Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Is radon an issue in your home?

A home radon test kit can easily be tucked out of the way.
I have been hearing about radon for years but never gave it much thought in relation to my own home. In Maine, where my brother runs a home inspection company, it’s a standard part of many home inspections, and making necessary repairs to lower radon levels can be a requirement of sale. 

Because it didn’t come up with our home inspections I assumed that radon wasn’t a worry in New Brunswick or at least not in our part of the province. But then a flyer appeared in the local newspaper, a one-page info sheet about radon that was distributed by the NB Lung Association. According to the Association, New Brunswick has some of the highest radon levels in the country and close to one in five NB homes has radon levels higher that what Health Canada considers safe.  

The NB Lung Association is in the midst of a public education campaign because radon is considered the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers (and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall). An odorless, radioactive gas formed naturally in the ground and emitted from some rock and soil, radon can build up in enclosed spaces (like homes) and long-term exposure to radon increases the risk of lung cancer to one in twenty. Among smokers, the risk increases to one in three.  

With stats like that it’s important to know if radon is an issue in your home. 

You can pick up a radon test kit at the hardware store or order one through the NB Lung Association ($35 and they mail it to your home). If you’re buying a kit at the hardware store NB Lung Association stresses that you need to buy a long-term kit (3-month test) saying that they’re more accurate. To order yours call 1-800-565-LUNG or email info@nb.lung.ca. 

Our home test kit arrived a couple of weeks ago. I was expecting a soup can-sized kit but it’s less than half the size of a hockey puck. You place it in lowest level of your house that you use regularly (where you spend four hours a day or more, but not in a kitchen) and at least a couple of feet off the floor. We don’t spend time in our basement so I put our kit in the living room, on the back of the sideboard where it won`t be disturbed. At the end of three months we’ll mail it off to a lab in Massachusetts and within two weeks will receive the results.    

The Canadian guideline for radon is 200 becquerels per cubic meter. But even low levels of radon can be harmful so it’s important to fix the source of the leaks even if your test detects a lower reading.  

Radon can seep into your home through windows, cracks in basement floors, sump pumps, unfinished floors and spaces around pipes. Radon leaks are usually very fixable. There are contractors experienced with radon mitigation who can find the source of any leaks and make the necessary repairs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tips to keep your indoor air healthy

Indoor air quality can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air.
This time of year, indoor air pollution is likely the last thing on your mind (and may be it never crosses your mind). We have learned to be concerned about outdoor air quality without realising that it has an indoor counterpart. Since we spend about 90% of our time indoors, we’d do well to learn a bit more about it, especially during winter. With the windows shut tight and the furnace roaring, there is a greater chance that indoor air pollution can become an issue.

The air quality in your home can be two to five times worse than it is outdoors thanks to the many sources of indoor air pollution. And it isn’t just your furnace or woodstove that you need to worry about. Lack of effective ventilation, household cleaning products and personal care products, new furniture and carpets, all contribute to unhealthy conditions in your home that can cause headaches, nausea, allergies and breathing issues.
To keep your home`s air as healthy as possible, deal with the biggest sources of pollution first: carbon monoxide, cigarette smoke and radon. Ensure your furnace, wood stove and other combustion units in the home are well maintained and cleaned at least once a year. Dirty chimneys, leaky woodstoves and poorly vented gas stoves can release carbon monoxide and other chemical into your home.
Radon, a radioactive gas emitted from some rock and soil, is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Contact the New Brunswick Lung Association to purchase a radon test kit so you`ll know if radon is an issue in your home.
Dealing with any humidity issues is another important way to keep your indoor air clean. Mould releases biological contaminants that you don’t want to deal with so ensure that your home is well ventilated (especially the bathrooms and kitchen stove) and that moisture leaks are repaired.
Products in your home that list “fragrance” as an ingredient pollute the air. That includes cleaning products, especially laundry products and room fresheners. These heavily scented products are loaded with phalates, known hormone disruptors that can cause significant health issues. The same goes for scented personal care products and artificially scented candles. Always choose unscented household and personal care products, or those scented with essential oils.
New furniture and carpets, dry-cleaned clothing, paints and varnishes all off-gas chemicals, so it’s important that you do all you can to minimize off-gassing in your home. Hang dry cleaning on the line when you first get it home, leave new furniture in the garage until the “new” smell fades. Often new kitchen cupboards and particleboard furniture off-gas formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) so look for manufacturers that use formaldehyde-free adhesives. Always choose zero VOC or low VOC paints (available in many brands).
Dust and vacuum frequently. Also, air purifiers can, ironically, be a source of indoor pollution so do your research if you`re thinking of getting one.
It`s not all bad though, house plants can do their part to keep your indoor air clean.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Personal care products -- be careful out there

Personal care products are loaded with chemicals that are known toxins. I know it sounds crazy, especially when you consider that many of the most commonly used chemicals in these products are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors. If you'd rather not be part of some company's science experiement take a look through Environmental Defense pocket guide. It targets these "Toxic 10" ingredients that we need to avoid:

BHA/BHT, coal tar-derived colors, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde-releasing agents, fragrance, parabens, petrolatum, siloxanes, sodium laureth sulfate and the closely related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate, and triclosan.

Another helpful source for information, including an extensive database that lets you test the safety of your current products, is Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database.
Get used to reading the fine print on products (even those touted as natural) and get to know safe alternatives, like Canada's own Green Beaver.

Beauty departments are dangerous places...be careful out there.