Winter is the season for many activities and traditions. For some, as soon as the snow starts accumulating it means hitting the ski slopes, trekking through the mountains, throwing snowballs and enjoying the cold, crisp air. For others, winter means enjoying the colorful holiday lights, staying by the fire with an oversized sweater and eating endless amounts of comfort foods.
In addition to the charm that winter can deliver, the season can also bear unfavorable conditions. This time of year skin becomes dry, lips are chapped, and every other week there seems to be a flu or cold epidemic. The frigid temperatures keep most people indoors, making it easier for germs to spread through the air. However, the air we breathe can carry particles much more dangerous than everyday germs.
“As time spent indoors becomes
more frequent during the colder months,
it is important to be aware and mindful
of the air quality within the
home and at work.”
Air quality affects billions of people every single day, and is often a crucial factor to living a healthy life. As time spent indoors becomes more frequent during the colder months, it is important to be aware and mindful of the air quality within the home and at work this winter season.
Toxins To Be Cautious Of
Air pollution within the home or the workplace is a health hazard that we do have the ability to change. There are a diverse amount of indoor air pollutants which can be found in the home or at work. Some of the most common indoor air pollutants include: radon, asbestos, lead, and particulate matter.
The radioactive gas, radon, is released through the natural decay of rocks in soil. The toxin is an invisible, odorless, and tasteless gas which travels from the ground and diffuses into the air. For many people, the greatest exposure to radon occurs in the home.
Asbestos is similar to radon in that it is another natural toxin. This mineral fiber was primarily used between 1940 and 1980 in the construction of residential and commercial buildings because of its affordability and insulating properties. Due to the toxicity of asbestos, roughly 60 countries around the world have banned or heavily regulated the material. There have been a number of attempts to completely ban of asbestos in the U.S., but none have been successful so far.
Lead is another naturally occurring toxin, and is formed in the earth’s crust. The element has caused large-scale environmental contamination and health problems throughout the world. Lead is primarily used in burning fossil fuels, and is often used to make batteries, ammunition, and other metal products. Lead can also be found in products around the home, which include paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, cosmetics and more. Although lead is used less frequently, there is still a risk of exposure, particularly in developing countries.
Lastly, particulate matter (PM) is a widespread air pollutant comprising of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. Sources of particulate pollution can include dust, ash, and soot. These materials often diffuse into the air at construction sites, on unpaved roads, through smokestacks, or as a result of fires. The particles are deadly, and can cause cardiorespiratory problems such as strokes, heart attacks, and cancer.
Health Effects Related to The Toxins
According to The World Health Organization, exposure to #radon is estimated to cause 3 to 14 percent of the lung #cancer cases in most countries.Click To Tweet
Exposure to these toxins can directly impact your health. In addition to understanding the toxin itself, it is important to also become familiarized with the effects that these materials can have on the body.
Although radon is odorless and invisible to the human eye, it does not mean that high levels are not present in places that you frequently inhabit. Radon can enter the home through the walls, foundation or cracks in the floors. The gas decays quickly, emitting tiny radioactive particles. When the gas is inhaled, the particles can damage the cells that line the lungs. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer. According to The World Health Organization, exposure to radon is estimated to cause 3 to 14 percent of the lung cancer cases in most countries.
Asbestos can be found around the home or in the workplace, and as a result, it is important to know if you have ever been exposed to the material. Exposure to asbestos can pose a serious risk if it enters the body. If asbestos fibers are inhaled, they embed into the lining of the lungs, where mesothelioma can develop. The signs of the most common form of mesothelioma – pleural mesothelioma – are fatigue, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, fluid build up, fever and night sweats. These symptoms are often misdiagnosed for more common illnesses such as pneumonia or the flu. Currently there is no cure for mesothelioma, but prognosis greatly improves with early detection.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy By Stage
Lead is a cumulative toxin, which means that the quantity increases in the body over many years. Lead can affect many systems within the body, including neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems. Children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead. Even low exposure can be serious to the developing body of a child and in some cases cause irreversible neurological damage.
The health impacts of particulate matter (PM) are directly linked to the size of the particles. If a particle is less than 10 micrometers, it poses the greatest risk since it can enter the lungs and bloodstream. People who have preexisting heart or lung conditions are at higher risk for complications as a result of exposure. Health problems associated to particulate matter include: premature death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, asthma, decreased lung function, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
What You Can Do To Prevent Exposure & Protect Your Family
On average, Americans spend roughly 90 percent of their time indoors where the concentrations of some pollutants can be 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations. As a result, indoor air quality is important and should be monitored. Below are some ways of protecting you and your family:
If you feel that there are high levels of radon at your job or in your home, testing is the only way to determine if there are in fact increased radon levels. Radon levels can vary from day to day, so a long-term test is more accurate. The World Health Organization recommends that businesses and homeowners take action if the radon level exceeds 100 becquerels (Bq), or 2.7 picocuries per liter (pCi/L).
You can prevent asbestos related diseases, like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer by being more aware and mindful of asbestos materials. If you believe that your home or office has exposed asbestos, it is important to seek a licensed professional to test for the presence of this material, especially in older buildings. If you have come in contact with the toxic material, seek medical attention.
Similarly to radon and asbestos, it is important to determine if the home or workplace contains any lead products. If you already are aware that there is lead present at your job, bring your concern to the attention of your supervisor. In the home, ensure that any lead products are not accessible to children.. Children who are 6 years or younger are at risk because they tend to play with a variety of objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust.
Until you are able to remove the lead products, isolate all sources of lead. For instance, block all areas from children that have lead paint. Furthermore, because household dust is a source of lead, it is important to frequently wash surface areas prone to dust collection, such as the floors and windows. Lastly, regularly wash children’s toys, which may become contaminated from household dust or soil.
Particulate matter can originate indoors or outdoors, but there are actions that can be taken to eliminate exposure indoors. The highest exposure to particulate matter in the home occurs while cooking. Using exhaust fans for ventilation is recommended. If an exhaust fan is unavailable, you can use a portable air cleaner to remove the particles. Wood stoves or fireplaces are another source of particulate matter.
If possible, replace wood stoves or fireplaces for an electric or gas stove heater. Before the temperature begins to drop, have your heaters checked by a professional. It is also in your best interest to limit the burning of incense or candles, and avoid cleaning products and fragrances that have a pine or citrus scent.
Simple Ways to Improve Air Quality in the Home
In addition to staying mindful of potentially hazardous toxins, there are other easy and affordable ways to improve the overall air quality within your home.
Plants: According to a study conducted by NASA, certain plants can eliminate significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Based on the findings, the top plants for air purification are Golden Pothos, Peace Lily, Boston Fern, Snake Plant, English Ivy, Dracaena, Bamboo Palm, Dragon Tree, Lady Palm and the Spider Plant.
Himalayan Salt Lamp: Purchasing a Himalayan salt lamp is another affordable way to improve indoor air quality. The salt crystal helps remove the air of allergens such as smoke, pet dander, pollens, and other pollutants. Additionally, people who suffer from asthma often find these salt lamps helpful in minimizing their symptoms.
Beeswax Candles: Substituting your candles for Beeswax candles can improve the air you breathe. Beeswax candles burn with practically no smoke or scent, and purify the surrounding air by releasing negative ions. Beeswax candles are often especially helpful for those with asthma or allergies and they are effective at removing common allergens like dust and dander.
It is easy to become immersed in the hustle of daily routine, wrapped up in new year resolutions, or distracted by the sight of falling snow and sparkling lights. But this season, as spending time inside becomes more frequent, be sure to keep indoor air quality in mind while at home or at the workplace.
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