You buy organic when you can, you don’t allow cigarette smoking in the house, and you’re careful to make sure medications and poisons are locked away. And yet other toxic chemicals and substances may be making their way into your home without your knowledge.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to green your home and help keep it free of mold, chemicals, and other indoor air pollutants. Here are some easy ways to protect your home and family from toxic chemicals and pollutants.
Just Say No to VOCs
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that are found in a great many household products and components, from carpets, paint and wood furniture to cleaners, disinfectants and even nail polish remover. Some of the VOCs you may see listed on labels are acetone, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. Exposure to VOCs may cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea and irritation to the nose and throat. But the bigger danger comes from long-term exposure and includes risk of damage to the liver and central nervous system. Some VOCs have been linked with increased risk of cancer, too.
How to stay safe: The best way to protect yourself is by limiting exposure to VOCs as much as possible. Choose VOC-free paint, carpets, and furniture and switch to natural cleaning products. When remodeling, use gypsum board, plaster, or real wood for walls and floors. Instead of air fresheners, try baking soda. When you can’t control exposure, make sure you have good air circulation and ventilation.
Keep Indoor Air Clean and Circulating
Mold, dust, and animal dander are common allergens, and even for those who don’t have allergies they can be irritating to the lungs or even cause longterm inflammation and illness. Smoke is also dangerous for lungs, as are chemicals, including those that off-gas from new products.
How to stay safe: When cooking, be sure to use the kitchen exhaust fan, and also remember to use fans when doing any activity that uses chemicals. Bathroom fans are important to prevent mold. In the summer, air conditioning can help keep pollen and other allergens out of your home, but filters must be kept clean. Both furnace and air conditioner filters should be changed every 2 to 3 months, and have ducts for forced-air furnaces as needed.
Get the Lead Out
Older homes, particularly those built before 1978, carry the risk that they are – or were – painted with lead paint, which was widely used until the late ‘70s. And even homes that have been repainted more recently may have lead dust in the soil from old paint. And lead is particularly dangerous to children, who are most likely to be digging or playing in the dirt.
How to stay safe: If you suspect your home may have lead paint on the walls or in the soil, you can find out by having it tested. If you do discover lead paint, don’t sand or strip it, but call an expert who can remove it safely. You can also cover indoor walls with wallpaper or panelling.
If you’d like to learn more about green living, consider attending some of the films to be shown at the San Francisco Green Film Festival.