Fall Air Quality

Since Fall has officially begun, we’re overdue for the autumn air quality discussion.

Hayfever sufferers are familiar with ragweed/goldenrod/aster/chrysanthemum pollen and keep their windows closed — yearning for a good frost to kill all those spores floating about.

Molds and fungi are another outdoors problem when the weather turns damp, vegetation dies off and rots. Sniffy noses, less energy, or cognitive symptoms (brain fog) on damp days may be a clue. Near the Great Lakes, people may notice a peculiar smell at this time of year when algae in the Lakes die and rot. Even a tiny amount in the water can make it taste unpleasant as well. Hurricanes displace air from regions south and so we also may have air that smells of unfamiliar places and plants. I plan my walks for open air rather than the damp woods at this time of year.

Mold can be a problem indoors when the air is damp but it’s not cold enough for the furnace to turn on. Dehumidifiers, fans to circulate the air, and light in damp areas, are all good strategies. Our Shaklee air filter with its ultraviolet light and ionizing capacity is on full-time in the basement to first kill mold spores and bacteria and then settle them out of the air. I know of at least one person with chronic fatigue who recovered completely just by using the Shaklee filter in her home. A new brand of air filter from DL Services/LeVOCC in Brighton comes highly recommended for killing viruses in the air and is being tested for mold spore removal. Another strategy some people are trying is to put products with tea tree oil in damp areas.

Even when the furnace does come on, sometimes this causes more dust to be blown around the house. One member had her air duct vents adjusted to provide more even heat but the increased pressure on some ducts caused a lot of old particulates to become airborne. She felt quite ill. Another member suggested nylon stockings over the vents to trap dust, etc. until things cleared. When you place any material over a vent, it’s a balance between reducing air flow and trapping the dust. The stocking idea works quite well. With more people having hard floors instead of carpets, more dust is going into vents. Fuzzy edges around the vents can trap some of this. Vacuuming the vent openings regularly would be a good idea too.

In case you think air duct cleaning might be the answer, caution. Some companies may very likely spray chemicals into your ducts — even if you ask them not to do so. Steamatic, with Bau Biologique training can and will do it without chemicals — on request. I’ve had them a number of times to steam clean upholstered furniture as well without chemicals. In older homes, it may be easier to replace ductwork entirely rather than try to clear years of accumulated yuck.

It’s possible to use an ozone generator to kill organisms in ductwork by placing it over the cold air returns for a time. Ozone generators are available to rent from companies who deal with fire and water damage. Precautions for using ozone generators should be followed carefully.

Furnaces pose another consideration for air quality. Oil furnaces always emit a small puff of oil pollution each time they come on. Gas furnaces do not have the same mechanism but the most sensitive people may still have a problem. Since I am highly-sensitive to petroleum products, I have had to go for an electric furnace, with a heat pump, to reduce costs as much as possible. We also have members who are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation so hot-water heating may be their answer — or geothermal or wood. I myself am also allergic to wood smoke. We do whatever works the best but it isn’t always easy or cheap to find out.

At the change of the seasons, we’re changing clothing as well. Unused items are great breeding grounds for mold, mildew, dust, etc. Sort and toss or give away. I hope no one is using moth balls to poison themselves or keep away the mice. I made that mistake once many years ago — to my regret.

Phew! We thought eliminating scented products was a big enough task.

Another note: If you haven’t finished any indoor repainting projects, do it soon while you can still open windows comfortably. Do not paint indoors in winter unless you are using the very best low VOC paints at their very great expense.

I’ve tried to think of all the ways members have inadvertently poisoned themselves over the years. I hope your autumn is eminently breathable. We’ll talk about winter hazards later.

Diane Dawber

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