Air Pollution: Not Just Outside Your Window

Photo by glasseyes view on flickr

By Jean Pfefferkorn

With the advent of more expensive heating and cooling costs, as well as environmental concerns, buildings–both commercial and residential–are being built more soundly. New buildings, with tighter windows and improved insulation, may retain harmful chemicals we breathe in, unaware of the long-term effects. Invisible, often odor-free gasses threaten lung health; over the long term, indoor gaseous pollution can cause lung disease.

Some gaseous offenders richly abound in new or renovated buildings. Man-made, synthetic building materials are components of carpeting, cabinets, wallpaper, flooring, and fabrics. Common chemicals such as benzene–a carcinogenic petrochemical, and formaldehyde–a documented, pungent carcinogen are known to send “off-gas” pollutants into the interior environment. Add the possibility of second-hand tobacco smoke, and the air you’re breathing in your home or workplace can seem quite the health hazard. What steps can we take to ameliorate this situation?

  • A strict no-smoking indoors policy–the only known preventive measure–protects everyone from second-hand smoke.
  • When the weather is pleasant, open windows can help to distribute cleaner air from the out-of-doors. Slightly open windows, combined with fans for circulation help to keep air clean even on bad weather days.
  • Houseplants are more than just pretty faces. Certain houseplants fight indoor pollution through their respiration, which scrubs carbon dioxide and some gasses out of the air. Pollutants are also absorbed into the soil.
  • Particularly efficient air-scrubbing plants include Hedera helix (English ivy), Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant), Epipiremnum aureum (golden pothos), Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Aglaonema modestum (Chinese evergreen), Chamaedorea sefritzii (bamboo or reed palm), Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant), Heartleaf Philodendron, Elephant ear philodendron, Dracaena, and Ficus benjamina (weeping fig).
  • Houseplants add moisture to the air, which is especially beneficial in the dry winter air. However, your family’s respiratory allergies may preclude this moisture, so experiment with these beautiful and quiet air filters to see how they work.

Jean has been working at Howard County Library System’s Central Branch for nearly nine years. She walks in the Benjamin Banneker Park whenever she gets a chance.