Indoor Air Quality
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening chronic respiratory disease that affects the quality of life for more than 25 million Americans, including an estimated 4 million children (EPA). Asthma can be controlled through different medications, such as an inhaler or breathing treatments.
Common Asthma Triggers
Since Americans spend a lot of time in their home, indoor allergens and irritants can play a large role in triggering asthma attacks. Triggers are things that can cause asthma symptoms or an asthma attack. Some of the common asthma triggers you could find in your home and work to prevent in your home includes:
- Secondhand smoke
- Dust mites
- Cockroaches and pests
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Outdoor air pollution
- Chemical irritants
- Wood smoke
The Healthy Homes Assessment include a visual walk-through and an assessment of the building and mechanical components. There will also be an evaluation of indoor air quality through measurements of: carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature, and relative humidity. The Healthy Homes Assessment is also aligned with the eight principles of a healthy home, which includes keeping your home dry, clean, pest-free, ventilated, safe, contaminant-free, and maintained. An informal assessment of the asthmatic's respiratory condition will be made and Healthy Home/asthma-specific education will be shared with the program participant, as appropriate. If your child is the asthmatic, they are not required to be present during the Healthy Homes assessment, but if they are old enough to understand their medical condition, it is required.
To ask questions or submit a Healthy Homes Assessment referral, please contact Linn County Public Health at 319-892-6000 or email [email protected].
At room temperature, carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, faintly acidic-tasting, non-flammable gas. In its solid form, carbon dioxide is called dry ice. Carbon dioxide is a normal byproduct of breathing. Carbon dioxide is also produced in the burning of fossil fuels and decaying vegetation. Carbon dioxide can accumulate in buildings that house a lot of people or animals and is a symptom of problems with fresh air circulation in the building or home. The amount of carbon dioxide in a building is usually related to how much fresh air is being brought into the building.
In general, high carbon dioxide levels (above 1,000 parts per million (PPM)) indicates a potential problem with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas.
Health Effects of Carbon Monoxide:
If levels of CO get high enough, it can kill people without them even knowing the gas is present.
At lower levels of exposure, CO can cause:
- Symptoms mistaken for the flu
The effects of CO will vary from person to person, depending upon their age, overall health, concentration of CO, and length of exposure.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide:
- Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
- Leaking chimneys and furnaces
- Back-drafting from furnaces
- Gas water heaters
- Wood stoves and fireplaces
- Gas stoves
- Gasoline-powered equipment
- Automobile exhaust from attached garages
- Tobacco smoke
Additionally, incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges or unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air. Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (i.e., boilers and furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking. Auto, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be sources of CO.
Actions Steps You Can Take to Minimize Carbon Monoxide Exposure:
- Get a carbon monoxide detector - many local hardware and big box stores sell these. Detectors can help alert you when increased CO levels are present in your home, but they are not foolproof. It is recommended you install at least one CO detector in your home near the sleeping area, but homes with multiple sleeping areas should have multiple detectors.
- Have furnaces inspected for cracks, gaps, rust, corrosion, or debris by a qualified professional before each heating season.
- Fireplace chimneys and flues should be checked and cleaned every year.
- Have gas appliances serviced each year by a qualified technician.
- Stove burners should be cleaned and adjusted to minimize the amount of CO produced.
- Never start or leave cars, trucks, or other vehicles running in an enclosed area. Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in a closed garage.
- Never operate barbeque grills indoors or use stove tops/ovens that operate on flammable fuels to heat a residence.
- If living in a multi-family dwelling, be aware that CO can enter through floorboards, cracks, or underneath doors.
- Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors and windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented.
What is Environmental Tobacco Smoke?
Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is also known as secondhand smoke and consists of exhaled smoke from smokers and side stream smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 substances, including more than 60 of which are known carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents.
Health Effects of ETS Exposure:
Secondhand smoke can cause a variety of different health effects for different populations. Secondhand smoke can cause:
- Asthma triggers
- Nose, eye, and throat irritation
- Respiratory illnesses
- Lung cancer
- Ear infections in children
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the United States. About 800 of these are estimated to be from exposure to secondhand smoke at home and 2,200 deaths are from exposure in work or social situations. In addition, current smokers are at an increased risk for respiratory infections from other exposures, such as asbestos and radon.
Smoking is also associated with an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), and low birth weight.
Also according to the EPA, children's exposure to secondhand smoke is responsible for:
- Increased number of asthma attacks and severity of symptoms in 200,000 to 1 milion children with asthma
- Between 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections (for children under 18 months of age)
- Respiratory tract infections resulting in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations each year
Actions You Can Take:
- Take the smoke-free pledge
- Choose to smoke outside
- Don't smoke around your children
- Don't allow babysitters or others who visit your home to smoke around your children
- Call Quitline Iowa (1-800-QUIT-NOW) for help
Reasons to Explore Smoke-Free Housing
In shared living spaces, such as apartment buildings, smoke-free housing policies can help save money, reduce tenant complaints, improve tenants and the building's health, and increase market share.
- Reduces operating costs
- Apartment turnover costs can be 2-7 times higher when smoking is allowed, compared to the cost of maintaining and turning over a smoke-free unit
- Some insurance companies offer discounts on property casualty insurance for multi-unit owners with a 100% smoke-free policy. Ask your insurance carrier about these options.
- Smoking is a leading cause of residential fires and the number one cause of fire deaths in the United States.
