high. Spider plants are another species of purifier workhorse for around the house.

I like to remember the woodwork in our old house is from trees alive when Lincoln was president. Not much air pollution in that wood. There isn’t a lot of that left but you can still clean up the air in your house or apartment. A 2000-square foot home could use 10 plants and see a huge benefit. It takes only 24 hours for plants to work their magic. Just don’t spray them with chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. How much sense would that make?

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit HeartlandHealing.com for more information.

posted at 06:39 pm
on Friday, February 01st, 2013

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