Saturday, September 29, 2001
Steamboat Springs During Healthy Lung Month in October, you'll see many reminders to quit smoking or avoid secondhand smoke. But even if you've never smoked and never allowed smoking in your home, that doesn't guarantee the quality of the air you breathe every day.
Most of us associate our homes with images of comfort, family and safety. Yet indoor air can be considerably polluted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. To be certain your house is truly safe, you need to take a few simple precautions.
Fall is the perfect time to change your furnace filter. John Sena of Boggs Hardware recommends changing the filter in the fall and again in midwinter.
You can improve indoor air quality by dusting frequently, vacuuming floors and furniture often and keeping window coverings and heat vents clean. If anyone in your home suffers from allergies or asthma, be sure to clean when they are not present in the room.
Not all airborne health risks can be dispatched via vacuum or dustmop. Two dangerous gases radon and carbon monoxide are commonly found in homes across America. They cannot be detected by sight or smell and may be present without your knowing it. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Both radon and carbon monoxide are colorless, odorless, tasteless and potentially deadly. One key difference is the speed at which they act. Carbon monoxide can kill in just hours, while the effects of radon may not be seen for many years.
Carbon monoxide can become deadly before you know it's there. You absorb it through your lungs as you breathe, and it replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, causing suffocation from the inside out. At low concentrations, it causes fatigue. In higher doses, you may notice dizziness, impaired vision, confusion and nausea.
A byproduct of incomplete combustion of fuel, carbon monoxide is emitted from vehicle tailpipes. These emissions increase significantly in higher altitude and cold weather. If you're in the habit of warming up the car in front of your home each winter morning, you may want to rethink this practice.
Carbon monoxide can accumulate in attached garages and then leak into the home. Vehicles should be turned off immediately upon entering a garage. Never warm up a vehicle inside a garage, even if the garage door is open. The driver should back out immediately after starting a vehicle.
Some common household appliances also produce carbon monoxide. These include gas or oil furnaces, hot water heaters and stoves. The EPA recommends keeping all gas appliances properly vented and adjusted. Unvented kerosene gas or space heaters and barbecue grills are also sources of carbon monoxide.
To help reduce your exposure, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends you install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
Detectors are available at local hardware stores for $30 to $60.
Radon is a natural radioactive gas formed by the decay of uranium in the Earth's soil. Outdoors, it doesn't pose a problem because it is quickly diluted to low levels by outdoor air. But inside your home, it can build up in dangerous concentrations.
The Surgeon General has warned radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels.
Radon seeps up through the ground and enters a building through gaps and cracks in the foundation or insulation. It also comes in through pipes, sumps, drains, walls or other openings. If you use well water, there's a possibility it can enter your home through the water.
The only way to determine if your home has a radon problem is to test for it. Steamboat True Value Hardware department manger Mindy Kerry said a radon-testing kit is easy to use. First, the kit should be opened at the test site and left exposed. After the recommended time, the kit can be packed up and shipped to the designated lab that will send back the results.
The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend all homes be tested for radon below the third floor. Owners of larger homes may want to test in at least one spot per floor.
If you'd like more information about radon, you can call the EPA's radon hotline at (800) 767-7236 or stop by the Routt County Environmental Health Department at 427 Oak St. in Steamboat Springs. To find out more ways to reduce your risks from carbon monoxide, call the EPA at (800) 438-4318.