Dirty Indoor Air is a Serious Problem – Here’s What NASA Disovered

Dirty Indoor Air is a Serious Problem – Here’s What NASA Disovered about undefined

Here’s a dirty little secret not many people know outside of NASA.

It has to do with a major cancer risk you can’t see, touch, or feel – polluted indoor air.

Your office, home, or apartment probably has this problem in common with NASA’s spaceships, so you may want to try the ingenious solution the space scientists came up with. . .

Most people realize by now that it’s hard to escape from the sea of toxins all around us. But most of us make the mistake of thinking that air pollution is an outside job… when in reality it’s an inside one, too.

You probably spend upwards of 90 percent of your time indoors, which makes you a sitting duck for whatever toxins lurk within. And the research shows that air quality matters more than you think.

Linked to more than just “sick building syndrome”

Furnishings, paints, carpets, building materials, and cleaning products all release gases in this age of chemistry. A major offender is consumer electronics encased in molded plastic, which often outgases.

We inhale this stuff. I can personally attest to how much of it there is, because I’m sensitive to these “volatile organic compounds” or VOCs. They make me extremely sick. I also know a few other people with this “disorder” (assuming it’s we who are disordered and not the society around us.)

So I offer myself for your consideration as the canary in the coal mine. I can tell you the air is thick with these gases. And because buildings today are far more airtight than they were a couple of decades ago, the VOCs are more concentrated.

Short term, they can lead to what we call “sick building syndrome.”

Some symptoms emerge after a single exposure to a pollutant. If you have unexplained symptoms of eye, nose, or throat irritation, sneezing, coughing, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, brain fog, or asthma, consider it a forewarning of a possible future – and much more deadly -- problem.

Certain acute symptoms can masquerade as a cold or other viral illness, so it’s important to carefully note the time and place symptoms occur. They may also arise after several days’ exposure – you may not have an immediate reaction to, say, a new cleaning agent or a new carpet. And then the symptoms may linger for several days after the carpet or whatever has been removed. This makes it hard to identify the cause of your symptoms.

Long-term effects can be severely debilitating or even fatal, and include chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and heart disease.

So if you’re at wit’s end trying to diagnose weird symptoms that seem worse in certain locations, maybe it’s time to pull back the curtain on indoor air pollutants.

NASA’s spaceships were as highly polluted as the common person’s indoor air, so they had heavy motivation to find ways to reduce the risk. After all, astronauts in space can’t go for a walk to get fresh air. They’re stuck there for the duration.

Fortunately, they discovered a simple, beautiful way to slash toxic exposure. Now you can gain some benefit from your tax dollars. But first, let’s touch on some of the invisible chemical culprits you may be facing.

“Killer” toxins you can’t hear, see, or touch

These silent and invisible threats stalk you, even though you can’t hear, see, or touch them.

Most buildings you spend time in contain these nasty villains:

1. Formaldehyde.  A ubiquitous chemical indoors. Major sources: Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), particleboard or pressed wood products, grocery bags, waxed paper, facial tissues, paper towels, cleaning agents, water repellants, fire retardants, adhesive binders used in floor covers and carpet backing, and permanent pressed clothing. Plus cigarette smoke and heating and cooking fuels like natural gas and kerosene.

Formaldehyde is a highly reactive chemical that inflames mucous membranes of your eyes, nose and throat, and causes contact dermatitis. Common symptoms include irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, and headaches.

The EPA believes it’s a possible trigger for throat cancer among long-term occupants of mobile homes.

The sheer number of potential formaldehyde emitters found in homes and offices makes it important to try to reduce your exposure.

2. Benzene. A commonly used solvent, it’s present in gasoline, ink, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes.

It’s long been known as an eye and skin irritant. And it’s a known carcinogen and reproductive toxin. Experts link it to DNA abnormalities and leukemia in humans.

Side effects include dizziness, weakness, euphoria, headache, nausea, blurred vision, respiratory distress, irregular heartbeat, liver and kidney damage, paralysis, and unconsciousness.

Chronic exposure even at low levels can cause headaches, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological problems, and blood diseases, including anemia and bone marrow disease.

3. Trichloroethylene (TCE). Typically used in metal degreasing and dry-cleaning solutions… also in printer inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives. The National Cancer Institute names it a powerful cause of liver cancer.

4. Xylene. Short-term exposure is linked with throat and mouth irritation, dizziness, headache, confusion, heart disease, liver and kidney

Xylene is found in aerosol arts and crafts paints, auto body polish, cleaners, and paints, caulking, epoxy adhesives, architectural coatings, agricultural chemicals, and more.

