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weatherization and indoor air pollution

Energy-Efficient Homes Need Healthy Indoor Air

Weatherizing your home? Pay extra attention to the chemicals in your air.



RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Matthew Wald of The New York Times has written about weatherizing homes as one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to slash home energy use, in turn reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and creating green-collar jobs. (Read the Times story here.) And we at Rodale.com totally agree. But by adding a little insulation here, caulking a crack there, and weather-stripping drafty doors, you’re not only dropping your heating and cooling costs by 20 to 30 percent annually, you’re also locking in all the chemicals you spray, slather, and squirt all over your house, possibly creating indoor air pollution. That comes as a surprise to many—a recent study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that women don’t readily connect household products with personal chemical exposure and their potential negative health effects.

THE DETAILS: Researchers from Silent Spring Institute, Brown University, and University of California at Berkeley interviewed 25 women who had participated in the Silent Spring Institute Household Exposure Study, which tested for 89 environmental pollutants in air, dust, and urine samples. According to the study, an average of 20 hormone-disrupting chemicals were found in each home, including pesticides and compounds commonly found in plastics, cleaners, furniture, cosmetics, and other products. The majority of the participants were surprised that chemicals were turning up in their homes—and inside their own bodies. Most had previously believed that kind of contamination occurred only in military or industrial settings, or as a result of environmental disasters.

“People more readily equate pollution with large-scale contaminations and environmental disasters, yet the products and activities that form the backdrop to our everyday lives—electronics, cleaners, beauty products, food packaging—are a significant source of daily personal chemical exposure that accumulates over time,” says sociologist and lead author Rebecca Gasior Altman.

WHAT IT MEANS: Home weatherization is likely to be a hot topic for some time to come: President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to weatherize 1 million low-income homes a year for the next decade, upgrading home furnaces, sealing leaky ducts, fixing windows and adding insulation. Since about 65% of the 3,000 gallons of air we breathe in a day comes from inside our homes, it’s important to choose products that don’t increase our odds of developing asthma, allergies, fatigue, or more serious problems like cancer or birth defects.

Published on: January 20, 2009
Updated on: May 13, 2010



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