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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

3 Shocking Facts About the Air in Your Home

by Christopher Gavigan

We breathe more than we eat. We breathe more than we drink. We are breathing all the time, but how often do you stop to think about what exactly you are breathing? Probably lot more than how often you consider what else you’re putting in your body. Yet, it’s no less important, especially for young children who breathe faster than adults – inhaling 50% more air per pound of body weight.

Air pollution is obvious when you’re caught in a plume of fumes from a diesel truck or when the wind blows smoke in your face from a camp fire or grill, but even when you can’t see the air, it can still be heavily contaminated. Even more importantly, the worst air is generally inside, where most people spend roughly 90% of their time.

Here are 3 shocking facts that will hopefully give you pause to stop and consider every breath you take.

1. The indoor air in the typical American home contains over 500 chemicals. According to a study published in April 2009:

  • 586 individual chemicals were identified in the air of 52 homes. The pesticides diazinon and chlorpyrifos were found in the greatest amounts and both were found in all of the homes tested.
  • Twenty-seven different organochlorine pesticides were detected. p,p’-DDE, a breakdown product of the now banned pesticide DDT, was detected in more than 90 percent of homes.
  • Amounts of PCBs were generally low but were found in more than half the houses. They were detected in 56 percent of the 52 homes studied.
  • Phthalate chemicals were found at very large concentrations in indoor air.

Researchers were not able to identify at least 120 of the chemicals. I repeat, researchers were not able to identify at least 120 of the chemicals! (Sorry for the repetition, it’s just stunning to me that our regulatory system is so flawed that experienced scientists are unable to identify so many chemicals that we are likely exposed to from common household products every day.) Many of these unidentified chemicals had structures similar to fragrance compounds. Fragrances made up the major chemical component of the collected chemicals.

2. The breathing zone of a baby (less than 2 feet above ground) can be more contaminated than an adults (4-6 feet) because many contaminants weigh more than air (mercury, pesticides, etc) (links to a PDF file). For example, in one study, the pesticide Chlorpyrifos was found to be nearly four times more concentrated at about 5-10 inches from the floor compared with the air 2 feet or more above the floor in a room with a window open for ventilation.

3. Even though indoor air is typically 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor and we spend about 90% of our time indoors, there have been few studies documenting the health effects of indoor air and there are no regulations as there are for outdoor air or even workplace air. According to an article in the San Francisco Gate: “The U.S. General Accounting Office has called indoor air pollution “one of the most serious environmental risks to human health,” yet no agency has authority to control pollutants in indoor air.” There are a variety of regulations aimed at limiting outdoor air pollution – and granted, it would be difficult to impossible to have the same types of rules in place for the average home, but at the very least, there could be regulations regarding how many VOCs a product can emit.

No two homes have exactly the same air quality issues and there’s no way to eliminate them all, but you can do many things to reduce your exposure to the worst culprits. Check out the ABCs of Healthier Indoor Air to get started today.

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Posted by: Christopher Gavigan at 8:07 am

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