Indoor Air Quality - Household Toxins


The awareness of the danger in our home environment is a recent discovery. Some of the terms that have appeared in recent literature are "household toxins" and "indoor air pollution" and "sick building syndrome".

A recent research indicated the cancer rate for women who work at home or are home makers is over 50% higher than for women who go out to work and indoor air pollution and chemical concentrations in our homes is a major contributor.

Did you know that the air in your home can actually be more toxic than the air outside. Other research has shown the readings of air pollution in an industrial city doesn't even come close to the contaminants and stale air in our homes.

The quality of our indoor air is affected by more than just environmental toxins and household chemicals. The need for energy conservation with air tight houses prevents fresh air from regularly entering the house in a natural way. The moisture and stale air in an energy efficient home causes several hazards including condensation that can contribute to mold one of the major causes of respiratory problems.

The need for clean air in our homes should not be underestimated. Pakistani women spend an average of 95% of their time inside, and our homes can contain many substances that may be hazardous to our health.
Indoor air pollutants range from minor irritants such as dust and animal dander, to major irritants such as molds, burned food particles evaporated during cooking, and chemical vapors that may be emitted from building materials and furnishings.
One in ten Pakistanis suffer from some type of lung disease (asthma, emphysema, lung cancer) and many more Pakistanis are affected by allergies. The air we breathe is a factor in all these conditions, therefore, it is vital that we implement the necessary steps to ensure we have the highest level of indoor air quality.

Some practical tips to improve indoor air quality

  • Stop smoking in the house
  • Ensure regular maintenance of the ventilation
  • Reduce moisture in the home by repairing roof and foundation cracks
  • Grade soil to allow water to flow away from the house
  • Dehumidify the bathrooms and kitchens
  • Reduce the amount of stored materials in the house
  • Choose building and renovating materials with low levels of chemical emissions
  • Avoid the use of pesticides

Air pollutants and toxins deplete our immune system by continually creating a stressful environment in our bodies this can contribute to illness and fatigue. Many symptoms that some people have that others assume are imagined, both physical and psychological, have been associated with certain environmental conditions including the air quality in our homes. Of course at greatest risk are children, the elderly, and those who are already ill. Ironically these same people spend most of their time at home.

Most people are unaware that regular consumer products that we all use every day have toxins and chemicals that are unregulated and can be extremely harmful to our home environment especially children and the elderly as well as those who's immune system is already compromised.

Many of these ingredients would require special handling if used in industry; a chemical laboratory; or in any workplace. The fact is that there are strict rules and regulations required which protect workers who may use these same substances. The rules for these chemicals in the industrial environment requires the workers to use protective equipment or clothing even gloves and masks and ensure adequate ventilation and this is when using some of the very same ingredients found in the products used in our home every day.

When we use these same substances at home we do so with no protection at all and no knowledge of the danger and with no consideration for ventilation or protection. Have you ever used that famous Tile Cleaner and had to hold your nose and leave the bathroom to breathe. What about using bleach and toilet cleaner do we pay attention even to some of the obvious warnings

Causes of Indoor air Pollution

There are a variety of sources of indoor air pollution; a major contributor is the reduction of fresh air entering today's energy efficient homes causing negative air pressure inside the home resulting in increased levels of pollutants known to cause serious health problems.

Inefficient Burnning of Fuels

A house that is ENERGY TIGHT aggravates all of the above problems and creates an additional issue negative air pressure, a dangerous situation inside the house. Air pressure within a home is never stable and can fluctuate between being even, to dangerously negative. Negative air pressure causes fuel burning appliances to become starved for air and burn inefficiently creating some of the more common sources of pollution such as smoke and flue gases that can be given off by these fuel burning appliances.
A gas appliance with yellow flame is a good indicator that air and oxygen is lacking. The extreme case of this situation can produce carbon monoxide emissions from your fuel burning appliances.

Winter Heating and Summer Air Conditioning

With winter heating and summer air conditioning we almost never totally air out the house. This means the air circulating in your home is extremely stale and probably toxic and polluted. Contributing to poor air quality is a phenomenon called the stack effect and negative air pressure in the home allowing many of the household chemicals, substances, and outgassing from furnishings carpet and flooring to remain in the environment and can cause serious reactions.

Other Causes

Other common pollutants include winter condensation, home cleaning products, paints, glues, pets, carpets, furniture, paneling, and particle board, etc. Each of these pollutants may not be hazardous by itself but link a few together and you begin to see that you are living in a soup of very unhealthy air.

While certain people may be more sensitive than others, and some substances may bring on reactions only after many years of repeated exposure or only in a small percentage of the population, the build up of chemicals in the home from the lack of fresh air and adequate ventilation in the interest of energy conservation can put everyone at risk especially our children. Children are also more vulnerable to this threat because many of them sometimes lead more sedentary lifestyles than ever before they are spending a lot more time indoors playing video games and watching TV.

How do toxins enter our body?

There are basically three ways that toxins can enter the body:

  • by swallowing
  • by breathing
  • by contact with the skin or eyes

When most people hear about a chemical poisoning, they usually think industry not their home. Every year up to ten million household poisonings are reported, the immediate result of accidental ingestion of cleaning, pesticide, personal care and other common household products.

Many of these poisonings are fatal, and most of the victims are children. Some of the personal care products we put on our skin and hair can create possible toxic exposures through skin absorption. These include but are not limited to soaps, lotions, creams, cosmetics, shampoos, deodorants, and hair coloring products.

In 1989 a U.S. House Subcommittee asked the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to analyzes approximately 2,983 chemicals used in our home products; 884 were found to be toxic. Of these, 778 can cause acute toxicity, 146 can cause tumors, 218 can cause reproductive complications, 314 can cause biological mutation, and 376 can cause skin and eye irritations. Personal and home care products should promote hygiene health and beauty... not make us sick.

But... in actuality, most poisonings happen slowly, over a long period of time by gradual skin absorption or by "daily exposure in the air we breathe" in a way that we don't even notice until our energy levels start to deplete or unknown feelings of ill health start to plague us.
Today many people are aware of the fact that outdoor air quality can include toxins but are sometimes surprised to learn that indoor air can be much worse to breathe than outdoor air.
Is your home environment slowly poisoning your family in their own home causing energy depletion, allergies and other chronic conditions. According to the Environment Protection Association (EPA), most homes have airborne concentrations and hazardous chemicals that are two to five times higher indoors than outdoors. In one five year study, the EPA reported that a number of homes had chemical levels that were seventy times higher inside than out doors.


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