Pollutants are everywhere these days -- even in our homes. Take measures to protect yourself and your living space.
When was the last time you changed the batteries in your smoke alarm? Do you own a carbon monoxide detector? Have you checked your home for radon?
Okay, don’t panic. Yes, it’s easy to push away the idea of danger in the home, our place of refuge from the outside world. But too often, we’re unprepared for situations that endanger us the most. The radioactive gas, radon, is among those hazards we should be monitoring -- according to the American Lung Association, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, causing roughly 14,000 deaths per year.
Radon is produced when uranium, a naturally occurring element in rock and soil, decays. Outdoors, the atmosphere dilutes the gas, ensuring it poses no health risk, but the problems occur, when radon builds up in closed spaces -- the gas seeps into the home through openings in the foundation or building materials when pressure inside is lower than the soil outside. Radon can slip through even the tiniest cracks, and like carbon monoxide, its odorless, invisible, and tasteless composition makes it indiscernible to the human senses.
According to an indoor air pollution safety guide created by the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, wells less than 150 feet deep can also become contaminated by radon emissions from surrounding rocks. However, radon in the air is the most pressing danger, so any kind of home is susceptible to it. The EPA also recommends that all rooms under the third floor be tested.
Fend it Off: Simple Prevention and Detection
While difficult to completely prevent from entering the home, you can make it harder for radon to infiltrate by sealing openings in the basement with caulk and securing sump pump lids airtight. Make sure your home has ample airflow by opening windows and installing fans. Signs of deficient ventilation include moisture condensation, stuffy air, dirty central heating/cooling systems, or mold around the house.
Fortunately, radon can easily be detected with low-cost, do-it yourself test kits, available online and in hardware stores. Look for test kits that pass EPA requirements, which should be advertised on the packaging, or alternatively, you can arrange a home visit from a qualified radon contractor by calling your state radon office. Further precautions should be taken if you are a smoker and discover that your home has high radon levels, as your chance of developing lung cancer increases dramatically.
If you’re still concerned about indoor air quality after radon-proofing your home (and you should be -- the EPA has determined that the air inside your home may be ten times more polluted than the air outside), an air purifier will bring relief to the situation as houses usually have more than one kind of pollutant.
Luckily, air purifiers from Rabbit Air trap airborne allergens, like dust mites, mold spores, pollen, and pet dander. They also trap odors and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), gases that are emitted by commonly used household items, like air fresheners. That’s right -- even our sweetest-smelling tools have dirty secrets.
So keep vigilant and check up on that list of household safeguards. The reward will be a breath of fresh air.
Hattie McLean is a writer, student, and health fanatic living in Brooklyn