Sick House Syndrome
The Problem: How safe is your home?
Most people spend well over 90% of their time indoors. In which case, indoor air is going to impact our health far more than outdoor air. The EPA informs us that 6 out of 10 homes and buildings are "sick", meaning they are hazardous to your health to occupy as a result of airborne pollutants.
A baby crawling on the floor may inhale the equivalent of four cigarettes a day, and is exposed to a multitude of pollutants, as a result of the out-gassing of carpets, molds, mildews, fungi, dust mites, etc.
Diseases / Conditions Caused by Exposure to "Building Toxicities"
- You may experience eye, nose, and throat irritation, stuffiness, "spaciness", skin rashes, headaches, nausea, and flu-like symptoms. Symptoms following exposure come and go fairly quickly -- you may notice them within an hour or two of entering a building but also notice that they will be gone within an hour or two of leaving a building."
- Harmful indoor chemicals can lead to anemia, sinusitis, allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, a generally weakened immune system, cancer, brain damage, and even death. Exposure to radon and tobacco exposure can lead to lung cancer.
- Tips For Improving The Air Quality In Your Home
|Pollutant||Possible Side Effect||Source||Pollution Fighter|
|Airborne Particles||Respiratory problems, allergies||Carpets, Ducts||Hepa Air Filtration System ... Frequent Airing Throughout the Day / Keeping Windows Open ... Removing Carpeting|
|Allergens||Respiratory problems, skin reactions.||Polluted air, pet hair, feather dander, dust mites, and chemicals in household and personal care products.||Click here for information on how to reduce allergens in your environment.|
|Asbestos||Researchers discovered that the fibers are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs and can scar lung tissue, and cause lung cancer and mesothelioma - a fairly uncommon cancer of the lining of the lung or abdominal cavity.||If your home was built between 1920 and 1978, you may be exposed to asbestos, which was at that commonly used as roofing and floor materials, wall and pipe insulation, heating equipment, and acoustic insulation.||Click here for information on how to eliminate asbestos from your environment.|
|Benzene||Carcinogen, skin and eye irritant, headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, tiredness||Inks, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, dyes, detergents, gasoline, tobacco smoke, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals||Pollution-reducing Plants: Dracaena Marginata, English Ivy, Janet Craig (fern), Warneckel, Peace Lily*, Chrysanthemum**, Gerbera Daisy**|
|Carbon Monoxide (CO)||
Low concentrations: fatigue, chest pain.
Higher concentrations: impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Can cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving home. Fatal at very high concentrations.
Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline-powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke.
Click here for information on how to avoid CO poisoning.
|Formaldehyde||Irritated eyes, nose, throat, headaches, contact dermatitis, and others||Room deodorizers, carpets/carpet backing, permanent press clothing/fabric, foam insulation, plywood, pressed wood products, plastic grocery bags, wax paper, facial tissue, paper towels, water repellants, adhesive binders in floor coverings, cigarette smoke, natural gas, kerosene, new furniture made from pressed wood, resin-based particle boards, fiberboards, cabinets, countertops||Boston Fern, Aloe Vera, Chrysanthemum**, Rubber Plants, Gerber Daisy**, Date Palm, Bamboo Palm, Azalea, Spider Plant, Golden Pothos, Dracaena Massangeana, Snake Plant, Philodendron aka Sweetheart Plant, Heart-leaf Philodendron, Parlor Ivy|
|Lead||Lead may cause irreversible neurological damage as well as renal disease, cardiovascular effects, and reproductive toxicity.||Paint (click on link for non-toxic alternatives), Water, Candles||
Click here for information on lead in your environment.
|Mold & Mildew||Irritations of eye, nose, throat, and lungs; skin infections; respiratory problems, death.||Air Conditioner, Humidifier, Heat Ducts, Cabinets||Eliminate Mold / Mildew. Click here to find out how.|
|Nitrogen Dioxide||Eye, nose, and throat irritation. Impaired lung function and increased respiratory infections.||Wood-burning Stove & Fireplace Smoke|
|Petroleum-based chemicals, foams, plastics, and flame retardants||
Common petroleum-based chemicals have been clearly shown to have the ability to weaken or damage the immune and nervous systems.
Autoimmune disorders have also been linked with exposure to petroleum-based chemicals and have been found to be the underlying etiology of many common health problems today (soft tissue damage, arthritis, etc).
