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10 habits that may be polluting your air at home - Week 3

Is cooking and other activities in your home creating dangerous particulate pollution?

When you cook in your home, do you notice that the food smells linger or move to different rooms? This is likely a sign of elevated particulate matter (PM), also referred to as particulate pollution. Cooking and using other indoor combustibles such as fireplaces and kerosene space heaters can create elevated amounts of particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter and smaller. These small sized particles are of specific concern because they are inhalable and absorbable.

According to the EPA "Once inhaled, particles can affect the heart and lunch and, in some cases, cause serious health effects. The human health effects of outdoor PM are well-established and are used to set health-based standards for outdoor air (National Ambient Air Quality Standards, NAAQS)." Children and older adults may be at a greater risk from PM exposure, and the EPA mentions a variety of health impacts including: eye, nose and throat irritation; aggravation of coronary and respiratory disease symptoms; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. 

ESG has used laser particulate counters for over a decade to test homes where the occupants were not aware of the dangers of cooking particulates. Our assessments revealed that these particulates were one of the main causes of poor air quality and adverse health symptoms. Other combustion activities that can cause elevated PM include burning of candles, use of fireplaces, use of unvented space heater or kerosens heaters, and cigarette smoke. 

Steps to take to reduce exposure for indoor PM:

  • Vent all fuel-fired combustion appliance to the outdoors (including stoves, heathers, and furnaces)
  • Install and use exhaust fans vented to the outside when cooking
  • Avoid the use of unvented stoves, fireplaces, or space heaters indoors. If you must use unvented appliances, follow manufacturer's instructions.
  • Choose properly sized woodstoves, certified to meet EPA standards and make certain that doors on woodstoves fit tightly. 
  • Use appropriate wood in stoves and fireplaces. Check EPA's BurnWise program for safe wood burning practices. 
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnace, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks properly.
  • Change filters on central heating and cooling systems and air cleaners according to manufacturer's directions. 

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