5. Ammonia. Found in glass (and other) cleaners, tile sealers, epoxy, carpet cleaner, brass cleaner, auto products, hair coloring, and more.

Health effects include cancer, as well as acute symptoms such as eye irritation, coughing, and sore throat.

A cheap – and beautiful -- solution

The good news is that while you could invest in expensive air filters or build a LEED certified home, there’s a cheap, easy, environmentally friendly, and beautiful decorating accessory that slurps up these airborne chemicals – house plants.

Besides their value in beautifying a room, plants just make people feel better. In one study, hospital patients recovered from surgery faster when they had plants in their rooms. They were even found to be more positive, less stressed out – and they had lower blood pressure!1

There’s also some evidence that plants may help you think more clearly and reduce stress in high tech office settings.2

9 easy-to-grow, hard-to-kill house plants

So how do houseplants clean your air?

By absorbing particulates when they “breathe in” carbon dioxide. But there’s even more to this: microorganisms in the potting soil are also part of the clean-air solution.3

Fortunately, most of these winning candidates are simple to grow – even if you have anything but a green thumb.

Now’s the perfect time to plan for your indoor garden, especially if you’re like me and planning for the outdoor growing season and making trips to the nursery anyway.

1. Boston Fern.

They’re #1 for removing formaldehyde. They also efficiently remove benzene and xylene – components of gasoline exhaust that can migrate indoors from your attached garage.

Their drawback is that they’re slightly more finicky than others on this list, insisting on being watered and having leaves misted, plus monthly feeding.

2. Palm Trees.

Highly adept at removing indoor air pollutants, especially formaldehyde. And easy to care for.

The best palm for formaldehyde removal is the dwarf date palm.

The bamboo palm is a second formaldehyde-cleansing palm superstar, partly due to its size – which can range from four to 12 feet tall. Bamboo palms also clean up benzene and trichloroethylene.

Other high-ranking palms: areca palm, lady palm, or parlor palm.

3. Garden Mum.

NASA revealed this as an air-purifying champion. This beloved flowering plant removes ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene. It’s popular and inexpensive at garden stores, and can be planted outdoors after blooming.

4.  Spider Plants.

Spider plants are a beginner’s dream – and a godsend for forgetful owners. They’re one of the easiest houseplants to grow, sending out baby shoots that become new plants. They love bright, indirect sunlight.

Spider plants remove formaldehyde and xylene.

5. Snake Plants.

Want a plant that cleans the air and is ridiculously hard to kill? This is it!

Snake plants claim the award for ease of care. You could ignore it for a month and it’ll be fine – a perfect option for busy people or those who travel a lot.

It prefers dry conditions and a bit of sun.

Snake plants also go by the names mother-in-law’s tongue and viper’s bowstring hemp.

They filter out benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene.

6. Ficus/Weeping Fig.

This plant has serious air-cleaning ability – removing benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.

It’s a hardy, low-maintenance plant that grows from two to ten feet tall. If you forget to water it, no worries. The weeping fig likes to dry out between waterings. They don’t like to be moved, however. They shed all their leaves at the least disturbance.

7. Rubber Plant.

The rubber plant is a great formaldehyde remover.

Loved for its ease of growth, plus its looks and large rubbery leaves, it can grow to eight feet in certain conditions. Bred for toughness, it’s hardy even in less than ideal conditions.

8. English Ivy.

Praised for its ability to remove formaldehyde.

It’s fairly adaptable and will climb and spread out if given the chance. But it needs ample light to thrive.

9. Peace Lily.

Small but mighty, peace lilies pack some serious air-cleaning abilities. They remove ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.

They’re easy to grow and will bloom for months. This’ll make your air smell flowery, in case you’re sensitive. The peace lily prefers shade over sun.

Why not pick one or more of these to decorate and cleanse your indoor home and office air this spring?

And when the outdoor temp is suitable, open windows on opposite ends of your home and let the air flow through also, to move toxins out of your living space.

Important caution for households with pets and children

Some indoor houseplants are toxic to children and pets, if eaten, so please check a plant’s status before bringing it into your home if it’s likely someone’s going to take a bite. Or keep the plants so high and out of reach that children and pets can’t reach them or even notice them.

Toxicity is rare. Most plants are perfectly safe to grow. And in most cases a child or pet would have to consume large quantities to incur damage. Often the bitter taste is enough to repel them.

My mother grew zillions of house plants and always had cats around the house. And grandchildren. None of the pets or kids ever keeled over.

Best regards,

Lee Euler,


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