How's the atmosphere in your home? We're not talking about the mood or décor – we're talking about the air, literally.
You probably don't think much about the air around you, but you spend hours breathing it every day, and it can be full of stuff you don't want in your lungs.
"Sometimes people overlook indoor air pollutants, which in some ways are very similar to outdoor air pollutants," said Hsin-Neng Hsieh, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.
"The Environmental Protection Agency has published data saying that pollution in our buildings is two to five times greater than outdoors," said Daniel Kopec, an architect in Glen Ridge who teaches building systems and technology at the institute. "We're spending 90 percent of our time in buildings, so it's a huge problem."
With those warnings in mind, here are seven things you can do to breathe easier inside your four walls:
Test for Radon
Tobacco smoke in a home is easy to detect as it drifts through the air or leaves its odor in clothes or furniture. Its health toll is equally as obvious as the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.
Less obvious and almost as deadly is radon, an odorless gas that causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. It's a bigger concern during cold winters like the one we've just experienced when radon levels sky rocket in well-sealed homes.
The odorless gas is caused by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and water and seeps into homes through drains and cracks in the foundation. While radon is natural in the air, levels can be harmful when it is trapped inside a house.
In the U.S. 1 in 15 homes have unsafe radon levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.
Right around springtime four years ago, what Gail Orcutt thought were allergies turned out to be much worse.
“I found out I had lung cancer,” the Pleasant Hill resident said. “I’ve never smoked a day in my life.”
Her cancer didn’t come from cigarettes. Instead, the culprit was a colorless, odorless gas: radon.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the nation, claiming roughly 21,000 lives each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Orcutt, a retired teacher and lung-cancer survivor, made it her mission to educate people and raise awareness on the poisonous gas.
Now, after a recurrence of the cancer in August, and only a week out of chemotherapy, she is teaming with an elected official.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, has been spearheading the push to create legislation that would require more testing for radon levels in the state, especially in schools. Braley has advocated in Congress for resources and support.
Recently, a Lindenhurst daycare provider took advantage of a free program from Respiratory Health Association to help ensure her charges' safety. Robin Kolec, owner of Robin's Family Home Daycare, attended a seminar on radon through the Lake County Home Daycare Network.
At the seminar, a Respiratory Health Association educator taught daycare providers from licensed daycare centers and licensed daycare homes about new radon regulations. The law requires daycare centers and daycare homes be tested for radon at least once every three years. Respiratory Health Association provided radon test kits - which are easy to use at home - and raffled off a home radon mitigation. Robin, who had higher than recommended radon levels in her home, won the mitigation and put her mind to ease about her family's and her daycare children's safety.
The UK is one of only a handful of countries that has put in place legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. How the country intends to go about meeting these targets is another matter entirely.
Until now, the government has seen improving the energy efficiency of millions of British homes as low hanging fruit that can provide easy emissions reductions. And housing is certainly a major contributor, generating 27% of the country’s total emissions.
Improving insulation, making homes airtight, and introducing smart energy meters are all part of the government’s plan. Huge sums of money are currently being invested on refurbishing properties, which while preferable to wholesale demolition, needs to be guided by well-rounded policies. The latest approach for funding these changes is through the Green Deal, a loan attached to a house paid back through its energy bills.
Downers Grove is updating its building code to include new state rules aimed at reducing radon in new construction.
The Village Council recently approved a mandate that all new residences in town must be built with "passive radon resistant construction," in line with a state law passed in June.
Community Development Director Tom Dabareiner said the law was enacted in response to the growing consensus that radon poses significant health risks. The council approved the measure at its April 1 meeting with all in attendance voting in favor. Commissioners Sean P. Durkin and Geoff Neustadt were absent.
"There's a large portion of the state where there is a significant amount of radon that's found in the soil and then a couple of areas where it's medium," Dabareiner said.
A scaled-back bill regarding radon testing in Iowa schools passed the whole Iowa House on Tuesday , setting up negotiations between the House and Senate over the issue.
The House has completely rewritten Senate File 366 to direct the state Department of Education to encourage school districts to test for the presence of cancer-causing radon gas in school buildings and to address high concentrations. The bill contains no actual mandate for districts to perform the testing, though, and only requires school officials to notify the department if they have a radon testing and mitigation plan in place or if they plan to adopt such a plan in the future.
Information received by the department will be turned over to the Legislature.
It passed on a 98-1 vote.
Bill sponsor Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley said he’s received a positive response from school superintendents.
An Iowa House turned legislation mandating schools test for radon gas, which is believed to be a leading cause of lung cancer, into a “toothless tiger” Wednesday, according to the bill’s Senate floor manager.
An amendment unanimously approved by the House Local Government Committee makes the bill “virtually meaningless,” Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said.
The amendment stripped provisions that would require schools to perform a short-term test for radon gas at each school by June 30, 2025, and at least once every 10 years thereafter. The Legislative Services Agency estimated that cost to be $1.9 million, which House floor manager Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said was based on “educated guesses.”
McCoy’s bill, approved by the Senate 37-10 a year ago, also proscribed a course of remediation if the tests showed radon gas at or above four picocuries per liter and further testing.
A total of 30 subway stations in the capital city of Seoul contained higher-than-allowed levels of cancer-causing substances over the last decade, the municipal government said Monday.
The city's regular checks between 1998 and 2004 found that the level of radon in 30 out of 285 stations in Seoul from Line No. 1 through 7, including Gwanghwamun Station in downtown Seoul, exceeded the standard, or 4 picocuries, at least one time, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
A picocurie is one trillionth of a curie, which is a standard measure for the intensity of radioactivity contained in a sample of radioactive material.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is chemically inert and naturally occurring, and is known as one of the main risks of ionizing radiation, causing tens of thousands of deaths from lung cancer each year globally, according to the World Health Organization.
Sealing up houses to improve energy efficiency also traps more radon inside and may lead to a higher risk of lung cancer, according to a new study based on modeling.
Guidelines suggest people install ventilation systems when they try to reduce heat loss from their homes.
Many energy efficiency measures, like putting draft strips along doorframes, reduce air exchange, study author Paul Wilkinson said.
"Moreover, even where trickle vents (small vents in windows or bricks) are fitted, a proportion will not be used or will be left closed," said Wilkinson, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Radon, a gas produced from naturally occurring uranium in soil and water, is known to increase the risk of lung cancer. It is present in many homes in varying amounts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates radon contributes to about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, mostly among people who smoke.