Know Your Home’s Air Quality

By Virginia Zombek

(Wampsville, NY – Oct. 2012) What does the term ‘indoor air quality’ mean to you? Is it pet odor in the house, smoky smells from the fireplace or a damp musty odor? Our physical surroundings, our daily indoor and outdoor environments have much to do with the way we feel, think and function.

“Air quality” is actually a neutral term: it can be good or bad (or in between).

Research has shown that in homes across America, the quality of indoor air can be worse than outdoor air. The actual quality of the air is negatively affected by the addition of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, lead dust, tobacco smoke and radon gas. At the same time, it is estimated that average Americans spends about 90 percent of their time indoors. That is even more reason to pay attention to the quality of our indoor air and rid the air of pollutants; more indoor air pollutants could mean more lung and respiratory problems over time.

There is much we can do to improve the quality of our indoor air. During the month of October, Radon Awareness Month, the Madison County Health Department encourages every homeowner to be aware of the dangers of radioactive radon gas and to test their home during this year’s heating season.

Radon? Never heard of it? What’s radon?

Radon is a toxic, invisible, radioactive gas that can seep into homes and concentrate there. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking, claiming more than 21,000 American lives each year. People stricken with lung cancer who have never smoked a day in their lives are looking for answers as to why they develop the chronic disease. Lung cancer grows even more rapidly in a non-smoker when smoking is allowed in a home with elevated levels of radon.

Simple, inexpensive ($8.50) test kit applications are available through the state Department of Health or the Madison County Department of Health’s website under the health information tab at www.healthymadisoncounty.org/healthinfo/topics.htm#R. Testing your home is the only way to know if you have elevated levels of radon.

Taking a radon test requires no special skills beyond finding a space in your home to place the test kit for at least 48 hours and sending it off to the laboratory (fees included) in a provided mailer. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Madison County currently ranks 18th out of New York’s 62 counties for high radon levels. If you have not yet tested your home, now is the perfect time. Testing is simple, inexpensive and takes only minutes of your time. Watch the “Breathe Easier” video at youtube.com/watch?v=Fuzl3Nb_ah0&feature=youtu.be for a real-life story of a physician’s family’s battle with radon.

The second part of the video is an invitation to doctors to educate themselves about radon. Talk to your physician about the hazards of radon at your next visit.

Virginia Zombek is a public health educator specializing in environmental health issues with the Madison County Department of Health.

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