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Resolve to improve the air in your home

As we spend more time inside our homes, our concerns about indoor air quality are magnified. The air inside your home is more polluted than the outside air and can negatively impact you. Your health impacts depend on the types of pollutants in your air, how often you breathe them, and your current health. People at the greatest risk are the elderly, the very young, and those with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, allergies, or cancer.

The good news is that you can control most of the contaminants inside your home. The first step is to be aware of what might be in your indoor air and how it could harm your health. The air inside your home is filled with many particulates. Some are homegrown and others are brought in.  Contaminants that impact the air inside your home include mold, dust mites, pollen, pet dander, tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide, radon, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). There are three primary ways to improve the indoor air in your home.

Reduce what you bring indoors. Avoid using air fresheners, cleaning products, and personal care items that have with a strong smell. The VOCs found in fragrances contain large numbers of chemicals that may be carcinogenic, or result in migraines or respiratory problems for some people. If you do purchase these items, store them in the garage, away from the door leading into your home. Choose unscented products and make natural air fresheners.

Ventilate your home. Improving the flow of air in your home helps reduce problems caused by contaminants like mold, tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide (CO), radon, and VOCs. Ventilation helps dilute the concentrations in the air, but it doesn’t solve problems like radon or CO. Both of these gases are invisible and odorless, so you have to test or install a detector. You can purchase a test kit from UGA Extension (radon.uga.edu) to test your home for radon. To protect your family from CO poisoning, have a professional inspect your heating system and install a CO alarm or detector. When cooking and showering, turn on the exhaust fans to help remove the moisture from the air. Select a HEPA filter for your furnace. To be classified as a HEPA filter, the US Department of Energy specifies that it must filter at least 99.97 percent of particles sized .3 microns. Look for a pleated filter with a MERV rating of at least 17.  Be careful not to purchase a filter that is not compatible with your heating system.

Clean the air.  A portable air cleaner (also known as an air purifier) can remove some pollutants from the air. It is designed to filter the air in a single room, or area. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) developed the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) rating system for air cleaners that rates them according to the effectiveness in removing three types of pollutants – tobacco smoke, pollen, and dust.  The higher the rating, the faster the system filters the air, removing the pollutants. A general guideline is to follow the 2/3 Rule. Select an air cleaner with a CADR equal to at least two-thirds of the area in the room. For example, a 10 x 12 foot room with an area of 120 square feet, should have a CADR tobacco smoke score of at least 80. Since there are no federal standards for air cleaning devices, you need to do your research before making a purchase. It is not advisable to select an air cleaner that generates ozone. Although ozone can effectively remove viruses, bacteria and mold, it is a lung irritant.

Air cleaners alone will not protect you and your family from the virus that causes COVID-19; however, when used along with CDC best practices, a portable air cleaner can be helpful. For more information on air cleaners and air filters visit the EPA website.

Original article published in Healthy Georgia Connections, Issue 17, https://t.uga.edu/6z8.

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