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Air pollution outside, sure, but indoor air might not be great either

May 02, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey
  • The air indoors can be polluted by mold and pollen, but not all air cleaners are effective at removing dust and other asthma irritants.
The air indoors can be polluted by mold and pollen, but not all air cleaners… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

We know the air outside is bad—the latest headlines tell us half of Americans live in regions with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution, which can be particularly risky for people with chronic lung disease or asthma. But exposure to pollution doesn’t stop when you duck indoors.

Indoor air can be polluted by mold, animal dander, pollen, tobacco smoke, radon, formaldehyde and even asbestos. Breathing in too much of some of those pollutants could increase the risk of lung cancer and may contribute to or aggravate asthma, according to the American Lung Assn.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that there are three ways to improve air quality inside the home. First, eliminate the source of the pollution (for example, get rid of gas stoves and asbestos). Second, improve the ventilation. And third, use an air cleaner.

Note, however, that not all air cleaners get the job done as well as you might like.

The EPA says about the latter:

“There are many types and sizes of air cleaners on the market, ranging from relatively inexpensive table-top models to sophisticated and expensive whole-house systems. Some air cleaners are highly effective at particle removal, while others, including most table-top models, are much less so. Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants.”

One popular air filter, the ionic purifier, doesn’t seem to live up to its hype.

The devices are designed to release a stream of negative ions that electrify airborne particles, making them easy to collect on plates within the machines.  But without fans to move the air, the ionic purifiers generally can’t collect particles from farther than a few feet away. And they release ozone.

Sometimes, a little bit of ventilation can go a long way, even if the air outside (State of the Air 2011, from the American Lung Assn.) isn’t perhaps as clean as it could be.

healthkey@tribune.com

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