In the dead of winter, we all become draft dodgers. We do the best we can to seal up windows and doors to keep cold air out and warm air in. Now that we’re in winter lockdown, we spend more time breathing the indoor air of our apartment or house. The good news is we aren’t freezing our lungs. The bad news is that the air inside our homes is often more polluted with chemicals than the air outside. In fact, several studies have found that indoor air pollution can be more of a threat to our health than the smoggiest day in L.A. Indoor pollutants fall into some basic categories. Environmental Tobacco Smoke: A report last month by researchers from the University of Rochester claimed children living in multifamily dwellings (apartments) are affected by secondhand cigarette smoke even if no one in their household smokes. Apparently the contaminants can pass through walls and building openings. Each year 3,000 Americans die from lung cancer caused by second-hand smoke. One million kids suffer asthma attacks brought on by indoor smoke. Biological Contaminants: Television ads for vacuums show an electron microscope image of a dust mite, making it look like something out of Jurassic Park . These tiny parasites really are an indoor air problem. It’s common to find 500 of the nasties in one gram of household dust. Pet dander, saliva, plant pollen, mold, mildew and household bacteria are some other sources of biological indoor air pollution. Combustion Carbon monoxide: Any indoor heating device can be a dangerous source of pollution. CO is odorless, colorless and deadly. Any heating system in the house should be properly vented to avoid buildup. Nitrous dioxide and radon are also emitted by heaters and fireplaces. Any candle, incense or poorly burning fire can release harmful particulates into the air. Tiny pieces of soot can carry smaller pollutants like radon deep into the lungs. Volatile Organic Chemicals: These are toxic chemicals present in everyday items such as household cleaners, fabrics, carpets, paints, clothing, cosmetics and other goods. It is not a trifling problem. The EPA estimates the exposure to these poisons to be five times greater indoors. Benzene, methylene chloride and perchloroethylene from dry cleaning agents are carcinogens. The EPA even recommends refusing your clothing at the dry cleaners if it smells of chemicals. Formaldehyde: Usually the most common toxic pollutant in the home, formaldehyde is used in permanent press fabrics, carpets, building materials, flooring and seeps into the air from pressed fiberboard furniture. It’s even in your toothpaste and the vaccination shot your infant received. Every bit of plywood material, including cabinets, paneling, walls and anything made of plywood will emit formaldehyde. It is carcinogenic and one of the greatest of indoor threats, especially because it is so pervasive. Pesticides: Seventy-five percent of American homes have used a pesticide (like Raid, flea powder, mothballs) indoors in the past year. That alone cannot explain the high levels of deadly pesticide pollution in homes. Most comes from stored containers. Remember, if a chemical was designed to destroy biological life, be it a snail or a cockroach, it likely isn’t going to be all that good for you or your family. The active ingredient in mothballs is often found in air fresheners! Imagine, that little thing you plug into the wall is doing a lot more than “freshening” the air in your house. Others: Lead, asbestos, radon, fiberglass insulation and other toxins are well-documented problems. A Growing Solution It may seem daunting, but take heart. There is an easy and natural way to purge the toxic air in your home. Houseplants can remove huge amounts of indoor air pollution and replace it with clean, clear oxygen. Plants are natural air filters and so efficient, NASA has used them in experiments to purify air aboard spacecraft. Place some of these around the house and they’ll grow on you while cleaning the air. Philodendron: A common houseplant that is easy to grow and cheap to buy, the philodendron, like all plants, will breathe in carbon dioxide and release clean, fresh oxygen. In addition, it’s expert at removing the harmful chemical formaldehyde from your indoor air. Spider plant: Perfect as a hanging plant, the spider plant also will remove formaldehyde. English Ivy: Another easy grower, this one is a super plant when it comes to detoxifying your indoor air. NASA found that it removes formaldehyde, toluene, benzene and xylene. It will also decrease airborne mold spores by as much as 60 percent. Peace lily: This workhorse indoor plant is exceptional at removing trichloroethylene from the air. It also does well getting rid of formaldehyde and benzene, too. Another benefit is that a peace lily can remove mold spores from the air. Try placing one in your bathroom to cut down on any mold growth around the walls or tub. Palms: Almost any sort of palm will be a huge benefit to the air in your home. They are rated at the top as purifiers and also humidify the air, too. NASA tested the areca, the lady palm, bamboo palm and the rubber plant and found them to be tops in efficiency. They can literally take the place of an electric humidifier and recycle air while removing toxins. Chrysanthemum: Seems simple but what this plant can do in addition to beautifying your home is remove trichloroethylene. It also does well getting rid of formaldehyde and benzene. Boston fern: Always a popular indoor plant, a Boston fern can humidify and remove toxins as well. Boston ferns also control mold and bacterial growth. They can make it easier to breathe in your bedroom at night by keeping allergens at bay. They are great for kitchen areas and other rooms where moisture is high. Get started: A 2000-squarefoot home could use 10 plants and see a huge benefit. It takes only 24 hours for the plants to work their magic. Be well.


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