Something in the Air

IN THIS SECTION
 

Chemicals are omnipresent. They spew from industrial smokestacks, engine exhausts, burn sites, and other modes of waste release, rising into the atmosphere, then falling back to earth as acid rain onto the soil, where plants absorb them. These plants become our food and the food for the animals we eat. Residual toxicity from breathing and eating creeps into our bodies and does damage, typically without obvious signs. Should you stop breathing and eating? Of course not. However, you should be aware of exposure risks and not ignorantly let chemical stress steal your health.

Many of us are exposed to contaminated air every day. Perhaps the most common and insidious source for most Americans is exhaust from motor vehicles

Car ExhaustCar exhaust has been known to aggravate respiratory conditions, increase the severity of allergies, exacerbate depression, adversely affect immune system function, and even trigger heart attacks.

The risks associated with chemicals from vehicle exhaust are well documented. A study by the American Thoracic Society proves that living near major traffic zones is a sure way to increase the chances of serious illness. The study, performed in 2005 in San Diego, found that children living within 75 meters of a major road had an almost 50 percent greater risk of having had asthma symptoms in the past year than did children who lived more than 300 meters away.

The largest national study of a specific population and air pollution was published in 2006. The study suggests that elevations in fine particulate air pollution increase cardiovascular and respiratory hospitalizations across the United States. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Yale universities monitored 11.5 million Medicare enrollees in 204 urban counties between 1999 and 2003. They found that short-term spikes in particulate-matter pollution—including soot, dust, smoke, and liquid droplets—resulted in a greater percentage of people being hospitalized for heart and lung ailments, obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, and peripheral vascular disease than when the air was cleaner.

Toxic ProductsYou don’t need to be outside to be exposed to chemicals (pull quote). Safety indeed begins at home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor levels of air pollutants can be two to five times higher—and occasionally even 100 times higher—than outdoor levels. Consumer products and building materials are largely responsible. Plywood and particle board, as well as certain materials used in curtains, carpets, and furniture, release formaldehyde fumes and other aldehydes. Adhesives, solvents, shoe polish, and artificial degreasers and air fresheners are all sources of pollution. Some people even store fuels, pesticides, and toxic household cleaning products indoors!

The air in your home needs to move. If toxic gases or particulates are in a stagnant environment, they will stay there, possibly saturating carpets and furniture. Highly sophisticated air filtration equipment is available to help keep your air clean, whether in your home, office, or car. Natural, environmentally safe air fresheners and cleaning agents can replace the chemically loaded products that bombard us in advertisements. Safer alternatives to chemically treated carpets, drapes, paints, furniture––and virtually all household items—are available.

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