- Tenants prefer smoke-free housing
- Several statewide surveys demonstrate that as many as 78% of tenants, including smokers, would choose to live in a smoke-free complex
- Secondhand smoke complaints and requests for unit transfers drop following the implementation of a smoke-free policy. Nationwide, less than 21% of the general population smokes, so it makes sense that a vast majority of tenants want to live in a smoke-free environment
- Tenant health improves with smoke-free housing
- There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and the EPA has identified secondhand smoke as a Class A carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), the most toxic class of chemicals that are known to cause cancer in humans.
- Secondhand smoke is a leading trigger of asthma attacks and other respiratory problems and a known cause of SIDS.
- Secondhand smoke is classified as a "toxic air contaminant," putting it in the same class of other contaminants including asbestos, lead, vehicle exhaust, and a host of other chemicals that are strictly regulated.
- Ventilation systems do not protect families from secondhand smoke. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), "at present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking."
- Research demonstrates that up to 65% of air can be exchanged between units and that smoke travels through tiny cracks, crevices, and chasing, involuntarily exposing individuals in adjacent units.
Mold is the leading source of health-related housing complaints and questions in Linn County. Mold can affect you and your family's health, especially those with asthma or other respiratory diseases. To grow, mold requires a moisture source, such as a leak. When mold spores land on surfaces that are wet, that is when mold grows. The key to preventing mold from growing inside of your home is by controlling moisture.
Tips for Controlling Moisture In Your Home:
- When water leaks occur, act quickly.
- Make sure your home's gutters and downspouts are working correctly and water is directed away from your home's foundation.
- The soil or ground surface around your home should slope away from your foundation.
- Maintain your plumbing system and repair any leaks immediately.
- Maintain your roofing system.
- Air conditioning units that drip should be sloped and drained away from the home.
- Control indoor humidity - it's recommended between 30-50%.
- Make sure you use bathroom and kitchen vents after showering or cooking to help control humidity.
- Your clothes dryer should be vented to the exterior.
- Control condensation, especially in ground level or basement areas.
- Properly store items in your home (i.e., furniture, beds, storage cabinets, etc.) and keep items away from walls to avoid moisture from becoming trapped
- It's recommended to purchase a humidistat to monitor the relative humidity inside of your home. These can be purchased for less than $15 at home improvement and big box stores.
To Remove Mold In Your Home:
- Remove and correct the water source.
- For small areas of mold (less than 10 square feet), clean mold off of hard surfaces with warm water and household detergent.
- Wash or dispose of fabrics with mold on them.
- Dispose of paper and cardboard that are moldy (these are not cleanable). Replace building material like chipboard and drywall that is molded through. Do not drag the moldy material through your home - seal it in plastic to avoid spreading mold spores.
- Take caution to limit your exposure and others' exposure to mold. You may want to wear an N-95 respirator, which is available at most hardware stores. Consult with your physician to see if you can wear a respirator, as some medical conditions will prevent it. Other personal protective equipment that is recommended is non-vented goggles and gloves.
- If chemicals are used to clean the mold such as bleach or biocides, make sure you follow the instructions carefully and properly ventilate the area. Chemicals can kill mold; however, mold will come back if you do not control the moisture source. In some cases, chemicals may be necessary when the water source is from sewage or contaminants, like flood water.
- The most important thing is to find and repair the moisture source.
Additional Mold Resources:
Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can enter a home through a variety of ways, such as cracks in solid floors, construction joints, cracks in walls, gaps in suspended floors, gaps around service pipes, cavities inside walls, and the water supply. The only way to know if your home has been exposed to radon is to test for it.
Learn more about radon.
What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted from certain liquids and solids, such as paints, varnishes, solvents, cleaning products, cosmetics, air fresheners, carpet and vinyl floors, glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and pesticides. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, which may have short-term or long-term health impacts.
Health Effects from VOCs:
Health effects from VOCs include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Loss of coordination
- Damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system
Chemicals found in VOCs, such as styrene, xylenes, and benzene may have additional health impacts on individuals including pregnant women and their newborns, in addition to potentially causing certain types of cancers.
Steps to Reduce Exposure to VOCs:
- Increase ventilation when using products that contain VOCs
- Follow manufacturer's directions when using household chemicals, pesticides, and other products containing VOCs. Potentially hazardous products often have warnings posted on product labels, aimed at reducing exposure to the user. For example, if a warning label says to use the product in a well-ventilated area, go outside or in areas equipped with an exhaust fan to use it. Or, open windows to provide the maximum amount of outdoor air when using the product.
- Safely dispose of chemicals, including those chemicals that are rarely used. You should only buy household chemicals in quantities that you will use in a short period of time. Most household chemicals are able to be disposed of through the Cedar Rapids-Linn County Solid Waste Agency. You can contact the agency at 319-377-5290 or visit their website for more information.
- Keep all household chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
- Never mix any kind of household chemicals unless directed on the label.
Another framework you can use to minimize your exposure to VOCs and household chemicals is by "green cleaning:"
- Use safely
- Read the label carefully
- Follow instructions
- Wear protective clothing
- Never mix products
- Use less
- Buy only what you need
- Use tools instead of chemicals
- Prevent pests so you don't need chemicals to kill them
- Consider using household products like baking soda
- Store safely
- Keep away from children
- Keep them in their original packaging
- Store away from the water supply or open flames
- Keep containers dry and shut tightly
- Safe disposal
- Share extra supply/chemicals with those who may need it
- Take leftovers to community hazardous waste collection
- Never dump or burn leftover chemicals
- Recycle products like motor oil and anti-freeze