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Reduce air pollutants in your home

Cleaner indoor air can improve your health.
Cleaner indoor air can improve your health.
AP photo/IKEA
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Where do you spend most of your time breathing? Indoors. Do you really know what you are breathing in? You think that you're not asthmatic and so it doesn't matter? Think again.

Indoor air is a big part of our personal environment, especially during winter here in Chicago. Indoor air in the typical home can have all sorts of chemicals and particles in the air that can affect your health. Some of these compounds are indeed triggers for asthma and allergies. You don't have asthma? Some of these irritants can affect your nervous system or increase your risk for cancer over the long term.

Indoor air qulaity is a concern for our environmental health. What can you do to improve your air at home? 'Tis the season for top-ten lists, and here are two top-ten lists for better indoor air.

The EPA Top Ten List

The EPA lists their top ten concerns for indoor air: radon, cigarette smoke, mold, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, organic solvents and vapors, formaldehyde, pesticides, asbestos, and lead. That's a list of lovelies that are linked to cancer, asthma, lung disease, brain toxicity, and other health problems. Those are the kinds of compounds that you need to minimize in your home.

My Top Ten List of What to Do at Home to Dodge the EPA Top Ten Concerns

1) Ban smoking in your home. If you smoke, don't. You can reduce risks for a very long list of health problems if you get cigarettes out of your life. If you do only this and nothing else on this list, you will take a huge health leap forward.

2) Open a window a crack, even in winter. This is one time when drafty windows in old houses are a good thing. Super-energy-efficient homes may have a down-side if they are too air tight. Let in some fresh air.

3) Dust your furniture, vacuum your rugs, and wet-mop your floors often. Everyone needs to beware of dust. Dust contains dust mites, but also often contains pesticides and flame retardants.

4) Clean up any mold and mildew. Get out the cleaning supplies and clear your house of mold. For most homes, attack the bathroom, the kitchen, and the basement.

5) Toss the air fresheners. There are interesting mixes of chemicals used to make your home smell nice. But they can contain vapors of chemicals that can affect your health. Try to keep a fresh smell in your home by doing steps 1-4 above.

6) Test for radon, lead, and asbestos. Radon and lead test kits are available at home improvement stores and elsewhere. Residential homes in Chicago can be radon tested for free. Check with a contractor about asbestos, and leave it alone until you get professional help.

7) Get a carbon monoxide detector. Make sure any kerosene or gas space heaters are vented. Get you fireplace checked and cleaned regularly.

8) Pass on pressed wood furniture. Pressed wood furniture, floor glues, and new carpeting can all contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde levels in homes are a growing concern, so try to reduce your exposure.

9) Change your furnace air filters once every 3 months. Use the higher quality filters. And be sure to keep up with your air duct cleaning, too.

10) Purchase environmentally-healthy beds, bedding, carpets, and paints. If you are going to start somewhere, start with your pillow. Healthy Green Goods in Evanston has a great selection, or you can get similar products online.

See more indoor air quality tips at American Lung Association; Planet Green; and the U.S. EPA.

National Radon Hotline: (800) 767-RADON; National Lead Hotline: (800) 424-LEAD; National Asbestos Information: (202) 554-1404.

Suggestions, comments, questions? Anything about environmental health that you would like to know about? Email your Chicago Environmental Health Examiner at Follow me on Twitter @chicagoenviron.