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SURVIVE!A Family Guide to Thriving in a Toxic World
By Sharyn Wynters Burton Goldberg
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Sharyn Wynters & Burton Goldberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneINDOOR AIR POLLUTION
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And what you can do about it
We were never intended to live in a perfect world. Our bodies have been granted the innate wisdom and the intelligence to deal with everything in our environment. Ultimately, the key is a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Helping you to maintain and/or to restore health on each of these levels is one of the goals of this book. With that in mind, it is also important to understand that we no longer live in a natural world. Much of what we find in our surroundings is synthetic, and many of the synthetic substances we have createdcontainchemicalsandemitgasesthatareunnaturalandharmfultoour health. Maintaining balance is difficult in a toxic world-but not impossible.
Air pollution is usually associated with outdoor pollution-caused by automobiles and industrial wastes. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution is an even greater concern. In 1990, The EPA classified indoor air quality as a high-priority public health risk, two to five times worse than outside air pollution. Over the last twenty years, builders have worked to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. These efforts have resulted in "tight buildings" that seal in air contaminants. The concentrated presence of these contaminants, combined with the fact that most of us spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, can cause substantial exposure to pollutants.
The immediate effects of indoor air pollution may show up as eye, nose, and throat irritation and are usually short term. Other, more serious health effects may show up after years of exposure. Thus, there is a need to improve indoor air quality in as many ways as possible-even if symptoms are not present. There are plenty of things you can do to improve the quality of the air you breathe indoors. The most important thing is to eliminate the sources of pollutants. This includes carefully selecting the cleaning agents and other chemicals you use in your home; maintaining/venting appliances properly; and purchasing clothing, carpets, and furniture that do not emit volatile chemicals. Learning to eliminate the sources of indoor pollutants (even if you do this over a period of time) will offer you the greatest satisfaction and the greatest degree of control over your indoor breathing environment. Each time you purchase a cleaning agent or a home furnishing, make the choice with your health in mind.
Understanding the substances that influence indoor air quality is a key to improving the environment. This chapter identifies the major indoor air pollutants and their known sources. It also includes information on air-cleaning devices and other ways for improving the quality of the air in your home. Indoor air pollutants fall into the following categories:
Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) contains more than four thousand chemical compounds, approximately forty of which are carcinogens (cancer causing) or suspected carcinogens. Secondhand smoke is classified as a Group A carcinogen-the classification for which there is no safe level of exposure. Secondhand smoke can cause immediate adverse effects: eye irritation, throat irritation, coughing, chest discomfort, and difficulty breathing. The effects of even brief exposure (minutes to hours) to secondhand smoke are nearly as severe as they are for chronic smokers. Long-term exposure to ETS is a proven cause of lung cancer.
Secondhand smoke is especially harmful for children. It causes between one hundred fifty thousand and three hundred thousand lower respiratory tract infections each year for children younger than eighteen months old. Children subjected to ETS are also more prone to ear infections and asthma. Secondhand smoke may cause thousands of nonasthmatic children to develop asthma each year. Those already diagnosed are at even greater risk. Even though children and the elderly are the most susceptible, everyone who is exposed to secondhand smoke must bear the consequences.
The only effective way to eliminate ETS is to eliminate the smoke. Supporting a smoker's attempts to quit is in everyone's interest-just be careful not to use shame or guilt. These methods produce toxins of another nature, and the additional stress may truly cause more harm than good. Part of being able to thrive in a toxic world is being aware of how our actions affect the whole. As each individual acknowledges his/her contribution and seeks to make it positive rather than negative, we can make giant strides as members of the human race and enhance our quality of living (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). For the smoker and the nonsmoker, mutual understanding is more important than the smoke. Air purifiers may reduce secondhand smoke to a limited degree, but no air filtration or purification system can completely eliminate all the harmful constituents of secondhand smoke-and no device can "clear the air" if someone feels forced to quit smoking before they are ready. As a courtesy, smokers may be asked to smoke outside.
Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen, and Sulfur Dioxides
Carbon monoxide and other pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, are released into the indoor environment by oil and kerosene heaters; by unvented gas stoves and ovens; and by back-drafting or malfunctioning gas furnaces, dryers, and water heaters. These pollutants can cause nausea, headaches, fatigue, impaired mental functioning, respiratory problems, and death. Since carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic flu symptoms, whole families that experience symptoms at the start of the heating season should be alerted. Annual inspections and cleaning will reduce pollution and save energy.
Oil and kerosene heaters are never a good option (except in emergencies) to supply supplemental heat in a home-they emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide gases that are not vented to the outdoors. Oil and kerosene heaters also create a serious fire hazard, and they are not energy efficient. Wood stoves and fireplaces are also less desirable (especially within city limits). In many areas, fireplace fires are restricted because they add to the already heavy burden of outdoor air pollution. For small areas, electric space heaters are much better alternatives. The new, far infrared heaters combine safety (they remain cool to the touch) with high efficiency and reduced heating costs. These are perfect for additional warmth in confined areas where small children are present (see sources).
One of the smartest things you can do is to install a carbon monoxide detector. These small devices are inexpensive (usually between $30 and $50). They sound an alarm when levels of carbon monoxide reach unsafe levels. Since nitrogen and sulfur oxides are usually produced at the same time carbon monoxide is produced, carbon monoxide detectors can also indicate the presence of nitrogen and sulfur oxides. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of a home. At a minimum, a single detector should be placed on each sleeping level, with an additional detector in the area of any major gas-burning appliance, such as a furnace or water heater. In general, carbon monoxide detectors should be placed high (near the ceiling) for the most effective use (see sources).
