Real Estate

Sniffing out danger at home

Breathing indoors can be bad for your health

Take a deep breath. Notice anything? Perhaps the wonderful smell of a home-cooked meal is in the air. Maybe it's the odor of mildew. Then again, you may not detect anything at all. Whatever the case, it isn't a bad idea to find out exactly what you are breathing.

According to Kathleen Stewart, a staff scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency's offices in San Francisco, indoor air is often more polluted than the air outdoors. And since people tend to spend about 90 percent of their days inside, taking the time to ensure that the air in your home is as clean as possible can ultimately lead to a healthier, longer and more productive life.

There are a whole slew of culprits that contribute to indoor air pollution in the home, Stewart said. However, the obvious concerns, such as secondhand smoke and household chemical cleaning products, are only the tip of the iceberg. Scentless poisons, such as carbon monoxide and radon -- a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep up through a house's foundation from the soil below -- are often referred to as "silent killers." California has the largest number of radon-related deaths in the U.S.

Furthermore, there are some agents commonly found in indoor air that people may not even realize can compromise their health. That "new" carpet or furniture smell is actually a result of what is called "off gassing."

Glues used in carpeting and pressed-wood products contain formaldehyde, believed to be a human carcinogen, which continues to evaporate for some time after such a product has been installed or assembled. That moldy smell that is pesky but easily habituated may lead to respiratory problems. Even the pleasant aroma of chicken frying on the stove masks the fact that tiny particles of soot and other contaminants are being thrust from the pan into the surrounding air.

"Just because it smells good doesn't mean it's good for you," Stewart said.

Hypochondriacs and cynics may find this news either alarming or alarmist. However, Stewart has an answer for both camps. "Indoor air pollution is so easy to improve," she said. "It takes very little money to fix."

Opening a window is a great start. So is using the ventilation fan above the stove when cooking. Let that new dresser from IKEA air out in the garage for a week or so until it doesn't smell quite so much. Additionally, one can often avoid using stringent cleaners when soap and water will work just fine. Simple things like these can significantly reduce the amount of toxins in the home, and they are more or less free.

Kip Fout, asbestos, lead and construction safety manager at Stanford's Environmental Health and Safety division, said contaminants such as asbestos and lead are only a real concern if a house is being remodeled. While lead paint, if it is chipping off of walls can be dangerous to young children who may ingest the flakes, the heavy metal -- like asbestos -- is only a real danger to adults if it is first released as fine particles into the air and then inhaled.

"If you ingest lead, not a lot of it is absorbed in your stomach," Fout said of healthy adults. "However, if you inhale lead and it gets into your lungs, then it can easily get into your blood stream." Therefore, it is important to get your home checked for lead and asbestos before beginning a remodel, especially if the house was built before 1980.

Fout said that mold, in small amounts, shouldn't be a great concern for those without preexisting conditions that may react unfavorably to its presence. The best defense to avoid mold accumulation is to make sure to thoroughly dry areas of your home that become wet within the first 24 to 48 hours.

If you are having trouble with any of the above, are concerned that your home may be at risk or are planning to remodel and are just unsure, there are many companies throughout the Bay Area that can provide home assessments and take action if need be.

Nik Lahiri is a project coordinator at Essel Technology Services in Oakland. His company can take air samples, paint samples, look for mold and check your ceiling and drywall for asbestos. Such tests usually have a flat rate as well as per-sample rates associated with them.

Lahiri said homeowners should be especially concerned with testing for asbestos and lead if they are planning to remodel. When old ceiling or drywall is ripped out asbestos can be put in the air. Inhaling large amounts of asbestos does not pose immediate health concerns, but can pop up 10 or 20 years down the road as lung cancer and other deadly conditions, making it difficult to even pinpoint the cause of the disease. Lead paint sanded off of walls settles as dust and then may enter the body through a person's mouth.

Essel Technology Services and other such companies can help homeowners assess what they may and may not need to test for. Lahiri said that the rates for his company's tests vary depending on the home, but that asbestos generally runs at a $300 flat rate and $20 per sample; lead testing runs about a $500 flat rate and $20 per sample; mold is a bit more expensive, running at a $450 flat rate and $35 per sample.

The EPA has a wealth of information on indoor air pollution and risk assessment on its website at [


Like this comment
Posted by CarolT
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2009 at 11:13 pm

More than 50 studies show that human papillomaviruses cause over ten times more lung cancers than they pretend are caused by secondhand smoke. Passive smokers are more likely to have been exposed to this virus, so the anti-smokers' studies, because they are all based on nothing but lifestyle questionnaires, have been cynically DESIGNED to falsely blame passive smoking for all those extra lung cancers that are really caused by HPV.

Web Link

The anti-smokers have committed the same type of fraud with every disease they blame on smoking and passive smoking, as well as ignoring other types of evidence that proves they are lying, such as the fact that the death rates from asthma have more than doubled since their movement began.

Web Link

And it's a lie that passive smoking causes heart disease. AMI deaths in Pueblo actually ROSE the year after the smoking ban.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by shamelshipman
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2009 at 9:18 am

In addition to the suggestions above, those with mold and allergy concerns may want to check out the remarkable research on toxic mold removal done by environmental expert Dr Ed Close. Simply diffusing a therapeutic-grade essential oil regularly will likely result in an environment very hostile to mold, not to mention the health benefits, long-term protection, and simply making your home smell great. You might also consider using the Thieves Household Cleaner that Dr Close suggests for his remediation clients.
Web Link

In one instance, 10,667 stachybotrys mold spores were identified in a per cubic meter area. After diffusing Thieves essential oil for forty-eight hours, Dr Close retested. Only thirteen stachybotrys remained. Similarly, 75,000 stachybotrys mold spores were identified in a sample of sheetrock. After seventy-two hours of diffusing, no stachybotrys mold spores remained. (Stachybotrys has a reputation for being the most toxic mold.)

Like this comment
Posted by Linda Kincaid, MPH, CIH
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2009 at 6:09 am

Professional testing is expensive. Home test kits are available at Web Link. These test kits were designed by a Certified Industrial Hygienist with two decades of experience in exposure assessment.

Like this comment
Posted by John Keusch
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Although testing the air in your home can be pricee, performed correctly, the data collected is most dependable. I had a strong odor of mold or mildew but counld not find it;s origin. I went to the local hardware store and purchased test kit for mold. I read the instructions carefully and proceeded to conduct the the test verbadim. I sent the carefully gathered samples and sent them off to a laboratory in Florida. Four weeks later, I received the data from the laboeatory and much to my surprise, The information claimed that the samples taken were not a microrgasm and presented not immediate problem.
I was not satisfied with these findings and contacted an environmental care company, I was instructed to conduct a couple of visuals inspections dealing with the construction of my home. After approximately 20 minuets of guided inspection, the representative assured me that he could assist me in location, reason, type, and hhow to rid my home of this isssue. was extremely professional, punctual, thorough, and affordable. When they tested, they found the source and the type, it was a very poisonous mold. The rid my home of this menace once and for all

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Mountain View: French bakery to replace Drunken Lobster
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 2,611 views

A New Way to Think About High Speed Rail
By Steve Levy | 14 comments | 1,723 views

Twenty Years in the Sixties: How an Alcoholic Hippie Became a Self-Giving Servant
By Aldis Petriceks | 0 comments | 1,391 views

Sweet Potato Canapé and Food Party! Holiday Favorites
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 952 views

Couples: Slowing Down & Content and Process Conversation
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 854 views


The holidays are here!

From live music to a visit with Santa, here's a look at some local holiday activities to help you get into the spirit of the season.