Airborne chemicals are embedded inside our homes. They swirl around us as toxic gases emitted from the poorly-labeled bottles of cleaning fluids in our kitchens and bathrooms, from the bug sprays and air fresheners we use, and from the glues, sealants, and flame retardants in our furniture. They are also dragged inside our homes on the bottoms of our shoes and then stirred up when we walk on our carpets. Studies have shown that the air that surrounds us indoors is more toxic than the air outdoors…even if you live in a highly polluted city like Los Angeles or New York.
Airborne chemicals are known as VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. They are called volatile because they don’t stay put…they evaporate into the air and then you breathe them in. You never really think that your home could make you tired, irritable or even sick, but over time your body may absorb common VOCs like formaldehyde, phthalates, or PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) which are the chemicals in flame retardants used in furniture, which have been found in human breast milk and dryer lint.
These chemicals may exacerbate allergies and asthma, and can cause fatigue, nausea, dizziness, eye, nose and throat irritation, cough, headache, flu-like symptoms, and skin irritation. As they accumulate in the body over time they can silently affect how efficient your body runs, like whether you can maintain a healthy metabolism, burn fat well, and keep your hormones in balance. Some also are known to cause heart, lung or kidney damage and even cancer and nerve damage if exposure is prolonged. This in turn can have a devastating effect on your health. If your liver, for instance, becomes taxed by an overburden of chemicals, it may not work efficiently, setting you up for other health problems.
There are literally millions of chemicals that have been invented by humans in the last 60 years and depending on who you ask, somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 are in common use today. Yet only a very tiny percentage have ever been directly tested for their effects on human health.
Our bodies are remarkably resilient in defending ourselves from these chemicals, but only to a point. Scientists question the cumulative effect. It is common sense to believe that the more chemicals you are exposed to, the more likely you will eventually be negatively affected by them. Here are some easy and effective ways to reduce your exposure to chemicals in your home and minimize your risk of getting sick. They are simple to do and will give you peace of mind in knowing you are doing something proactive to help you and your family stay healthy.
5 Ways to Reduce Toxins by Clearing the Air:
- Remove your shoes at the front door. Shoes track in lead, pesticides and other pollutants. Stuff we track in from the outside can make our home toxic, especially for pets and young children who spend more time on the floor. At the very least get a good doormat to wipe your shoes before entering your home.
- Vacuum with a well-sealed high quality HEPA vacuum cleaner. This can do a much better job of cleaning your carpets than the cheaper vacuum cleaners found at most department stores. Steam cleaning can kill dust mites and bacteria as well.
- Avoid buying new upholstered furniture containing halogenated fire retardants. If it contains polyurethane foam, look for models where the foam is thickly covered or wrapped inside the cushion so dust from it is less likely to escape into your home. See if they offer non-toxic stain resistant fabrics as well.
- Use an air purifier. Try one with HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arresting) technology developed by the US Atomic Energy Commission to filter and trap sub-micron particles. Many reviews say this type of air purifier is the most effective.
- Add houseplants to green and purify your living space. A NASA study found that common houseplants are natural air purifiers. Look for Aloe Vera, Philodendron, Rubber Plant, English Ivy, Ficus, Boston Fern, Gerbera Daisy, and Spider Plant, to name a few.
By Beth Greer