Bed Mattresses / Bedding: People can become ill by repeated and continuous exposure to the low level of chemicals continuously emitted during the sleep process. The situation is dramatically compounded by the fact that sleeping on a bed (or chemically manufactured pillow) places the individual in extremely close proximity to the chemical source (inches compared to feet for most other chemical exposures). This direct contact means that concentrations of chemicals are many, many times higher than they would be if the source was at a greater distance, thereby becoming less harmful because of dilution.
Fabric softeners, Clorox, and very strong chemical based fragrances in some detergents i.e. GAIN.
Replace bedding/mattresses with untreated natural materials. See Organic Mattress Store.
Natural / Untreated Rubber (Latex) Mattresses, for example, are excellent choices.
Used natural/non-toxic detergents (i.e., Seventh Generation or ECOS)
|Radon Gas||Radon is a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America and claims about 20,000 lives annually. (EPA Website)||Radon is a radioactive gas given off by soil or rock with trace amounts of uranium or radium -- elements that decay. The major sources of radon come from the soil surrounding the house. The gas can enter through cracks in the foundation floor and walls, drains, sumps, joints or other openings. It can even be transported through water.||
Click here for information on how to avoid Radon poisoning.
|Contaminated Water||Allergies, lead poisoning, bacterial and parasite infections (Giardia)||Click here for information on to check on the water quality in your area and how to improve it.|
|Tobacco Smoke||Long-term exposure to tobacco increases your risk for lung cancer, respiratory infections, other lung problems, and possibly heart disease.||Smoking.||Don't allow tobacco smoke in your home.|
|Thrichloro-ethylene||Potential for liver damage||Found in dry cleaning and in printing inks, paints, varnishes, lacquers, and adhesives||Peace Lily*, Dracaena Janet Craig, Dracaena Warnecki, Dracaena Marginata, Chrysanthemum**|
|Xylene||Affects the brain; headaches, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion, balance; skin / eye / nose / throat irritation; difficulty breathing; lung problems; delayed reaction time; memory difficulties; stomach discomfort; possibly changes in the liver and kidneys; unconsciousness; death||Solvent in paints and varnishes, used in the printing, rubber, and leather industries; certain types of pens, writing and drawing instruments, bingo dabbers and art supplies||Areca palm, Chrysalidocarpus, Lutescens, Dwarf date palm, Phoenix roebelenii, Bamboo palm, and others|
Ref.: Virginia.gov and EPA.gov (adapted and added to)
**If you are sensitive to pollen, avoid chrysanthemum and daisy arrangements as they are ragweed relatives.
Environmental Hazards Contributing to "Sick Building Syndromes" & How To Eliminate Them:
We tend to spend most of our lives in tightly sealed indoor environments. If fresh air can't enter the house, it gets filled with internal pollutants, such as harmful fumes caused by paints (click on link for non-toxic alternatives), cleaning products, deodorizers and wood smoke. Even our furnishings, carpeting, and clothing can emit dangerous pollutants.
Newly introduced harmful chemicals, especially in carpet, can easily be detected by the odor they give off. They smell "new." Open up a cupboard door and smell. If it smells "funny," formaldehyde may be present. If you see discolored walls, it may be mold.
One's senses aren't always reliable, so if you're unsure, have the home professionally tested. If you're thinking of buying a house, consider hiring an inspector who is experienced and will look for signs of possible indoor pollutants.
Below is a list of common indoor pollutants and tips for reducing / eliminating them.
- Eliminate Mold / Mildew: Water-damaged materials and lack of ventilation frequently results in the growth of molds and other organisms that can cause allergies and other illnesses, and can also damage the structure of your house.
- Fix leaks and moisture problems
- In rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms where humidity is high, proper ventilation is essential.
- Run the bathroom vent fan when showering to discourage mold growth.
- Also, check the attic and under floors for proper air circulation. If you have a humidity problem upstairs, it probably means the attic or roof space needs more ventilation.
- Clean the humidifier and air conditioning drain pans.
- Don't use a humidifier unless you follow the manufacturer's instructions. If you do use a humidifier, make sure to fill it with distilled or demineralized water.
- Keep gutters clean to avoid moisture from penetrating. e
- Stengler Medical Mystery: Molt-induced Sick House Syndrome
- Keep pets out of the bedroom , wrap your mattresses and pillows in allergy-proof covers.
- Use a Hepa filtration system to clean the air.
- Introduce fresh air into the home several times a day.
