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Chemical Pollutants

Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a significant combustion pollutant in the United States. CO is a leading cause of poisoning deaths [32]. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), CO-related nonfire deaths are often attributed to heating and cooking equipment. The leading specific types of equipment blamed for CO-related deaths include gas-fueled space heaters, gas-fueled furnaces, charcoal grills, gas-fueled ranges, portable kerosene heaters, and wood stoves.

As with fire deaths, the risk for unintentional CO death is highest for the very young (ages 4 years and younger) and the very old (ages 75 years and older). CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. It is a result of the incomplete combustion of carbon. Headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion are the most frequent symptoms of CO poisoning. According to the American Lung Association (ALA) [33], breathing low levels of CO can cause fatigue and increase chest pain in people with chronic heart disease. Higher levels of CO can cause flulike symptoms in healthy people. In addition, extremely high levels of CO cause loss of consciousness and death. In the home, any fuel-burning appliance that is not adequately vented and maintained can be a potential source of CO. The following steps should be followed to reduce CO (as well as sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen) levels:

  • Never use gas-powered equipment, charcoal grills, hibachis, lanterns, or portable camping stoves in enclosed areas or indoors.
  • Install a CO monitor (Figure 5.2) in appropriate areas of the home. These monitors are designed to provide a warning before potentially life-threatening levels of CO are reached.
  • Choose vented appliances when possible and keep gas appliances properly adjusted to decrease the combustion to CO. (Note: Vented appliances are always preferable for several reasons: oxygen levels, carbon dioxide buildup, and humidity management).
  • Only buy certified and tested combustion appliances that meet current safety standards, as certified by Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), American Gas Association (AGA) Laboratories, or equivalent.
  • Assure that all gas heaters possess safety devices that shut off an improperly vented gas heater. Heaters made after 1982 use a pilot light safety system known as an oxygen depletion sensor. When inadequate fresh air exists, this system shuts off the heater before large amounts of CO can be produced.
  • Use appliances that have electronic ignitions instead of pilot lights. These appliances are typically more energy efficient and eliminate the continuous low-level pollutants from pilot lights.
  • Use the proper fuel in kerosene appliances.
  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to the outdoors over gas stoves.
  • Have a trained professional annually inspect, clean, and tune up central heating systems (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) and repair them as needed.
  • Do not idle a car inside a garage.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends installing at least one CO alarm per household near the sleeping area. For an extra measure of safety, another alarm should be placed near the home’s heating source. ALA recommends weighing the benefits of using models powered by electrical outlets versus models powered by batteries that run out of power and need replacing. Battery-powered CO detectors provide continuous protection and do not require recalibration in the event of a power outage. Electric-powered systems do not provide protection during a loss of power and can take up to 2 days to recalibrate. A device that can be easily self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning should be chosen. The product should meet Underwriters Laboratories Standard UL 2034.

Inhaling ozone can damage the lungs. Inhaling small amounts of ozone can result in chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation. Ozone can also exacerbate chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Susceptibility to the effects of ozone varies from person to person, but even healthy people can experience respiratory difficulties from exposure.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services [34], the major source of indoor ozone is outdoor ozone. Indoor levels can vary from 10% of the outdoor air to levels as high as 80% of the outdoor air. The Food and Drug Administration has set a limit of 0.05 ppm of ozone in indoor air. In recent years, there have been numerous advertisements for ion generators that destroy harmful indoor air pollutants. These devices create ozone or elemental oxygen that reacts with pollutants. EPA has reviewed the evidence on ozone generators and states: “available scientific evidence shows that at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone has little potential to remove indoor air contaminants,” and “there is evidence to show that at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is not effective at removing many odor causing chemicals” [35].

Ozone is also created by the exposure of polluted air to sunlight or ultraviolet light emitters. This ozone produced outside of the home can infiltrate the house and react with indoor surfaces, creating additional pollutants.

Much pesticide use could be reduced if integrated pest management (IPM) practices were used in the home. IPM is a coordinated approach to managing roaches, rodents, mosquitoes, and other pests that integrates inspection, monitoring, treatment, and evaluation, with special emphasis on the decreased use of toxic agents. However, all pest management options, including natural, biologic, cultural, and chemical methods, should be considered. Those that have the least impact on health and the environment should be selected. Most household pests can be controlled by eliminating the habitat for the pest both inside and outside, building or screening them out, eliminating food and harborage areas, and safely using appropriate pesticides if necessary.

EPA [51] states that 75% of U.S. households used at least one pesticide indoors during the past year and that 80% of most people’s exposure to pesticides occurs indoors. Measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air inside homes. Pesticides used in and around the home include products to control insects (insecticides), termites (termiticides), rodents (rodenticides), fungi (fungicides), and microbes (disinfectants). These products are found in sprays, sticks, powders, crystals, balls, and foggers.

Delaplane [52] notes that the ancient Romans killed insect pests by burning sulfur and controlled weeds with salt. In the 1600s, ants were controlled with mixtures of honey and arsenic. U.S. farmers in the late 19th century used copper actoarsenite (Paris green), calcium arsenate, nicotine sulfate, and sulfur to control insect pests in field crops. By World War II and afterward, numerous pesticides had been introduced, including DDT, BHC, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, and 2,4-D. A significant factor with regard to these pesticides used in and around the home is their impact on children. According to a 2003 EPA survey, 47% of all households with children under the age of 5 years had at least one pesticide stored in an unlocked cabinet less than 4 feet off the ground. This is within easy reach of children. Similarly, 74% of households without children under the age of 5 also stored pesticides in an unlocked cabinet less than 4 feet off the ground. This issue is significant because 13% of all pesticide poisoning incidents occur in homes other than the child’s home. The EPA [53] notes a report by the American Association of Poison Control Centers indicating that approximately 79,000 children were involved in common household pesticide poisonings or exposures.

The health effects of pesticides vary with the product. However, local effects from most of the products will be on eyes, noses, and throats; more severe consequences, such as on the central nervous system and kidneys and on cancer risks, are possible. The active and inert ingredients of pesticides can be organic compounds, which can contribute to the level of organic compounds in indoor air. More significantly, products containing cyclodiene pesticides have been commonly associated with misapplication. Individuals inadvertently exposed during this misapplication had numerous symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, muscle twitching, weakness, tingling sensations, and nausea. In addition, there is concern that these pesticides may cause long-term damage to the liver and the central nervous system, as well as an increased cancer risk. Cyclodiene pesticides were developed for use as insecticides in the 1940s and 1950s. The four main cyclodiene pesticides—aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane, and heptachlor—were used to guard soil and seed against insect infestation and to control insect pests in crops. Outside of agriculture they were used for ant control; farm, industrial, and domestic control of fleas, flies, lice, and mites; locust control; termite control in buildings, fences, and power poles; and pest control in home gardens. No other commercial use is permitted for cyclodiene or related products. The only exception is the use of heptachlor by utility companies to control fire ants in underground cable boxes.




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