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS) (Cleaning Agents, Formaldehyde, Pesticides, Paint, etc.)
Numerous studies conducted over the last twenty years have shown measurable levels of more than a hundred known carcinogens circulating in the air of modern homes and offices. Many of these compounds are referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Volatile means that a compound will vaporize, or become a gas, at room temperature. At higher temperatures or in humid environments, these compounds vaporize more rapidly. VOCs are emitted from cleaning agents, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, fabric additives, treated wood, paints, solvents, hobby supplies, and indoor pesticides. Even carpeting and furniture contains volatile compounds that release formaldehyde and other VOCs for months or years (called outgassing). Outgassing has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, and it is believed to be a possible cause of cancer and other problems in humans. Breathing VOCs is widely known to cause headaches; eye, nose, and throat irritation; loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
Adequate ventilation is the easiest and most effective way to maintain air quality when VOCs are present. This is particularly important when engaging in activities that generate these types of pollutants. Make sure solvents and paints are well sealed and stored outside the living area. Many air cleaning devices will remove VOCs (see sources).
Household cleaning agents are the number one source of toxins in the home-the vast majority of cleaners contain not one, but several VOCs. Most mainstream cleaning products contain petroleum-based surfactants and/ or solvents that emit volatile gases, which have been linked to reproductive disorders, neurological problems, and cancer. Many household cleaners have not been thoroughly tested for their impact on human health, nor have they been tested for their impact on the environment. Chapter 6 is entirely devoted to a discussion of cleaning agents. It includes several home-made as well as eco-friendly alternatives. Today there are many available choices, so there is no need to use a cleaning agent that emits VOCs. The chemicals listed below are common VOCs in cleaning agents and other household products.
Acetone-Acetone is a solvent found in dishwashing detergents, glues, paints, lacquer removers, fingernail polish, and fingernail polish remover. It can cause irritation of the nose, throat, lungs, eyes, and skin. Repeated or prolonged exposure is toxic to the central nervous system. It may damage the kidneys, liver, and skin.
Alcohols-The alcohol family (including, butyl, ethyl, methyl, propyl, and isopropyl) includes harsh solvents that cause drying and cracking as well as premature aging of the skin. They also produce toxic fumes that can cause headache, muscle weakness, giddiness, confusion, nausea, and eye, skin, and throat irritation. Ethyl alcohol (also referred to as ethanol or grain alcohol) is not toxic in small amounts, but to be used in other products it must be denatured. The denaturing process is simply the addition of poisonous substances so that the alcohol cannot be consumed-a carryover from the days of prohibition that is still in force today. This means that if a product contains ethanol or ethyl alcohol, it also contains other poisons. These may include acetone, turpentine, and benzene, which can outgas VOCs.
Ammonia-Ammonia is a corrosive gas with a sharp odor. It is used to make household cleaners, fertilizers, fuels, and other chemicals. Low levels of ammonia cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Exposure to more concentrated levels can cause headaches, nausea, and intense burning of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Individuals with respiratory problems may be particularly sensitive to ammonia. Avoid cleaning agents that contain ammonia.
(see Chapter 6: Cleaning Agents)
Benzene-Benzene, also known as Benzol, is a highly toxic solvent used in detergents, paints, styrene, nylon, synthetic fabrics, rubber products, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides. It is a known carcinogen. Once in the body, benzene moves through the blood and can be stored in bone marrow and fatty tissue. Chronic exposure to low levels of benzene causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances, and diseases of the blood system. Immunological and reproductive disorders have also been documented. Despite the fact that benzene was banned as a solvent more than twenty years ago, indoor air may still be contaminated with benzene from products like glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents. It will likely not be listed on a label of ingredients. There are safer cleaning agents and safer paints and varnishes.
(see Chapter 6: Cleaning Agents)
(see Chapter 10: Paint and varnish)
Trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene-Trichloroethylene (TCE), also known as Triclene and Vitran, and perchloroethylene (PCE), also known as tetrachloroethylene, are solvents with a wide variety of industrial uses. Both can be found in spot removers and aerosol sprays. During the use of an aerosol spray, PCE is released by evaporation, and 100 percent is emitted to the air. PCE is also used in the dry cleaning industry as a solvent; dry-cleaned clothes may emit PCE vapors for many months. High concentrations of TCE and PCE (particularly in poorly ventilated areas) can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, and difficulty in speaking and walking. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health considers these chemicals to be potential carcinogens. Reduce or eliminate the use of aerosol sprays. Also limit the purchasing of clothing that must be dry-cleaned. Always wash permanent press fabrics before wearing.
(see Chapter 9: Fabric treatments)
Xylene/toluene-Xylene and toluene are petroleum derivatives. They are used in cleaning agents as well as in paints and in the making of some plastics. These two chemicals are also common constituents in cosmetics-especially fingernail polish. Much research has been conducted on toluene because of its abuse as an inhalant. Chronic exposure has been shown to cause permanent damage to the central nervous system. It has also been linked with hearing and color vision losses. Chronic low-level exposure to toluene causes headaches, confusion, weakness, and loss of appetite. Low-level exposure to xylene is suspected of causing nervous system damage and may lead to delayed growth in children.
(see Chapter 7: Common toxic chemicals in personal care products)
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