Today’s homes in Sarasota, Florida, are well-sealed to conserve energy. While you might manage your home heating and cooling bills, you may not feel the same about managing indoor air pollutants. Find out how you can reduce your exposure to biological and chemical pollutants with some housekeeping and preventive strategies that won’t sacrifice your family’s comfort.
Biological vs. Chemical Pollutants
Biological pollutants cover a broad range of matter produced by living organisms, including animals, bacteria, fungi and plants. Chemical pollutants encompass a host of artificial inorganic compounds, products and gases.
Generally, homes can contain a mix of biological and chemical pollutants, including some that you may not even identify. Mold, insects, pollen, dust mites and animal dander are all common biological pollutants. They can enter your home’s HVAC system from sources inside and outside your home.
Chemical pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), radon, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, pesticides, asbestos and lead. You can find these elements in many products inside your home, including items you use or materials that make up your home’s construction.
Learning how to recognize and reduce your exposure to both biological and chemical pollutants requires understanding. You need to know the sources of these pollutants and findi ways to best treat them. That’s how you’ll prevent problems that can impact your health, comfort and well-being.
Biological Pollutants: Mold
Mold is a common name for species of fungi that break down organic material. Mold thrives in damp, humid environments, but it can grow on almost any household surface, including carpets, walls and insulation. Besides being an eyesore, mold can contribute to respiratory ailments, asthma and allergies.
As soon as you notice mold on surfaces, treat it immediately before it has time to spread. A solution containing 1 part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water is effective at treating mold.
To prevent mold from forming in the first place, control moisture and ventilate your home. Wipe surfaces regularly, especially in bathrooms. Operate a dehumidifier in your home to keep humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent.
Biological Pollutants: Insects
Insects such as cockroaches and flies can cause allergic reactions and irritations in people who are sensitive to insect droppings. Cockroaches, in particular, are especially problematic in urban areas and parts of the southern United States.
To combat insect problems, wash dishes and store foods in airtight plastic containers. Like mold, roaches prefer damp environments, so controlling humidity levels by repairing leaky plumbing fixtures in your home can help combat them. Use nontoxic bait traps and boric acid, available in hardware stores, instead of harmful chemical pesticides to rid them from your living spaces.
Biological Pollutants: Pollen
Smaller than the width of a human hair, pollen is a fine powder-like material that flowering plants produce. Common sources of pollen include weeds, trees and grasses.
During high pollen seasons, close windows, dust and vacuum regularly, and keep the air filters in your HVAC system clean.
Biological Pollutants: Dust Mites
Dust itself generally isn’t the cause of allergies. It’s the microscopic creatures called dust mites themselves and the residues they leave behind in their shed skin and droppings that are the problems.
Dust mites, which can cause asthma and respiratory irritations, thrive in high humidity and places where animal and human dander exists. This includes bedding, carpets and upholstered furniture.
To reduce your exposure to dust mites, enclose mattresses and pillows in protective sheets. Launder and wash bedding often. Keep home humidity levels in check to discourage the mites from breeding, and be sure to clean and vacuum floor surfaces weekly.
Biological Pollutants: Animal Dander
Tiny flakes of feathers, hair, and skin from pets such as birds, cats, and dogs can trigger asthma and respiratory irritations. To curb problems with pet dander, discourage your animals from climbing onto upholstered furniture or beds. Bath and groom your pets regularly, and clean your home with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter.
Chemical Pollutants: VOCs
Many household products release VOCs after they’re manufactured. These VOCs can include a range of chemicals that can cause both long- and short-term health effects. Common VOC-carrying products include paints and finishes, glues and adhesives, air fresheners, and dry-cleaning chemicals.
To reduce your exposure to VOCs, follow manufacturers’ instructions for product storage and usage. Always ensure proper air circulation and ventilation when using products such as paint strippers that contain solvents.
Chemical Pollutants: Radon
Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soils, rocks, and water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the country after smoking. Radon can enter homes through cracks in foundations, floor and wall joints, and water supplies.
You can buy home test kits at hardware stores to check for radon levels in your home. Sealing cracks and installing an exhaust system that can draw radon-contaminated air from under your home’s foundation and release it through an exhaust pipe in the roof are two ways of addressing radon.
Chemical Pollutants: Formaldehyde
You can find formaldehyde in products such as home-building materials and household products. The most common sources of formaldehyde are pressed-wood materials that contain adhesives with urea-formaldehyde resins, particleboard, hardwood plywood paneling, and fiberboard.
Formaldehyde is a known human cancer-causing agent. One way to limit your exposure to it is to check with manufacturers to confirm that the products you buy are free from formaldehyde. Additionally, use air conditioners and dehumidifiers in your home to control humidity levels and increase the ventilation in your home after you add new home furnishings.
Chemical Pollutants: Carbon Monoxide
As a colorless, odorless gas, carbon monoxide is deadly in high concentrations. Common sources of carbon monoxide in the home include gas heaters, gas ranges, fireplaces, gasoline-powered equipment, tobacco smoke, and automobile exhaust from vehicles in enclosed garages.
Symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide include fatigue, confusion, and nausea. If you think you or your family members were exposed to carbon monoxide, seek medical attention immediately.
To prevent exposure to carbon monoxide, install a carbon-monoxide detector on each floor of your home. Reduce your exposure by avoiding products that have methylene chloride (which becomes carbon monoxide when it enters the body). Don’t let your car or lawn mower idle in your garage.
Chemical Pollutants: Pesticides
Products with pesticides include insect repellents and cleaning products labeled as disinfectants. Exposure to pesticides can result in symptoms such as headaches, muscle weakness, and nausea. You can reduce the ways you come into contact with pesticides by carefully selecting your pest-control methods and using non-chemical pest eradication methods when possible.
Chemical Pollutants: Asbestos
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was commonly used in manufacturing insulation, fireproofing, some types of paints, and ceiling and floor tiles. When inhaled, asbestos particles work their way into the lungs and can cause lung diseases and cancer. If you have an older home, chances are good that asbestos may be present in your home’s building materials. Consult with a licensed asbestos abatement contractor before attempting any home renovation project.
Chemical Pollutants: Lead
Lead exposure can occur in many ways, including through air, drinking water, contaminated dust and deteriorating paint. When inhaled or ingested, lead can cause health problems such as convulsions and death in severe cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that houses built before 1978 are likely to have some lead-based paint in them.
Improperly removing lead-based paint can produce lead dust, which creates extremely hazardous conditions inside your home. Never try to remove lead paint yourself and be sure that you regularly monitor areas around walls, windows, and floors for any signs of chipping, cracking, or peeling paint. Make sure children wash their hands before eating or sleeping and never touch painted surfaces and put their fingers into their mouths.
Getting an indoor air quality assessment of your home is one way you can help identify and address issues with indoor air pollutants. Our Custom Air & Plumbing technicians can perform an indoor air quality test of your home and help you find ways to correct issues that may impact your home’s comfort. To learn more or to schedule an indoor air quality assessment, call us at (866) 819-0992.
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