Indoor Air Quality + Your Health

Air pollution is a familiar topic for most of us who live in Houston and surrounding areas. Despite recent improvements in Houston's air quality, we are still noncompliant with current ozone recommendations due to our close proximity to the petrochemical industry along the coast and a warm climate that encourages ozone production. However, awareness is growing of the role that indoor air pollution has on our health- especially when it comes to our children. Children are at a greater risk for harm than adults because their lungs are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the number of American children and teenagers with respiratory and skin allergies has continually increased since 1999, and asthma alone accounts for 14 million lost school days annually. While there are multiple causes of allergies and asthma, allergens in the indoor environment are a prominent culprit.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental risks to public health, and that indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air.  Say what?  I was a little shocked to hear this.

Indoor air pollution can be due to a variety of causes. The release of Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, from furniture, rugs, paint, building materials, vinyl shower curtains, cleaning supplies, and tempurpedic mattresses, is one prominent source.  Synthetic fragrances in trash bags, dish soaps, cosmetics, candles, and air fresheners emit VOCs as well.  One study found that the average American home contains over 500 chemicals, 120 of which were unidentifiable by the researchers.  Yikes!  The health effects of indoor air contaminants range from pesky allergic responses like sneezing and nasal stuffiness to asthma and more severe effects from long-term exposure like certain cancers.

The good news is that there are simple ways to clean up the air in your home.  Here are a couple of tips that you can implement today:

  • Prevention- choose products that are known to be allergen-friendly and low in VOCs.
  • Ventilate your home by opening windows, even for a few minutes a day, on moderate to low ozone days.  It’s the second best solution after prevention. You can monitor outdoor ozone levels in the Houston area here.
  • Use exhaust fans when cooking and bathing.
  • Diffuse essential oils like lemon, white fir, or On Guard. I use both doTerra and Young Living Essential Oils. 
  • Grow indoor plants (this is my favorite one!), which absorb air impurities.  Areca palm, lady palm, bamboo palm, rubber plant, and Boston fern are effective at filtering the air.
  • Monitor dust levels in your home and clean regularly with natural, non-toxic cleaners.
  • Vacuum at least twice a week using a HEPA filter, and/or mop floors.
  • Consider a free-standing HEPA air purifier, especially if anyone in your family has respiratory allergies or asthma.
  • Check the air in your home.  Test for radon and keep carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in good condition.

Before purchasing a product to bring into your home, consider these three questions:

  1. What is the source of this product (is it plastic or pressed wood, does it have an odor)?
  2. Is there a cleaner version of this product that I can find?
  3. Do I really need this product?

For More Information:

The Inside Story:  A Guide to Indoor Air Quality

Healthy Child, Healthy World

Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning