Opportunity | BioSmart®
Are schools making kids sick?
By David S. Martin, CNN
updated 8:33 AM EST, Sat January 14, 2012
(CNN) -- As a third-grader in
Winsted, Connecticut, last year, Matthew Asselin was
sick -- a lot. He was lethargic and plagued with a
persistent wet cough, respiratory infections and
As the school year wound down, Matthew's health
worsened. He was out for two weeks in the spring
with pneumonia and then developed a sinus infection
so severe he needed to spend the night at the
hospital, where he received intravenous antibiotics
and breathing treatments.In all, Matthew missed 53
days of school.
There are no federal health standards for school
air, but here are five simple checkpoints for
problems. Seeing or smelling mold is a trouble sign
which must be addressed immediately. Cleaning it is
insufficient, experts say. The moisture source must
be found and eliminated. Check for dust -- a
potential asthma trigger -- under lockers, in room
corners and on top of bulletin boards. In a New York
Health Department survey, 99% of elementary schools
reported dust or reservoirs of dust in classrooms.
Any signs of insects or rodents are also a red flag
for unhealthy air. Harmful exhaust fumes can enter
school buildings from buses and cars sitting outside
schools with their engines idling. Fumes can enter
through school doors and windows or via building air
intakes. Papers or books can block vents for
classroom heating and air conditioning units,
reducing air flow and possibly causing condensation,
which can lead to mold. In portable classrooms,
heating/AC units should remain on. Teachers
sometimes shut them off to cut noise, but this
limits fresh air and reduces air quality. Check
whether the school district uses certified green
cleaning products and teaching supplies. Also ask
whether the school district is buying pressed-wood
furniture that contains formaldehyde, which can
trigger asthma and is considered a possible
carcinogen. 1. Mold2. Dust3. Idling buses4.
Heating/air conditioning units5. Certified green
Five checkpoints for school air safety But over the
summer, a strange thing happened. Matthew was
healthy. He was energetic. He could ride his bike
for hours at a time.
"When we put him back in school this year, within
three weeks, he missed 10 days with a respiratory
infection," Melissa Asselin said. That's when
Matthew's mother had an a-ha moment.
"When he was out of school, he was well. When he was
in school, he became ill," Asselin said.
Matthew's parents concluded that the 9-year-old's
school, Hinsdale Elementary, was making their son
Indoor air problems
Figures are hard to come by, but studies have
estimated that a third or more of U.S. schools have
mold, dust and other indoor air problems serious
enough to provoke respiratory issues like asthma in
students and teachers.
A national survey of school nurses found that 40%
knew children and staff adversely affected by indoor
Indoor air affects more than health. A growing body
of research suggests students also perform better in
schools with healthier air.
"If you get an unhealthy building, you're not going
to have a successful school," said Lily Eskelsen,
vice president of the National Education
Association, the largest teachers' union in the
"Asthma is the number one chronic illness that keeps
kids out of school, and it's growing," Eskelsen
Melissa Asselin home schools her son Matthew, 9,
after she concluded his school was making him
sick.About one in 10 children in the United States
now has asthma, which causes them to miss an average
of four days of school a year, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. John Santilli, a Connecticut allergist, says he
has treated dozens of students sickened by school
air. Even when children don't miss school, he said,
the medications they take for asthma and conditions
like rhinitis, an allergic reaction to mold or dust,
can make it harder for them to do their best work.
"They're on antihistamines, they're on nasal sprays,
they're on asthma medications, and this limits their
ability to perform," Santilli said. "These kids
can't concentrate. They can't focus on what's going
Dr. Santilli says about 20% to 30% of people are
susceptible to mold or dust, which triggers an
allergic reaction. The resulting symptoms can
include itchy eyes, runny nose, coughing, headaches,
fatigue, even memory problems and slowed thinking.
"It takes a lot to make you sick, but it takes very
little exposure once you're sensitized to provoke
symptoms," Santilli said. "As time goes on, it takes
more and more out of you, and you get sicker and
A growing problem
Researchers and others who follow the issue say
school air problems have probably been exacerbated
in recent years by funding cutbacks that have
resulted in less money for building upkeep and
In Reading, Pennsylvania, the school board cut $18
million from the 2011-12 budget -- more than $1,000
per student -- which left acting Superintendent Drue
Miles with little money to fix problems among aging
At Reading's Southern Middle School, for example,
water pours into an upstairs classroom through holes
in the roof when it rains. There's no money to
replace the roof, only patch it, Miles said.
"The buildings continue to deteriorate, and we only
have a small amount of dollars to spread to do just
some minimal things," Miles said.
Researchers at the New York state Health Department
found a correlation between building maintenance at
the public schools and hospitalizations for asthma.
The condition of roofs, windows, walls and boilers
were all related to the health of children at the
school, researchers found.
A similar study in Boston schools found a link
between asthma rates and leaks, mold, lack of
repairs and visible signs of insects or rodents.
Children are particularly at risk because their
bodies are still developing and they breathe in more
air, pound for pound, than adults.
"Schools are more densely occupied than office
buildings, and children aren't little adults.
They're uniquely vulnerable," said Claire Barnett,
founder and executive director of the Healthy
Schools Network, a nonprofit group focused on
environmental health in schools.
Teachers at risk
Kids aren't the only ones affected by school air.
Joellen Lawson was a special education teacher at a
Fairfield, Connecticut, elementary school so plagued
with mold that it robbed Lawson of her health.
Officials finally decided to tear it down and start
from scratch, costing the district more than $20
"I've never recovered fully, and I've also never had
a pain-free day," said Lawson, who is on permanent
disability with a host of ailments including chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that has
left her with 50% of her lung capacity.
According to a survey of teachers in the nation's
capital, two-thirds reported air quality at their
schools of either fair or poor. More than half of
Chicago teachers responding to the same survey also
reported fair or poor school air quality.
More than a quarter of Chicago teachers surveyed
said they had suffered adverse health effects
because of the school environment; a third of the
Washington teachers also reported these adverse
One family's solution
Tests this fall at Matthew Asselin's school,
Hinsdale Elementary, showed elevated levels of mold
in the gymnasium/cafeteria and two other areas, and
the school district spent $16,000 for a thorough
cleaning. The school board is also considering
whether to close the school temporarily to replace a
leaky roof and make other repairs.
Matthew's parents aren't taking any chances with
their son's health. They pulled him from Hinsdale.
His mother, Melissa, who received her degree in
elementary education last year, is now
home-schooling the 9-year-old.
The change has been a financial burden on the
family, but Asselin says she wouldn't have it any
"He's a different child," she said. "Now he's so
healthy and happy. I can't put a price on that."
- '800,000 may be dying
every year due to unclean air'
- BS Reporter / New
Delhi November 23,
- Unclean air and water may
be causing over 8,00,000 premature deaths in
the country each year and
- morbidity costs amounting
to 3.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product
- This implies that the quality
of environmental services – access to clean
drinking water and sanitation,
control of air and water pollution, provision of
clean energy sources for cooking and lighting,
management of industrial and household wastes –
has a direct bearing on the health and
people, according to the ‘Green India 2047’
report prepared by The Energy and Resources
that deals with issues of depletion of resources
like water, forests, land and soil, as well as
The report says environmental governance in
India has been restricted to judicial
intervention. This has
improved environmental justice but can’t be an
alternative forum of policy evolution. “About 45
per cent of
the population does not have access to safe
drinking water and the air quality is poor in
most of the cities
in the country, with almost 85 per cent of
cities having violated the standard for
particulate matter in 2007,” notes the report.
Teri has also found that pollution control
boards are undermined by low priority and
In terms of environmental federalism in the
country, there is a bias towards higher levels
in distribution of legislative, administrative
and fiscal powers.
The report suggests a need to improve irrigation
efficiency, especially groundwater, through
and rationalisation of water rates and pollution
Water use in the country is inefficient, with
irrigation efficiencies of only 25-35 per cent.
As for forest resources, 21 per cent of the
geographical area is under forest cover but over
40 per cent
of that area is degraded. Climate change is
likely to impact both the quality of forests and
of forest-dependent communities.
On indoor air pollution, the report says: “Even
with the emphasis on rural electrification, it
that at least 30 million households would be
using kerosene by 2012 and 85 per cent of rural
continue to depend on firewood and cow dung as a
primary source of fuel for cooking.”
- Air has elevated cancer
risk in 600 neighborhoods
Writer Dina Cappiello, Associated Press Writer
- Wed Jun 24, 12:01 am ET
WASHINGTON – Millions of people living in nearly
600 neighborhoods across the country are
breathing concentrations of toxic air pollutants
that put them at a much greater risk of
contracting cancer, according to new data from
the Environmental Protection Agency.
- The levels of 80
cancer-causing substances released by
automobiles, factories and other sources in
these areas exceed a 100 in 1 million cancer
risk. That means that if 1 million people
breathed air with similar concentrations over
their lifetime, about 100 additional people
would be expected to develop cancer because of
their exposure to the pollution. The average
cancer risk across the country is 36 in 1
million, according to the National-Scale Air
Toxics Assessment, which will be released by the
EPA on Wednesday.
- That's a decline from the
41.5 in 1 million cancer risk the EPA found when
it released the last analysis in 2006. That data
covered 1999 emissions. "If we are in between 10
in 1 million and 100 in 1 million we want to
look more deeply at that. If the risk is greater
than 100 in 1 million, we don't like that at all
... we want to investigate that risk and do
something about it," said Kelly Rimer, an
environmental scientist with the EPA, in an
interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
- Parts of Los Angeles, Calif.,
and Madison County, Ill., had the highest cancer
risks in the nation — 1200 in 1 million and 1100
in 1 million, according to the EPA data. They
were followed by two neighborhoods in Allegheny
County, Pa., and one in Tuscaloosa County, Ala.
People living in parts of Coconino County,
Ariz., and Lyon County, Nev., had the lowest
cancer risk from air toxics. The counties with
the least toxic air are Kalawao County, Hawaii,
and Golden Valley County, Mont.
- "Air toxic risks are local.
They are a function of the sources nearest to
you," said Dave Guinnup, who leads the groups
that perform the risk assessments for toxic air
pollutants at EPA. "If you are out in the Rocky
Mountains, you are going to be closer to 2 in a
million. If you are in an industrial area with a
lot of traffic, you are going to be closer to
1100 in 1 million."
- The analysis predicts the
concentrations of 124 different hazardous air
pollutants, which are known to cause cancer,
respiratory problems and other health effects by
coupling estimates of emissions from a variety
of sources with models that attempt to simulate
how the pollution will disperse in the air. Only
80 of the chemicals evaluated are known to cause
cancer, EPA officials said. The information is
used by federal, state and local agencies to
identify areas in need of more monitoring and
and Indoor Air Pollution
Simon Hahessy June 6,
- Indoor air pollution has many
potential effects on the health of both adults
and children but children are more susceptible
respiratory problems than adults. In the past
decade, the incidence of respiratory diseases in
children has increased. Asthma,
one of the most predominant respiratory
diseases, has showed a measurable increase, not
to mention the many other diseases
including allergic rhinitis, bronchitis and
respiratory infections. Studies show when a
child is active and breathing is more rapid, a
child can breathe as much as 20-50% more air
than that of an adult. Now consider this, most
children in their home or school at some point
are active, whether it is running, jumping or
- This offers the opportunity to
breathe many more pollutants. The ability for
indoor pollutants to have an affect on an
adult's health is apparent but with a child,
whose lungs are still developing, this adds
additional concern to the child's health. There
are many sources of pollutants indoors that can
impact a child's respiratory health. Chemicals
from cleaning products, mold, bacteria, airborne
particles containing harmful compounds,
allergens in dust, all can have an influence in
the development of a child's respiratory system.
As is with any environmental pollutant, the
longer the exposure, the bigger the influence it
- Our children spend approximately 70%
of their time indoors and 15% at school; the
majority of their time is indoors like most
adults. In a home or school environment which
contains multiple sources of pollutants, it is
no wonder that childhood respiratory disease is
on the increase. Improving our home and school
environments for our children requires change.
It requires awareness of what the environmental
influences are, it requires a willingness to
implement change in behaviors and it requires
periodic monitoring to ensure conditions are
favorable as much as possible for good health. AirMD believes every home or office should be
environmentally safe and provide a healthy
- Unfortunately today, most indoor
environments do not meet these basic criteria. AirMD was created to fulfill the need for a
health and wellness service company based on
scientific analysis. In keeping with our
philosophy, we provide evaluation services and
solutions for improving indoor environments and
public education now and for the future.
- Why Aren’t You Using a Home
- Next to clean air, a quality
source of healthy water is the most important
thing we need, as humans, to survive. We are
lucky that the United States has one of the
safest water supply systems in the world. As
safe as the supply of water is, 8 percent of
regulated supply systems in the U. S. report
some violation of the safety standards set by
federal laws each year. Luckily, most of the
violations do not result in illness.
With the quality of our water being only as good
as the diligence of your local monitoring
system, a home purifier water system ensures
that you are getting the healthy water you need
every day. We can live without food for a while
but water is life. Water aids every function of
your body. Good health depends on drinking
adequate amounts of clean water.
Most drinking water comes from a public supply
system in the United States. But there are
millions of Americans who get there water from
private sources, usually wells. These sources
are not regulated. About half of our water comes
from underground and the other half comes from
surface bodies of water—rivers, lakes and
Pollution comes in many forms and originates
from lots of places. Pesticides and fertilizers,
chemicals from factories are just a few
examples. When it rains, the runoff carries many
types of contamination, that collect in our
sewers and then flow into local streams and
rivers. Millions of people do not dispose of
household waste properly. Paints, solvents, and
household chemicals end up in the drain or
landfills. Even airborne chemicals can be washed
out of the air by rain and end up in the
drinking water. Arsenic can be washed into the
water from erosion. So contamination can even
The main contaminants that waste water treatment
addresses are biological, in other words killing
or removing anything that can make us sick. The
most common disinfection method is some form of
chlorine. Mostly sodium hypochlorite (main
ingredient in bleach) is used. The chlorine is
released when it is dissolved in water.
There are drawbacks to using chlorine. The first
is that it does not kill all the pathogens that
could make us sick. It works well against
bacteria but has little effect on pathogenic
protozoans that form cysts in water, like
Giardia or Cryptosporidium.
The other major drawback is that harmful
by-products are formed when the chlorine reacts
with organic compounds that naturally occur in
the water. These by-products, trihalomethanes
and haloacetic acids, are carcinogenic and are
regulated by the EPA. Water treatment plants try
to remove as much of the organic material as
possible before the chlorine is added, to keep
the by-product formation as low as possible. But
it is impossible to effectively remove all of
them. So traces of these added contaminants are
in our tap water.
A home purifier water system would address these
tap water contaminant issues. Make sure the home
water purifier that you choose, removes the
pollutants that you are concerned about. Not all
filtration systems are created equal. Check the
product performance information sheet to ensure
that it meets NSF standards. After all, you want
the best you can get for the heath of your
- Maybe work is making you sick
- After all those years of
complaining that work makes you sick, it turns
out you could be right.
Don’t get too comfortable thinking your
workplace is an airtight building, fully
equipped with air conditioner, thick, regularly
cleaned carpet and photocopier and fax. Things
are not always what they seem.
A recent study by the University of Indonesia’s
Mass Health Faculty, the Indonesian Mass Health
Expert Association (IAKMI) and PT Bayer
Indonesia revealed that 50 percent of people who
work in office buildings in Jakarta suffer from
what is known as “Sick Building Syndrome”.
Joko Prayitno Sutanto, a researcher with a
government research agency, working out of a
high-rise building in the Thamrin area, said he
found he got a sore throat and cough every time
he entered the building.
The 49-year-old researcher – who spent up to
eight hours a day at his office – said he was
not sure of the cause of the headache and cough,
but felt uncomfortable with the air conditioner
in the building.
“Apparently the air conditioner only runs from 8
a.m. so every time we enter the glass-walled
building we already feel airless,” he said.
Joko is not the only one who finds it all too
easy to believe there is a connection between
the workplace and the state of his health.
Dian, 46, who works in the human resources
department at a private company in a building in
the Sudirman area, said she tended to feel
nauseous and to tire easily, and she often had
watering eyes and runny nose.
“It happens almost everyday and when I get home
I feel like I can do nothing at all,” said Dian,
who puts in more than eight hours a day at the
office. “It’s not too bad but it’s annoying
because it happens almost everyday.”
She also noticed that she felt better away from
work. “It’s not drastically better but I feel it
when I get out of the building.”
Joko and Dian are two of 350 employees from 18
companies and government institutions that took
part in a three-month study conducted by the
University of Indonesia from September to
The 350 respondents were separated into two
groups; members of one group were given
antioxidant supplements while the members of the
other group were not.
The study discovered that 50 percent of people
who work in office buildings suffer from “Sick
Building Syndrome”, and that members of the
group that took the antioxidants experienced a
significant reduction in their illness than the
group with no intervention.
Taking antioxidants reduced the frequency of
occurrence of four main symptoms of “Sick
Building Syndrome” by up to 50 percent.
Headaches were reduced by 48.9 percent, burning
eyes were reduced by 45.5 percent, runny nose by
51.9 percent, bronchitis by 27.2 percent and
exhaustion after normal activity by 40.8
“The risk of having Sick Building Syndrome is
closely related to environmental factors which
become the medium for physical, chemical and
biological pollutants and radiation, especially
when we face relatively constant exposure,” said
research coordinator Budi Haryanto.
Haryanto said that Sick Building Syndrome became
widely known in Hong Kong and Singapore in the
1990s through research.
“Now they have become very advanced in managing
the indoor air quality, but we have never before
conducted this kind of study on indoor air
quality,” he said.
A disease known is half cured, but the Manpower
and Transmigration Ministry, which is
responsible for evaluating indoor air quality,
never tested it, said Haryanto.
“Sorry to say but the Health Ministry, which is
responsible for monitoring the impact of indoor
air pollution, also never did any monitoring,”
For years, Jakarta has been included in the
World Health Organization list of the world’s
most polluted cities. World Bank data from 2004
ranked Jakarta as the third most polluted city
in the world. A study by the University of
Indonesia, USAID and Swisscontact revealed that
city transportation contributed 70 percent of
the total pollution in the city.
“If we look at the annual Health Profile of the
Health Ministry, the top 10 diseases are related
to air pollution and the total of these diseases
accounted for 50 percent of diseases reported by
the ministry,” said Haryanto, who is also
chairman of the Environmental Health Department
at the University of Indonesia’s School of
However, said Haryanto, not many know that
research has frequently found that the level of
air pollution indoors could be worse than the
If building occupants complain of symptoms
associated with acute discomfort, such as
headaches; eye, nose or throat irritation; dry
cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea;
difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and
sensitivity to odors – these might be symptoms
of the syndrome.
Especially if the cause of the symptoms is not
known and most of the complainants report relief
soon after leaving the building, it is likely
that they are in a “sick” building.
Causes of Sick Building Syndrome, said Haryanto,
are inadequate ventilation, chemical
contaminants from indoor sources, chemical
contaminants from outdoor sources and biological
Inadequate ventilation, which may also occur if
heating, ventilation and air conditioning
systems do not effectively distribute air to
people in the building, is thought to be another
important factor in Sick Building Syndrome.
Most indoor air pollution comes from sources
inside the building, such as adhesives,
carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood
products, photocopiers, air conditioners,
pesticides and cleaning agents.
Environmental tobacco smoke also contributes
high levels of toxins and particulate matter.
“Most of us spend more than eight hours a day in
our office dealing with the copy machine,
printer, air conditioner and carpet everyday,”
Haryanto said. “Because we cannot smell the
particles and dust we drag in everyday, we feel
safe, but actually they cause lots of
The outdoor air that enters a building can be a
source of indoor air pollution, as pollutants
can enter the building through poorly located
air vents, windows and other openings.
Biological contaminants such as bacteria, mold,
pollen and viruses can also be making buildings
– and their occupants – sick. These can breed in
any stagnant water that has collected in ducts
or drains, or other places. Other sources of
biological contaminants include insects or bird
droppings – which can result in cough, chest
tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches and
These elements, said Haryanto, may act in
combination and may supplement other complaints
such as inadequate temperature, humidity or
lighting. Even after a building is investigated,
the specific causes of the complaints may remain
Until the lack of knowledge about the syndrome
among both the public and building developers
and related government agencies is reversed, the
first step for individuals is to reduce the
impact of indoor air pollution by maintaining a
healthy life – such as through antioxidant
supplements, as found in the study.
“The need for vitamins and antioxidant
supplements is parallel and important to people
living in the middle of pollution,” Haryanto
said. “Especially vitamin C and E are needed for
At the moment, this may be workers’ only option.
As Haryanto points out, “The key word for this
syndrome is respiration. We can’t choose to
breathe or not to breathe, can we?”
Sick Building Syndrome
Burning and watering eyes and nose
Burning in trachea
Debilitating fibromyalgia (muscle cramps and
Dry, itchy skin
Exhaustion after normal activity
Hoarseness, cough, sore throat
Inability to concentrate
Itchy granulomous pimples
Sensitivity to odors
Serious edema (swelling of legs, trunk, ankles)
Shortness of breath upon mild exertion (e.g.
Wellness when away from building
are seven simple measures you can take to better the
air quality in your house.
UK Medical Health
January 24, 2009
No Smoking Inside
Ideally, you should ban smoking
anywhere inside the home but if this is not
possible, try to restrict it to one place. In our
case, if friends or family, who are also smokers,
visit, they are either banished to the back yard or
the kitchen area. If you have an extractor fan
installed in the kitchen, make a point that it is
switched on and endeavour to have smokers stand as
close as possible to the fan so that the fumes get
Air Out On A Regular Basis
Assuming that it is not freezing cold
or blowing a gale outside, let some outside air in
by opening your windows and doors every so often.
Doing so will also remove some of the pollutants
that have built up inside your home. If you have
bathroom or kitchen extractor fans, make use of them
on a regular basis. You should also routinely clean
the venthole in the extractors and make sure they
Use Natural House Cleaning Products
If you have ever taken the time to
interpret the labels on household cleaning products,
the majority of them will include a warning about
how harmful the chemicals are for your health or
skin. As soon as you use that product, a lot of
those chemicals go into the air, the fumes of which
are inhaled. How is it that some well known anti
bacterial cleaners start your eyes watering and
bring on a coughing fit. Not any longer though, as
my natural housecleaning products of choice are
baking soda, washing soda, vinegar and pure lemon
juice. These are all non toxic, environmentally
friendly and can undertake most housecleaning
chores, either separately or combined with one
Clean and Dust Your House Regularly
Vacuuming your carpets and floors
regularly will help to keep dust and airborne
allergens at bay. It is said (although I have no
proof) that some seventy percent of all household
dust comprises of dead skin, which we humans molt
day in and day out. Dust mites like to feed on this
dead skin which in turn makes them grow. They then
shed their own skin and that, mixed with their fecal
matter is what causes allergic reactions in some
Pet Dander Allergic Reactions
For those families with a cat, dog or
other pet, allergic reactions like asthma can be
triggered off by their dander, which they molt all
the time. If you think that you or a family member
may be allergic to your family pet, action is
needed. Ideally, it is best to keep pets out of the
house altogether although that is seldom possible.
As a viable alternative, try and restrict the rooms
that the pet is allowed into. One definite area to
keep them out of is the bedroom.
Reduce Inside Air Humidity
If the clime where you live is either
very humid or just plain damp (as in too much
rainfall), you will no doubt be aware of just how
much moisture levels inside your house can increase.
This excessive moisture or humidity is the ideal
breeding conditions for mold. For anyone with
allergies, mold spores can cause as many health
problems as airborne dust. For that reason, a home
dehumidifier can be vital. An air purifier
dehumidifier will extract dampness from the air and
into a water tank which you can then remove and pour
Invest in a Home Air Purifier
Home air purifiers or room air
cleaners do as their name suggests and clean the air
of pollutants and allergens such as mold spores,
pollen, cigarette smoke and pet dander. They are
particularly useful if you or a family member
suffers from allergies or asthma because they can
reduce airborne contaminants by a substantial
amount. Air purifiers and room air cleaners are
rapidly increasing in popularity because they make
indoor air healthier and cleaner. All the same,
there are different types of air purifier, some of
which can in reality make allergies worse instead of
Sniffing out danger
at home Breathing indoors can be bad for your health
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
by Nick Veronin
Palo Alto Online Staff
Take a deep breath. Notice
anything? Perhaps the wonderful smell of a
home-cooked meal is in the air. Maybe it's the odor
of mildew. Then again, you may not detect anything
at all. Whatever the case, it isn't a bad idea to
find out exactly what you are breathing.
According to Kathleen Stewart, a staff scientist for
the Environmental Protection Agency's offices in San
Francisco, indoor air is often more polluted than
the air outdoors. And since people tend to spend
about 90 percent of their days inside, taking the
time to ensure that the air in your home is as clean
as possible can ultimately lead to a healthier,
longer and more productive life.
There are a whole slew of culprits that contribute
to indoor air pollution in the home, Stewart said.
However, the obvious concerns, such as secondhand
smoke and household chemical cleaning products, are
only the tip of the iceberg. Scentless poisons, such
as carbon monoxide and radon -- a naturally
occurring radioactive gas that can seep up through a
house's foundation from the soil below -- are often
referred to as "silent killers." California has the
largest number of radon-related deaths in the U.S.
Furthermore, there are some agents commonly found in
indoor air that people may not even realize can
compromise their health. That "new" carpet or
furniture smell is actually a result of what is
called "off gassing."
Glues used in carpeting and pressed-wood products
contain formaldehyde, believed to be a human
carcinogen, which continues to evaporate for some
time after such a product has been installed or
assembled. That moldy smell that is pesky but easily
habituated may lead to respiratory problems. Even
the pleasant aroma of chicken frying on the stove
masks the fact that tiny particles of soot and other
contaminants are being thrust from the pan into the
"Just because it smells good doesn't mean it's good
for you," Stewart said.
Hypochondriacs and cynics may find this news either
alarming or alarmist. However, Stewart has an answer
for both camps. "Indoor air pollution is so easy to
improve," she said. "It takes very little money to
Opening a window is a great start. So is using the
ventilation fan above the stove when cooking. Let
that new dresser from IKEA air out in the garage for
a week or so until it doesn't smell quite so much.
Additionally, one can often avoid using stringent
cleaners when soap and water will work just fine.
Simple things like these can significantly reduce
the amount of toxins in the home, and they are more
or less free.
Kip Fout, asbestos, lead and construction safety
manager at Stanford's Environmental Health and
Safety division, said contaminants such as asbestos
and lead are only a real concern if a house is being
remodeled. While lead paint, if it is chipping off
of walls can be dangerous to young children who may
ingest the flakes, the heavy metal -- like asbestos
-- is only a real danger to adults if it is first
released as fine particles into the air and then
"If you ingest lead, not a lot of it is absorbed in
your stomach," Fout said of healthy adults.
"However, if you inhale lead and it gets into your
lungs, then it can easily get into your blood
stream." Therefore, it is important to get your home
checked for lead and asbestos before beginning a
remodel, especially if the house was built before
Fout said that mold, in small amounts, shouldn't be
a great concern for those without preexisting
conditions that may react unfavorably to its
presence. The best defense to avoid mold
accumulation is to make sure to thoroughly dry areas
of your home that become wet within the first 24 to
If you are having trouble with any of the above, are
concerned that your home may be at risk or are
planning to remodel and are just unsure, there are
many companies throughout the Bay Area that can
provide home assessments and take action if need be.
Nik Lahiri is a project coordinator at Essel
Technology Services in Oakland. His company can take
air samples, paint samples, look for mold and check
your ceiling and drywall for asbestos. Such tests
usually have a flat rate as well as per-sample rates
associated with them.
Lahiri said homeowners should be especially
concerned with testing for asbestos and lead if they
are planning to remodel. When old ceiling or drywall
is ripped out asbestos can be put in the air.
Inhaling large amounts of asbestos does not pose
immediate health concerns, but can pop up 10 or 20
years down the road as lung cancer and other deadly
conditions, making it difficult to even pinpoint the
cause of the disease. Lead paint sanded off of walls
settles as dust and then may enter the body through
a person's mouth.
Essel Technology Services and other such companies
can help homeowners assess what they may and may not
need to test for. Lahiri said that the rates for his
company's tests vary depending on the home, but that
asbestos generally runs at a $300 flat rate and $20
per sample; lead testing runs about a $500 flat rate
and $20 per sample; mold is a bit more expensive,
running at a $450 flat rate and $35 per sample.
The EPA has a wealth of information on indoor air
pollution and risk assessment on their website at
Staying out of frightful winter weather can pose
health risks, too
on January 13, 2009
By Alex Bridges -- Daily Staff Writer
winter's nap can make a person sicker than the cold
air outside, warn doctors and environmental health
As homeowners lock down storm windows and bring out
the space heaters and fire logs, they also set
themselves up to possibly get sick.
"The problem with the indoors ... the air supply is
limited and it sort of recirculates and so anything
that kind of gets inside stays inside unless you can
get rid of it, i.e. secondhand smoke is probably the
big one," said Dr. Jeffrey Lessar, a pulmonologist
in Winchester. "That's why ... New York, D.C.,
they've all banned inside smoking."
Doctors also have identified thirdhand smoke as a
problem. As Lessar explained, thirdhand smoke comes
about when a person smokes or is near smokers and it
clings to their clothes or hair. Then, when they
hold or are near someone such as a child, that
person inhales the smoke from the clothes or hair.
"The problem with cigarettes is we don't understand
why one person can smoke three packs a day for 40
years and have no problems and one person can smoke
a half pack a day for five years and have severe
problems," Lessar said. "We don't understand that
and that's why secondhand smoke is so dangerous --
how much is safe?"
Going outside a home or office to smoke usually is
more advisable since it allows the smoke to filter
Indoor air quality can also affect people with
asthma, Lessar said. Allergens such as dust mites
and dander from cockroaches and pets can become
stuck in carpeting, couches or bedspreads and then
brought back into the air unless the surfaces are
cleaned or replaced. Lessar noted that in some cases
carpeting needs to be removed in favor of hardwood
floors, which are easier to clean.
"Some people almost have to live in a bubble," he
said. "They have to get plastic sheets, plastic
coverings over their couches, over their bedspreads,
just so they can wipe stuff off to keep it clean."
Winter months bring other dangers.
"This time of year it's gonna be viruses that sort
of hang around so, within reason, it's good when
there are relatively nice days, you know, try to get
the windows open," Lessar said. "Air out the house a
little bit. Get some of the fresh air in."
The doctor also recommends washing hands to reduce
the amount of germs spread by touching items such as
doors, telephone receivers and other surfaces.
But staying inside, alone, doesn't necessarily
present health hazards.
"I don't think if you put yourself in a bubble and
live by yourself in your home, it's unlikely that
you're gonna get something," Lessar said. "But what
we do see is, because everybody's indoors, the germs
tend to pass more freely, more quickly."
As in Winchester and across the Northern Shenandoah
Valley, many homes date back decades. A home's
construction plays a significant role in an
"Most of the time the older homes, if you leave
stuff where it is, you don't tend to have a lot of
problems," Lessar said. "What we do see is a lot of
people who go in and try to rehab the older homes,
they're breaking down walls, they're going into
attics, and they will see dust and mold exposure and
that can basically cause asthma.
"Usually it will get better over time in avoidance
of the exposure, but it can take up to 18 months to
two years to get over," Lessar added.
Cleveland-based Environmental Health Watch offers
tips on how to prevent problems related to staying
indoors -- such as poisoning from lead paint and
triggers of asthma.
Tobacco smoke, mold, dust mites, cockroaches and
mouse urine can trigger asthma symptoms such as
wheezing. Candles, incense or other items in the
house also can cause asthma symptoms to start,
according to Stuart Greenberg, the group's executive
"Any time you burn anything in the house, you create
particles and gases which can be lung irritants," he
Those who stay inside much of the time in the colder
months also should remain cautious when using
unvented space heaters, Greenberg advised.
"So kerosene, natural gas heaters can be very
dangerous and so we recommend against them because
they can emit noxious gases and particles, and if
you read the instructions, they say, well, 'open a
window six inches or eight inches,' but people use 'em
when they're cold so they're not going to open the
windows," Greenberg said.
Lessar noted dangers in using wood stoves if they
are not properly vented. Also, devices such as
baseboard or space heaters give off a dry warmth,
which can affect a person's breathing. Lessar
suggested people either use a humidifier or boil
water on a stove. However, humidifiers need
monitoring and if air becomes too moist inside, it
can help spawn mold.
"Most of the time we all have a healthy enough
immune system that we can fight something like
[mold] off without much of a problem," Lessar said.
Seemingly helpful products also may pose dangers to
those staying in from the cold.
"All kinds of household products have what are
called volatile organic compounds -- basically
things that you can smell, anything with a strong
odor can be an irritant for somebody with a
respiratory condition, whether it's asthma or
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," Greenberg
said. "So it could be perfumes ... particularly a
problem are solvents, paints, those kinds of things.
"Things that are called air fresheners -- they don't
really freshen the air, all they do is add another
chemical [to the air]," Greenberg said.
The newer the home, the more likely a person may
suffer the effects of indoor air pollution if the
building lacks proper ventilation.
"The rule is make it tight but ventilate right is
what they say," Greenberg said. "In other words, you
wanna tighten the house but you want to combine that
with good, mechanical ventilation so that you are
getting fresh air, that the stale air is going out
and the fresh air is coming in, but you're able to
do that in a controlled way in a properly built
While many people work from home, or telecommute,
doing so doesn't necessarily put someone more at
risk for experiencing problems related to indoor
pollution. As Greenberg noted, some office buildings
lack proper ventilation and may also contain
pollutants and irritants found in the home.
He recommended homeowners use an air-to-air heat
exchanger that uses the heat from the exhaust to
warm the air drawn into the building.
As for health concerns, lead paint appears more of a
problem especially in places with older homes and
buildings, he said.
"If you have somebody in the house with asthma or
COPD, then exposure to the allergens and the
irritants in the home can be a major health
concern," he said.
"There are a number of pollutants that we worry
about in the outdoor air that can be found in much
higher concentrations in indoor air," he noted. "So
I don't think it's something that people need to
panic about or get hysterical about but it's prudent
to look around and there are a lot of different
checklists around and make an assessment of what
indoor health hazards may have and try and reduce
Visit www.ehw.org and click on Healthy House for
* Contact Alex Bridges at firstname.lastname@example.org
Green Building - Creating Healthier Work
Environments And Reducing Overhead Costs
By Vanessa A. Doctor
building is a phrase which refers to the
implementation and use of environmentally-friendly
practices and materials in the location, design,
construction, operation and disposal of buildings
This noble concept applies to both renovation and
retrofitting of existing buildings and construction
of new buildings, whether residential or commercial,
public or private. The trend for creating greener
buildings and structures is now viewed as an
important instrument for positive change in the
Building Green Helps To Improve The Overall Quality
By continuously improving the process of locating,
designing, building, operating and retrofitting
buildings and homes, developers and policy makers
would do a lot in improving the well-being of the
community. The use of advanced energy-saving
technologies applied in buildings could in effect
result in considerable reductions in demand for
fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases.
Implementing more-improved design and building
practices can also aid in addressing environmental
concerns like natural resource depletion, sewage and
waste disposal, as well as air, water, and soil
pollution. The concepts behind green building can
also help assist the gains in human health and
However, despite the huge potentials for
transformation, going green in building homes and
structures still represents a small percentage of
building in North America. Some estimate that green
building currently accounts for just around two
percent of the new non-residential building segment
in the US, and 0.3 percent of the residential
market. In Canada, green building trends are
generally thought to be similar to those in the US,
while in Mexico, there are no reliable figures to
show the extent or levels to which green building
exists in the marketplace.
Applying Green Building Concepts Help Create
Superior Work Environments
It’s a fact that buildings and structures created
using green building principles have a lesser
negative impact on the environment than conventional
buildings. Applying environment-friendly
construction methods help in minimizing the use of
natural resources by using alternative building
materials, and also recycles construction waste
rather than sending these to landfills.
Majority of a green building’s interior spaces are
also equipped with natural lighting and outdoor
views, efficient heating, ventilating, and
air-conditioning systems, as well as in using
low-VOC (volatile organic compound) materials like
paint, flooring, and furniture to create a superior
and much healthier indoor air quality.
Just a few years ago, the term “green building”
would generally evoke visions of tree-hugging,
granola-munching individual who walks barefoot and
sleeps on straw mats. These days however, the term
goes beyond the usual hype, and offers developers
and home builders concrete benefits like lower
overhead costs, increased employee productivity,
less absenteeism, and better employee attraction and