Domestic pollution. Tips to prevent it

One of the astonishing aspect of the new Spanish building regulation is the fact that although it is very much focused on saving energy, we architect are compelled to design a ventilation system in all bathrooms and kitchens to extract air from these wet rooms and inject fresh air from outside on all bedrooms and living rooms. 

Grills have to be installed on internal doors so that air is circulated from outside throughout the building, causing a waste of energy (hot or cold) that it is lost due to this circulation.


When we asked the Housing Ministry Department how would they explain that incongruity they explained that cancer was rocketing due to the fact that houses are being made airtight as the external joinery are much more hermetic and little air ventilate the new building and more plastic and toxic materials are being used.


So the wastage of energy was worth it if the new houses were better ventilated.


Look around.

We are surrounded by chemical agents on the walls, parquet, cleaning products and even on carpets. They are persistent and hidden in the home dust, in the living room paint, carpet and even in your new mobile phone. Since we spend 66% of our lives indoors, according to a WHO-Europe study, the pollution we breathe inside is important according to Dr. Santiago Nogué, vice president of the Spanish Foundation for Clinical Toxicology, who informs about the risks of domestic pollution and tell us how to remove these toxins from home.


The good news is that getting rid of them is easier and cheaper than you think, as we will see. According to Doctor Nogué “We do not realize the amount of chemical agents that we introduce into our home through carpets, new furniture, building walls finishes and even the silicone covers of mobile phones," warns the doctor. "These materials are 'alive': they keep releasing volatile substances into the air." And they do it for a long time: between five and ten years.


Take the following precautions.

If we take some precautions, this contamination will not represent a major problem for the respiratory system, since our body learns to tolerate it and, simply, explains Nogué, stops reacting to these substances. "This is true in 99.9% of cases," he says.


Although for some less fortunate, the mechanism does not work, because their body becomes "hypersensitive" to these substances and reacts to the presence of some household pollutants, as if it were a type of allergy or chemical intolerance. "These people can suffer respiratory conditions, malaise and even physical and mental fatigue," says the doctor. For them, getting rid of household pollutants is a matter of survival, "but we all need to learn how to get toxins out of the house," says Nogué.


Fresh clean air.

The quality of the air we breathe at home fluctuates. If we imagine a room in which we have just painted the walls, it is easy to understand that the atmosphere is loaded with toxic substances and surely we will soon open the windows to ventilate. But the domestic atmosphere also varies when we buy new furniture or when we use penetrating odour cleaning products. In fact, there are studies that claim that using cleaning products can be as harmful as smoking.


And there are still other hidden pollutants. According to the European Environment Agency, the main ones are radon (a radioactive gas that forms in the ground which I have written about in other articles), tobacco smoke and the gases or particles of burned fuels, in addition to other chemicals and allergens.

Also the way to heat the house can leave combustion products in the air. And it affects how we cook - for example, the gas oven can release carbon monoxide (CO), among other substances - the dust retained in furniture, mites ... Until properly ventilated -or, by otherwise, deficient - increases or decreases domestic chemical pollution.


The best thing to avoid having toxic substances at home is not to put them in in the first place. But if this is impossible, get rid of them as much as you can.


1. Ventilate, ventilate and…

To get the toxins out of the home, we don't just have to clean, we also have to ventilate. In fact, opening the windows is the cheapest, fastest and easiest way to reduce chemical pollution, a gesture that renews and cleanses the indoor air.


For ventilation to be effective, all windows and doors must be opened at once. And even better, if they have a facing position, since the aeration will be more complete. Nor is it necessary to leave the windows wide for hours. If we ventilate well, ten minutes is enough time to renew the air at home. And another tip: try repeating the gesture twice a day, as you will decrease the internal concentration of contaminants.

More to follow next week.


How a house is cleaned and what products are used will say a lot about the quality of the air that will be breathed.

The cleaning cabinet reveals the wide variety of household hygiene products are normally used. The problem, says the expert, is that many of these items contain bleach or ammonia, effective cleaning products, but whose use releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs). And these molecules evaporate into the air even when stored inside the closet. “If we ventilate, for most of us they do not imply a problem; but there are cases of intolerance to household cleaning products, detergent and even fabric softeners," warns the toxicologist.


It seems a good idea to reduce the amount of VOC we breathe. The European Lung Foundation recommends choosing cleaning items without fragrances, because aromas can react once in the air and generate other molecules. It is also advisable to use solid or liquid soaps, whenever possible, instead of aerosols, which leave more substances in the air. And not to breathe so many substances when you clean, ventilate by opening the windows.


Make your own cleaning products.

They are not difficult to prepare and can make a big difference. Our grandmothers were right. There are recipes for traditional cleansers that are effective, and that we can combine with other items. In case of intolerance to cleaning products or to reduce our exposure to these volatile substances. My grandmother used vinegar as water softener for fabrics, bicarbonate to unblock drains, etc. They are more natural products, and also less irritating.


Dust away the dust (using a damped cloth)

Furniture dust acts as a "trap" that retains mites and chemicals of all kinds. In fact, a 2016 investigation identified up to 45 different types of chemical toxins in household dust, including phthalates and various types of phenols.


But just follow some basic steps to reduce exposure to dust, which prolonged contact can also end up causing an allergy. First, wash your hands frequently - just use water and neutral soap - and get a good damped cloth to clean the dust often. Also help yourself with a damp cloth and scrub. Another tip from the toxicologist: "Use the vacuum cleaner." For greater efficiency, there are devices with high efficiency filters to capture aerial particles (HEPA filter).



Keep it dry (and fungi away)

Keep in mind that not only dust, but also moisture, can affect your immune system, as well as exposing you to an increased risk of respiratory problems. To scare her away from home, it is essential to avoid condensation, a frequent phenomenon in the bathrooms, especially during and after the shower. When the tiles turn grey this denotes a fungal problem that can end up even contaminating the sponge with which we wash the body.


Again the first guideline is to ventilate. In addition, there are dehumidifying devices quite effective to absorb excess water from the air. If you are lucky enough to have a window in the toilet, remember to open it or keep it in a tilt-and-turn position, since the air that enters acts with a drying effect and absorbs moisture.


And watch out! If you find mould or blackness on the tiles joints, remove it carefully. The spores can easily disperse and, if you're not careful, you can end up spreading them throughout the room and compounding the problem.


Use and eco paint.

When we paint the house, the gases and chemicals of the product are released into the air. Although this contamination does not stop here, since the fresh paint on the walls continues to release substances even long after drying.

If you want to eliminate this type of domestic pollution, look for paints labelled "natural" or "ecological", because they usually contain a lower percentage of volatile organic compounds.


They are a bit more expensive, but worth its use, especially if you need to occupy the property while the painting is being carried out.

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