UNMC LiveGreen: Clearing the air

by Anne Rivas, UNMC LiveGreen | February 25, 2014

Image with file name: LiveGreen211.jpg

My first house was built in the early 1900s in a warmer, more humid climate than this one.

We got rid of cockroach infestations using chemicals to fog the house, and lived with dust mites, cigarette smoke, a variety of furry pets, and a fish tank.

I stripped lead paint with toluene, bought a new furnace after we experienced flu-like symptoms that disappeared whenever we left the house, battled mold in the basement and behind the wallpaper, replaced the leaky plumbing (using PVC pipe and solvents), and cleaned absolutely everything with chlorine bleach.

I also took my oldest child to the ER with severe asthma attacks several times each winter. We were sick and so was our house, but at least it was drafty -- um -- well-ventilated.

Many households have those same hazards today -- and more. Take a look at this interactive guide.

Formaldehyde. Benzene. Trichloroethylene. Toluene. Methylene chloride. During the winter months these chemicals can build up in our homes. They come from plywood and pressed-wood products, furniture, carpeting, new permanent-press clothing, paints, adhesives, and solvents.

Even tightly closed paint cans leak VOCs (volatile organic compounds). New carpeting, furniture and pressed-wood products should be aired for 72 hours in a large, well-ventilated space before being installed, and permanent press clothing should be washed before it is worn.

Formaldehyde is used in some cosmetics, dish soaps, medicines, leather treatments and fabric softeners. Ventilate indoor spaces, particularly when using any product containing formaldehyde or other chemicals. Check out the Environmental Working Group for more information.

Even our cleaning products can be hazardous. Products containing VOCs and other toxic substances can include:

  • Aerosol spray products
  • Air fresheners
  • Chlorine bleach (with heat it vaporizes to form chloroform, mixed with ammonia it forms chlorine gas)
  • Detergents
  • Dry cleaning chemicals
  • Rug and upholstery cleaners
  • Furniture and floor polish
  • Oven cleaners

For information about non-toxic cleaning, click here.

In warm weather we can open windows, but what can we do in the winter? When the going gets tough, the tough re-decorate (non-toxically, of course). Here are some houseplants that help clear the air of toxic chemicals:

  • Peace lily
  • Warneck dracaena
  • Spider plant
  • Aloe Pothos
  • Snake plant

For more information about air-cleaning houseplants, click here.

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Anne Lawlor
February 25, 2014 at 10:22 AM

Great tips, Anne - thank you!