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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 painful headaches.

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 cleaning productsHIDE
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 sick.
 

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 pollutants.

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 United States.

"Asthma is the number one chronic illness that keeps kids out of school, and it's growing," Eskelsen added.

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 on."

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 sicker."

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 maintenance.

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 buildings.

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 million.

"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 health effects.

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 other way.

"He's a different child," she said. "Now he's so healthy and happy. I can't put a price on that."

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'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 (GDP).
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, and
management of industrial and household wastes – has a direct bearing on the health and well-being of
people, according to the ‘Green India 2047’ report prepared by The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri),
that deals with issues of depletion of resources like water, forests, land and soil, as well as biodiversity.

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 respirable suspended
particulate matter in 2007,” notes the report.

Teri has also found that pollution control boards are undermined by low priority and limited resources.
In terms of environmental federalism in the country, there is a bias towards higher levels of government
in distribution of legislative, administrative and fiscal powers.

The report suggests a need to improve irrigation efficiency, especially groundwater, through water audits
and rationalisation of water rates and pollution charges.

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 livelihoods
of forest-dependent communities.

On indoor air pollution, the report says: “Even with the emphasis on rural electrification, it is expected
that at least 30 million households would be using kerosene by 2012 and 85 per cent of rural households
continue to depend on firewood and cow dung as a primary source of fuel for cooking.”

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Air has elevated cancer risk in 600 neighborhoods
Associated Press 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 attention.
 

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Children and Indoor Air Pollution
By Simon Hahessy June 6, 2009
 
Indoor air pollution has many potential effects on the health of both adults and children but children are more susceptible to
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 just playing.
 
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 can have.
 
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 environment.
 
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.

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Why Aren’t You Using a Home Water Purifier?
03-03-2009
 
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 reservoirs.

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 happen naturally.

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 family.

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Maybe work is making you sick …

Wed, 03/04/2009

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 December 2008.

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 percent.

“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,” said Haryanto.

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 Public Health.

However, said Haryanto, not many know that research has frequently found that the level of air pollution indoors could be worse than the level outdoors.

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 contaminants.

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 respiration problems.”

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 allergic responses.

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 unknown.

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 stamina.”

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
symptoms:

Burning and watering eyes and nose
Burning in trachea
Chronic fatigue
Debilitating fibromyalgia (muscle cramps and joint pain)
Dizziness
Dry, itchy skin
Exhaustion after normal activity
Headaches
Heart palpitations
Hoarseness, cough, sore throat
Inability to concentrate
Itchy granulomous pimples
Nausea
Nosebleeds
Pregnancy problems
Sensitivity to odors
Serious edema (swelling of legs, trunk, ankles)
Shortness of breath upon mild exertion (e.g. walking)
Tremors
Wellness when away from building

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Here 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 sucked out.

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 operate correctly.

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 another.

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 folks.

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 away.

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 better.

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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 surrounding air.

"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 fix."

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 inhaled.

"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 1980.

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 48 hours.

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 www.epa.gov/iaq.

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Indoor dangers: Staying out of frightful winter weather can pose health risks, too
Posted on January 13, 2009

By Alex Bridges -- Daily Staff Writer
WINCHESTER --
That long, winter's nap can make a person sicker than the cold air outside, warn doctors and environmental health experts.

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 away.

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 occupant's health.

"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 director.

"Any time you burn anything in the house, you create particles and gases which can be lung irritants," he said.

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 home."

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 those."

Visit www.ehw.org and click on Healthy House for more information.

* Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com

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Green Building - Creating Healthier Work Environments And Reducing Overhead Costs

By Vanessa A. Doctor
01-11-09

Green 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 and homes.

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 industry.

Building Green Helps To Improve The Overall Quality Of Life

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 prosperity.

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 retention.

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