It’s a simple way to boost your baby’s health, but it’s often overlooked.
Clean air is one of the basic necessities of life. Unfortunately, due to recent changes in building construction, our homes are often more polluted than outside air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency,
“Indoor levels of pollutants may be 2 to 5 times – and occasionally more than 100 times – higher than outdoor pollutant levels.”
Could this be one explanation for the unprecedented rise in childhood illness?
In the past, homes were built from natural materials such as straw, clay, rammed earth and cob. Like the earth itself, these materials “breathe,” allowing the free flow of air between indoor and outdoor environments.
After World War II, cheap building materials were introduced – materials laden with petroleum-based chemicals. We developed a one-size-fits-all approach to our building practices and left behind the concept of harmony with nature. Once the energy crisis hit in the seventies, we added to the problem by sealing our windows and doors, creating tight indoor environments with little to no air flow.
According to the authors of Prescriptions for a Healthy House:
“Prior to the energy crisis, the typical home averaged approximately one air exchange per hour. Now, in a well-sealed home, the air is often exchanged as infrequently as once every five hours, and that is not enough to ensure healthy air quality.”
The authors are leading proponents of Building Biology, a science emphasizing the need to create healthy indoor air environments that are in tune with nature. (Find out more at the International Institute for Building Biology and Ecology.)
Suggestions for Baby Safe Indoor Air
1. Keep your home free of indoor mold hazards.
Modern building materials are more susceptible to water damage and fungal growth. The building tightness adds increased a risk of water condensation, which increases the risk for microbial growth. Mold can be found wherever moisture accumulates and is often hidden. Thermal imaging, dust sampling, and other detection methods can help assess if your home is a breeding ground for moisture-loving pathogens. For more on the health implications of toxic mold see A Beginner’s Guide to Toxic Mold.
2. Buy organic when possible.
This includes crib mattresses, bedding, and clothing. Mattresses contain a myriad of petroleum-based chemicals that can impact the air because of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released slowly over time. Chemicals were brought into mainstream society quickly after World War II. Now we’re beginning to understand the implications. Consider this statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding second-hand smoke and imagine what we’ll be saying one day about chemicals like formaldehyde, phthalates, flame retardant, and paraffins:
“Chemicals in secondhand smoke appear to affect the brain in ways that interfere with its regulation of infants’ breathing.”
It’s not hard to imagine the stress these chemicals create on a small child whose lungs are still developing.
Organic products are becoming more readily available. For a list of companies that share the vision to provide parents with safe alternatives see this list compiled by Healthy Child Healthy World.
3. Open a window
Which of the following bodies of water is more inviting?
The microbial difference between stagnant water and flowing water is evident. It’s not so obvious when it comes to indoor air.
When we eliminate air flow we are allowing pathogens to multiply. We also prevent the outflow of hazardous chemicals inherent in the building structure. When the air has nowhere to go, individuals in the homes must absorb and cope with the elevated toxicity.
The question often arises, “What about outdoor pollution?” Barring a public warning, pesticide spraying, or dust storm, most of the time outdoor air is still preferable to indoor air.
Open a window as much as possible, even in the colder months. Air exchange is one of the best ways to breathe life into a home. Consider investing in an Air Exchanger to improve ventilation – especially in cold and/or humid climates. VENMAR offers a number of options found here.
(Learn more about air exchangers at Air Exchangers.info)
The subject of proper ventilation and healthy indoor air quality is near to my heart as we kept one of my son’s cribs in an unventilated nook area soon after moving into our Colorado home in 2000. The room was never meant to be a bedroom but with 8 other children we were happy to create a living space uniquely for him. He soon developed a severe case of swollen adenoids.
Little did we know his nook was located directly below a slow water leak, which later we would find had high counts of toxic mold. Colin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes soon after the mold was exposed and improperly remediated in 2007. Did the period of time he spent in the nook contribute? It’s hard to say. I know that in hindsight I would never put a child in an area of the home with no access to outdoor air. And I would certainly be more aware of water leaks and building construction. (See Our Family’s Story – Timeline of Events.)
I remain passionate about helping parents become aware of these hazards. After all, what parent wants anything less than the best for their child? Let’s add clean air to the list.
- 45Did you know you can help prevent breast cancer by avoiding certain environmental triggers? A study released in May 2014 lists 17 groups of chemicals women should avoid if trying to minimize their risk of breast cancer. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the study notes that environment…
Wonderful article and very timely, as my husband and I are looking for a house. Is there a way to check/test the amount of air exchange that a home is getting? Thank you for always putting out such helpful information!!
Andrea Fabry says
The website Air Exchangers offers an air exchange calculator based on cubic footage. This may help. http://www.airexchangers.info/air_exchanger_calculator.html
The bottom line is to look at grading outside the home so that rainwater moves away from the home, solid plumbing, no history of water leaks, good quality windows that provide access to outdoor air etc. I would also recommend this article:
Guidelines for Buying a Home: http://it-takes-time.com/2012/03/guidelines-for-buying-a-home.html
Renee Kohley says
Such great reminders. I am much more aware of looking for this kind of stuff since your story!
Jennifer Margulis says
Good sensible advice. We also have lots of house plants, to filter the air.
Linda Spiker says
So important! When the weather is so hot here in California I can’t open the windows as much as I would like to. I miss the fresh air!
Jonathan (EcoDad) says
What do you suggest for pollen allergy sufferers that need to filter the outdoor air to keep allergies in check? Thanks!
Andrea Fabry says
Air purifiers such as the Austin Health Mate can help with this. In addition, MERVE filters are readily available that fit into the furnace filter slot. A MERV 8 filter is rated to remove greater than 70% of particles in the 3-10 micron range. Higher rated MERV and HEPA systems are also available for extremely sensitive individuals. Any type of filter added to a ventilation system should be changed frequently.
Essential oils and plants also help purify indoor air.