Environment : Clear the Air at Home of Its 'toxic Cloud'

Air pollution begins at home--which means you can help safeguard against it.

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the most dangerous exposure to air pollution occurs indoors, and this is true even in the country's big manufacturing areas.

"The truth is we're in the middle of a toxic cloud of our own making," said Lance Wallace, an EPA scientist who conducted a 12-year series of studies on "personal air." Air pollution can cause health problems ranging from coughing and shortness of breath to increased susceptibility to respiratory infection and lung disease and lung cancer "Repeated, long-term exposure to any air pollutant is worrisome enough," said Dr. Julius Hicks, chairman of the Environmental Committee of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery in Alexandria, Va. "But their combined, progressive effect may create a danger that is greater than the sum of their individual effects." Researchers have learned that some pollutants previously passed off as merely annoying can be real health hazards.

"Particulate matter--which includes dust, haze and smoke as well as soot--had always been passed off as a nuisance," said Dr. Alfred Munzer, president of the American Lung Assn. "Now we know that increased exposure to it can mean a life-or-death difference for 50,000 to 60,000 Americans a year." Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, some 65% of it at home. One area where you can cut down on pollution at home involves heating appliances.

If you must use a kerosene heater, burn a low-sulfur (1-K) fuel, fill the heater outside, keep it clean and properly adjusted. Never use it overnight.

Follow guidelines for safe wood-burning stoves. Use wood that has been split and dried for at least six months.

Avoid smoldering, low-temperature fires. Allow plenty of air to circulate in the firebox. Watch for visible smoke inside the chimney or "lazy flames" that signal a need for more air. Thoroughly extinguish embers before bedtime.

Invisible, odorless and deadly carbon monoxide can escape when home combustion appliances such as the furnace, stove or water heater burn fuel incompletely, so consider a carbon monoxide detector.

Cooking appliances are another category of possible pollutants. Fit your gas range with a good fan that exhausts outside, or use a window exhaust fan while cooking. Don't use your gas oven to heat the kitchen.

Make sure that all gas appliances are in good working order. Consider newer models that use spark ignition rather than pilot lights.

Carpeting can harbor pollutants. Vacuum at least twice weekly, using a vacuum cleaner with revolving brushes and strong suction.

Shake out throw rugs outdoors instead of vacuuming them. Use doormats at entrances to prevent tracking in lead from outdoor soil. Better yet, remove shoes before entering the house.

When buying carpet, look for the Carpet and Rug Institute-Indoor Air Quality label, indicating the product passed tests for minimal emission levels of chemical pollutants.

There should be ample ventilation during installation and for about 72 hours afterward.

Dry cleaning also poses risks. Hang clothing just back from the dry cleaner outdoors or near an open window with a fan blowing out for three to four hours.

Ban cigarettes, cigars and pipes from your home to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke that can more than double a person's indoor exposure to particles and gases.

Most experts call this the single most important step in remedying home air pollution.

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