Home safe home
by Jan Matthew
To determine whether yours is a "home safe home," look for an obvious correlation first, Burwell suggests. Do symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, watery eyes and headaches subside when you leave home, or do visitors to your home experience these same symptoms?
"If so, start by checking your heating system, an unvented fireplace or a pilot light to rule out carbon monoxide or nitrous dioxide problems," Burwell says. "Next, consider whether you've added new drapes, furniture or carpet. Then, examine the cleaning products you're using."
Consider, too, what you can't see. For example, dust mites can cause allergy-like symptoms, Bowman says. Tiny creatures that feed on human skin cells, dust mites prefer moist environments and soft textiles, including sheets and bedding, drapery or upholstery fabrics, carpeting and soft toys. To reduce exposure, wash sheets and other bedding weekly in warm water (130 F). Consider removing extra rugs or replacing bulky drapes or frilly curtains with easy-to-clean, decorative shades.
"Awareness is building, but, in many cases, we learn only as we need to learn," Gettinger says. "We assume if a product is on the shelf, it's safe, and, in many cases, that's true. But we still hesitate to take too much responsibility."
Accountability can make a big difference, however, particularly as manufacturers continue to pack the shelves with new products and formulations.
"In our follow-up evaluations after a workshop, we find that people are beginning to read labels and are more conscious about what they're purchasing," Barnett reports. "Many people also are starting to make their own products. Acting as a responsible consumer and homeowner remains the single biggest way to lessen your exposure to indoor air hazards."