- Eliminate dust mites. Dust mites thrive in bedding, for instance, and dusting and vacuuming won't get rid of them. *Wash bedding materials frequently in hot water to reduce dust mites. Natural latex mattresses are naturally resilient to dust mites and make a healthful choice for allergy sufferers, or in fact for anyone wishing to minimize their exposure to dust mites. Do make sure that the latex mattress is made from natural latex (derived from the Rubber Tree). There are artificial versions available that may emit harmful chemicals
Researchers discovered that the fibers are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs and can scar lung tissue, cause lung cancer and mesothelioma - a fairly uncommon cancer of the lining of the lung or abdominal cavity.
- Asbestos: If your home was built between 1920 and 1978, you may be exposed to asbestos, which was at that commonly used as roofing and floor materials, wall and pipe insulation, heating equipment and acoustic insulation.
- If you have household materials made with asbestos, inspect them.
- If the materials are damaged or exposed, or you plan to do some renovations, call in an asbestos removal professional. Only specially trained and licensed contractors should remove asbestos.
- For more information, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-CPSC.
- Harmful chemicals are most commonly found in carpet, paint (click on link for non-toxic paint alternatives) and fabric. In carpet, they can be detected by that new smell, for instance. It is recommended to air out new carpet, drapes and furniture before bringing them inside.
- Heaters / Stoves may emit harmful combustion gases, such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. They can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory illnesses, or even death. The following is recommended:
- Do not use unvented combustion appliances (such as portable kerosene heaters) indoors
- Use an exhaust hood over a gas stove
- Clean and maintain your chimneys and furnace every year, making sure that they are properly vented.
- Regularly clean and tune all fuel-burning appliances and fireplaces.
- Install a carbon monoxide monitor
- Food poisoning. Food must be properly prepared and stored to prevent food poisoning.
- Keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees F.
- Refrigerate cooked, perishable food as soon as possible.
- Wash cutting boards with soap and hot water after each use. (Please refer to article on the negative effects of anti-bacterial soaps)
- Don't allow raw meat, poultry, or fish to come into contact with food that will not be well cooked.
- Don't eat raw or undercooked eggs.
- Lead can be found in paint, water and various household items. Lead exposure can cause severe anemia, permanent brain damage and other problems. According to a recent nationwide survey, 900,000 American children aged one to five have blood lead levels higher than the Center for Disease Control's level of concern (Source: Natural Resources Defense Council - http://www.nrdc.org). Particularly vulnerable are infants, small children and pregnant women.
- If you live in or are planning to buy a house built before 1978 have an inspector check it.
- If you discover lead in your home, consider covering over paint with wallpaper, paneling or a thick coat of new paint (make sure it is non-toxic paint!). Be careful about preparing the surface, however, scraping off loose chips or sanding can stir up the lead dust.
- Don't dry-vacuum lead dust -- it will just stir it up. Use an HEPA vacuum cleaner, which has an ultra-fine filter that traps tiny dust particles.
- If you have a young child at home who is at risk for lead exposure, talk to your physician about having the child's blood tested for lead levels.
- For more information, call the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-LEAD
- Is there Lead in Your Drinking Water? Click here for tips to find out and reduce lead exposure from your tab water.
- Tobacco smoke: Long-term exposure to tobacco increases your risk for lung cancer, respiratory infections, other lung problems, and possibly heart disease.
- Don't allow tobacco smoke in your home.
- Radon: Radon is a radioactive gas given off by soil or rock with trace amounts of uranium or radium -- elements that decay. Radon is odorless and invisible and exposure to it can increase the risk of lung cancer. The major sources of radon come from the soil surrounding the house. The gas can enter through cracks in the foundation floor and walls, drains, sumps, joints or other openings. It can even be transported through water.
- Radon tests are not expensive. For more information, call the National Radon Hotline at (800) SOS-RADON. .
- If high levels are found, hire a state-certified or EPA-certified contractor to fix the problem.
- It is recommended to repair cracks in basement/foundation
- Water pollution: You can check the water quality in your area by calling the EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 246-4791. If you use a private well, test your water every year for nitrates and bacteria. Depending on where you live, you may also want to test for pesticides, organic chemicals or radon.
- Install Water Filtration Systems and Shower filters.
- Is there Lead in Your Drinking Water? Click here for tips to find out and reduce lead exposure from your tab water.
- Carbon Monoxide (CO) : At low concentrations may case fatigue and chest pain. In higher concentrations, you may experience impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Can cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving home. Fatal at very high concentrations.
- Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
- Use vented space heaters
- Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
- Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
- Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
- Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
- Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
Information contained on this website is provided as general reference only. For application to specific circumstances, professional advice should be sought.
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