Radon And Indoor Air Pollution

The month of January is dedicated to raising awareness about radon gas. As a nation, we take this time to acknowledge the threat of this toxic gas along with other home air quality hazards. Mold and asbestos are two very common hazards that can compromise home air quality as well. The most important part about sustaining a healthy living environment is knowing what to look for and how to properly deal with such hazards.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is harmful to humans if exposed for prolonged periods of time. It is caused by the breakdown of radioactive metals like uranium, radium and thorium found deep underground. When present in the area, radon gas often infiltrates a home’s air supply through gaps and openings in its foundations. There is also the possibility of it seeping into the water supply and corrupting the home air quality through that. This becomes a problem when the contaminated water is used, releasing radon into the air and serving as another outlet for direct exposure.

What makes this airborne toxin such a threat is it’s nearly untraceable characteristics. The colorless gas has no odor or taste. Without proper air quality testing and diagnosis in a house, radon can easily go unnoticed. Symptoms of exposure include, but are not limited to, wheezing, hoarseness, persistent cough, chronic chest pain, and frequent infections such as recurring bronchitis and pneumonia. Long term exposure will often cause further damage to the human body, inducing prolonged health complications that may become chronic or even life-threatening. Certain types of lung cancer are now being attributed to radon exposure as it increases the risk. These effects are quite alarming considering that 1 in 15 homes are estimated to have elevated radon levels. So what can you do to stop it?

One way to protect against radon is to routinely inspect the home yourself. Look out for cracks and openings in your home, especially in basements or ground floors. Be sure to invest in an air quality monitor, as this will provide you with an accurate reading of your home’s air quality. Lastly, if exposure is suspected, hire a professional or licensed expert to examine your home. This will bring your whole family peace of mind that you’re living in a healthy environment.

Mold & Asbestos

Aside from radon, two hazards that may be present in your home are mold and asbestos. These substances will compromise your home’s air quality and wreak havoc on your health if they are not identified and mitigated properly.  While both pose serious health risks, they often can go undetected in a home. 

Mold is a type of fungus that grows in a place of excess moisture. It may appear green, black blue or even white at times. These places of excess moisture are caused by high humidity levels, flooding, exterior leaks, plumbing issues, HVAC malfunctions and improper ventilation. Such conditions will cause mold growth on floor tiles, ceiling tiles, drywall, insulation and frameworks. Unsanitary conditions and poorly kept living quarters will lead to mold growth as well. With the tendency to develop in wooden fixtures, carpet, fabric and other upholstery, it’s important to keep these items in good condition.

A few dangerous types of mold that can develop in a home are Stachybotrys (Black Mold), Chaetomium and Aspergillus. Once in the air, mold spores can cause respiratory issues, flu-like symptoms, headaches and even memory loss. Ways to prevent mold growth and its health effects are:

  • Control the moisture levels.
  • Purchase a humidity monitor to keep track of the moisture.
  • Add a dehumidifier to areas that are mold-prone.
  • Take care of spills, damp materials and clean your home regularly.
  • Hire a professional to inspect the home, maintain appliances and the HVAC system.

Asbestos was a popular additive that was used in construction mainly for fireproofing and heat resistance. It wasn’t until 1989, that asbestos use became partially banned in the United States. If asbestos is found in materials like drywall, adhesive, floor tiles, popcorn ceilings, pipe wrap and electrical insulation, they are referred to as asbestos-containing materials or ACMs. These ACMs can break down and release debris into the air. Researchers found that exposure to the substance when airborne is hazardous and could even cause acute health problems years after exposure. While the substance is more common in older homes and buildings, it is important for any homeowner to be weary of the materials being used when building or renovating the home. If you suspect ACMs are a threat in your home, it is best to hire a professional to inspect and test the materials in question.

Exposure to asbestos is something that can’t be taken lightly. Where radon and mold have immediate health consequences, the inhalation of these microscopic fibers can cause a plethora of health issues anywhere from 10-50 years down the road. Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and pleural effusion are just a few severe diseases to name.

So whether it’s radon, mold or asbestos, homeowners should  keep detailed records of all foundational issues and construction or renovation projects done in the past. A home’s history will tell a lot about its future and environment.

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