Air Apparent

Indoor pollution solution

by Michael Braunstein

Humans in First World countries spend most their time indoors, over 90 percent of it, in fact. Sad. During winter months it is certainly much more. And denizens of the most highly polluted cities in the world are warned to stay inside anytime during episodes of extreme air pollution, exacerbated by atmospheric conditions like temperature inversions or doldrums. That may be wise advice at critical times but the irony is that concentrations of some pollutants in our modern homes and buildings is often two to five times higher than outdoors. We’ve managed to pollute our own nests.

How does it happen that indoor air is worse? Well, we make it so. The chemicals used in modern building materials, even materials as “natural” as wood, ooze and emit vapors that no one would ordinarily choose to breathe or take into their body. Fire retardants, preservatives, colorants, general processors all contribute to indoor air quality. Even the fact that wood harvested for new homes grows in a modern, polluted atmosphere that allows trees to capture airborne pollutants that are then emitted in the home is thought provoking. Modern lumber harvesting usually takes trees by the age of 15 years. I have often reflected on the fact that the oak in my house, built in 1913, was likely harvested at the old-growth age of 100 years or more. That means the oak trees used for lumber in my house lived mostly pre-industrial revolution, were still growing when Thomas Jefferson was alive, when air was clean. Not much formaldehyde emitted from my door frames. That’s just not the case with a new home or office building. Add the fact that more contemporary buildings have sealed windows and there is nowhere for the vapors to escape. Air is often recirculated with only technology’s version of filtration and purification replacing the vastly superior natural versions presented by open window airflow. We haven’t even touched on the emissions coming from the dozens of chemicals in bottles under your sink!

Let’s be open. Allow me to share something that demonstrates the beauty and natural intelligence of common sense. Some readers may be too young to have heard the axiom that “fresh air is good for you.” That doesn’t make it not so. And there is a peer-reviewed study that proves it beyond a doubt. Researchers chose eight hospitals in one city. Five were built in an “old fashioned” pre-1950s design of high ceilings with large windows allowing natural ventilation. The remaining three were modern, using mechanically ventilated, negative pressure air circulation, low ceiling rooms with no open windows. The researchers studied tuberculosis transmission using very particular methods. To summarize, chances of a healthy person contracting TB in a modern, closed-up hospital tuberculosis ward where windows don’t open is 75 percent higher than in a hospital with large windows that open and natural ventilation. Of course, an observant person would note that a high-ceiling room with large, opening windows doesn’t fit the profit picture of smaller rooms that allow for more floors to a building and higher patient density.

Clean the scene. Without too much detail, (that may come in a future Heartland Healing column,) here are suggestions on how to lower the air pollution in your living space. Some may be obvious. Some may be simplistic. There is bound to be at least one you can use.

Live old school. Choosing to live in an apartment or home that is more than 80 years old will certainly help. Our use of chemicals exploded after World War Two and homes built post-‘50s are chemical land mines.

Make friends with plants. Houseplants bring air filters and purifiers indoors for you. Unless you’ve forgotten everything you know about the carbon cycle, recall that plants eat up carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. We need more of one and less of the other. Plants specialize in filtering pollutants out of the air. A single philodendron can work wonders in a one-bedroom apartment and 15 houseplants can recycle the air of a whole house in twenty-four hours.

Here comes the sun. Make your home as sunny as possible. Sunlight helps purify and clean the air. Ultraviolet light in sunlight kills bacteria. And sunlight naturally is needed to spur photosynthesis in those air-purifying house plants, too.

Dump the poison. Take a serious look at every bottle and jar under your sink, in your bathroom and your linen closet, basement or paint room. I’ll bet you’ll find nearly all of them with a warning about how they are “safe when used as directed.” Well, turn that phrase around and you get, “dangerous the rest of the time.” Most of the chemical toxins in a normal home come from the chemicals we bring in ourselves! Stop importing poison. Dryer sheets, non-stick cookware, chemical cleaners and the rest are just a bunch of toxins defiling your air. Then there are the toxic air fresheners themselves. Yikes! Think it through. Keep it clean. It should be apparent.

Maybe next time we’ll offer some options to the toxins.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit

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