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Protect Your Health By Reducing Indoor Air Pollution

The American Lung Association (ALA) recently released the "State of the Air 2010" report card on air quality, ranking cities most affected by outdoor air pollution (the top six are in California—Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Bakersfield, Visalia-Porterville, Fresno-Madera, Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City and Hanford-Corcoran). However, indoor levels of some pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified indoor air pollution as one of the top five urgent environmental risks to public health, though a survey commissioned by 3M Company, makers of Filtrete filters, revealed that Americans aren't aware of this. The survey identified popular misconceptions:

  • Three out of four homeowners believe the air outside their home is more polluted than the air inside their home.
  • More than 50 percent of homeowners are not concerned about indoor air pollution while nearly 65 percent are concerned about outdoor air pollution.

"Many people don’t realize that their home can be a breeding ground for allergens, such as pollen, dust mite debris, mold spores and other particles that may be airborne," says Neil Schachter, MD, past president of the American Lung Association of the City of New York and author of Life and Breath. "Other things in the air, such as chemicals from everyday household items like furniture, carpeting, paints and cleaning products, can also contribute to poor indoor air quality. For people who are sensitive to these types of things, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue may result. A 'home health check-up' combined with some simple changes can help make your home a healthier place to live."

The following tips from Dr. Schachter show you how to make simple changes to help improve your indoor air quality and to help avoid breathing problems, especially for those with allergies and asthma:

1. Avoid cleaning products with ammonia and chlorine. Some household chemicals may be irritants to the respiratory tract in people who are sensitive to these chemicals. They can cause watery eyes and sore throats and even can trigger coughing and shortness of breath. Choose milder yet effective cleaning aids like those that use baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and citrus oils.

2. Lay area rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpeting. Wall-to-wall carpeting can attract and hold indoor dirt, pollen, pet hair and mold spores and many contain chemicals. Vacuuming can remove some surface dirt, but often the vacuum can actually push pollutants deeper into carpet fibers. Area rugs are best since they can be picked up and cleaned thoroughly to remove potential irritants and allergens.

3. Use high performance air filters. Use a high performance filter, like the Filtrete Elite Allergen Reduction Filter from 3M, to help capture particles such as pollen, smoke, dust mite debris and pet dander from the air that passes through the filter. Be sure to change your filter at the start of every season.

4. Turn up the air conditioning. Air conditioners not only cool the air in your home, they can also help reduce humidity levels. During the warm months of the year, turn up the air conditioner to help keep humidity levels lower, which can help keep mold from growing.

5. Turn off the humidifier. Room air humidifiers are moisture-generating sources that can spread bacteria, mold spores and chemical deposits into the air in your home. Keep relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent to help prevent mold growth.

6. Leave shoes outside. Avoid bringing outdoor pollutants indoors by removing your shoes before entering the home. Wearing shoes indoors can track particles that can become airborne, including animal dander, mold spores, pollen and bacteria, all of which can trigger allergy or asthma reactions.