We're so used to our own home environment to the air's taste and density and texture that we rarely consider what unwanted irritants have taken up residence there along with us, hiding in the air we're constantly breathing. Carbon monoxide escapes from fireplaces. Bacteria and mold siphon through mucky ducts. Dust mites and spores trigger horrible allergies. Volatile organic compounds seep from carpets and paint.
And the news gets worse before it gets better. For although ozone had formerly been considered an outdoor problem it's becoming increasingly problematic indoors as even the smallest of levels mixes with the oily terpenes released from various cleaning agents, scented candles, and aromatherapy oils to produce the same nasty carcinogen.
Worse still, a Harvard study of 120 Cape Cod homes discovered residual traces of environmental contaminants identified as "endocrine disrupting" that have been banned for decades, such as PCBs and DDT, both of which have been linked to breast cancer, testicular cancer, and certain neurological difficulties and birth defects.
As it turns out, the level of pollutants in indoor air can be 2, 5 or up to 100 or more times higher than that of outdoor air, which explains why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared indoor air quality to be one of the Top 5 environmental health risks that U.S. households face. Air pollution is far more than a threat from outside our homes. It's also a threat from within.
Now the good news. You can take proactive measure to improve the quality of air in your home. Those measures will vary greatly depending on the circumstances causing your air to be less than fresh. If, for example, you have a preponderance of mold and mildew, you'll need to decrease the pervading level of moisture in the air. That can be as simple as buying a dehumidifier or as involved as replacing a leaky roof or rotting boards.
If you have a serious mold problem, call in a professional to at least take a sample to a lab and have it tested. Non-hazardous mold you can usually just clean up yourself with some bleach as a disinfectant. If, however, the test reports that the mold is toxic, you should pay a professional to get rid of it.
A mainstay for every household concerned about air quality should be a Carbon Monoxide Detector. You can buy them cheaply enough (like $25-$50) from your neighborhood home improvement store, and in a crisis they're the only way you'll know there's a problem before it's too late to prevent real harm to someone inside. These are especially important to place near and around furnaces, fireplaces, basements and, of course, bedrooms.
All houses should also be regularly checked for Radon, the second-leading cause of lung cancer, behind cigarette smoke. Fortunately, you can do this easily enough with a cheap and simple test kit purchased at your nearby home improvement or hardware store (maybe while you're out getting those CO Detectors just mentioned).
For more information and a free in-home air quality survey equipped with air quality improvement recommendations, contact your local Bureau of Community Environmental Health. Ask for the indoor air quality contact. You and those you love deserve to breathe easy, especially in the sanctity of your own home.