By Alison Grimes
As the holidays approach, there are many things to prepare. Some will even prepare an exercise routine or schedule to keep up with healthy weight fitness goals. However, few will consider the quality of air throughout the holiday season.
Holiday activities such as heating, cooking, cleaning and even decorating can affect your indoor air quality. So, this month, we’ve partnered with the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center to shed light on some common indoor air toxins to be aware of this holiday season.
Holiday decorating means frequent visits to mold-prone basements, attics or storage units. Decorations used every year carry dust and, if stored in cardboard, likely develop mold spores over time. It's important to store decorations in dry, plastic containers, and to clean them before entering them into your living spaces. Also, Americans will buy between 25 - 30 million live Christmas trees to decorate their homes this year. However, little consideration is given to how these trees affect indoor air quality. About seven percent of the general population with allergies suffers from Christmas tree allergies or Christmas Tree Syndrome.
Little attention is given amid the holiday rush to the treatment of cut trees—tightly bundled and packed into moisture-prone environments, either refrigerated or non-refrigerated, and distributed to a retailer near you. At this point, Christmas trees can carry more than 50 species of pathogenic mold spores and, in many cases, when trees arrive to your home, mold formations can begin to reproduce in as little as 12 hours. Here are a few ways to keep the indoor air in your home safe from mold produced by Christmas trees, wreaths and more:
- Clean and wipe tree trunks thoroughly
- Use a leaf blower to remove residue and pollen grains from pine needles
- Consider cutting your own tree to reduce bypass, storage and transportation that promote mold growth
- Consider disposing of your tree immediately following Christmas, as mold can colonize in as little as 1 - 12 days, depending on the type of mold.
Asbestos is a natural, fibrous silicate mineral with an estimated presence in over 35 million homes in the United States alone. Due to the abundance and fire-resistant properties of this natural resource, asbestos was widely used in construction and manufacturing throughout 1930 - 1970. As a result, many schools, buildings and homes built during this time period are likely to have asbestos-containing materials, such as shingles, siding, adhesives and paints, among other things. Years ago, asbestos was used to make decorative snow for windows and seasonal installments; however, in the 1960s, it was scientifically proven that asbestos was very dangerous to human health.
Exposure to asbestos can cause asbestosis (a chronic lung disease), lung cancer, pleural effusion and a rare disease affecting the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart—mesothelioma. When asbestos-containing products become disturbed, releasing its fibers into the air, the fibers can become inhaled or ingested. Therefore, it is important to safely encapsulate asbestos-containing materials to keep safe this holiday season. Have your home tested for asbestos and learn more about asbestos here.
Radon gas is a present no one wants for the holidays, yet radon levels can soar during colder months when residents keep windows closed and spend more time indoors. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as many as 8 million homes throughout the country (or one in five) contain elevated levels of radon. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths, following cigarette smoke, and is responsible for 22,000 lives each year. Radon gas is produced naturally as a result of the radioactive breakdown in uranium in rocks and soils. As a result, radon gas can enter households by way of dirt or unfinished basements; therefore, the EPA recommends having your home tested for radon. Also, have a radon scanner installed in your home to safeguard your family from prolonged radon gas exposure.
Traditional holiday meals and dinner preparation can result in elevated indoor air pollutant levels. Particularly, reports of elevated ultrafine particles (UFP) smaller than 100nm are associated with gas and electric stoves, and cooking appliances. Gas cooking also emits nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, associated with increased risk of asthma and cardiovascular disease. Consider using an indoor air purifier during the holidays and propping open a window for added ventilation.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Candles are festive and aromatic, but should also be used with caution. More than 1 billion pounds of wax are used in producing candles each year, in 2,000 varieties and over 1,000 scents. However, similar to wood burning, candle flames can produce soot, as well as ultrafine particles containing metals as a result of color pigments. Avoid candles made of paraffin, a petroleum byproduct, as they are most likely to emit carcinogenic soot aggravating the breathing environment for those with asthma, lung or heart problems. Also, avoid candles made prior to 2003 as they may contain lead-core wicks, which release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children, and exceed EPA pollution standards for outdoor air. Consider natural candle alternatives made with 100 percent beeswax or vegetable-based wax and cotton wicks. To reduce soot, trip wicks to one-eighth of an inch and do not burn candles in drafty areas.