The Inside Scoop on Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution caused by volatile gases escaping from consumer products was an unrecognized problem until recently. Now it's a known hazard, and you can do something about it.

| December 1998/January 1999

You've got the sniffles. Your eyes are watery and you've got a sore throat, too. But, hey, it's winter; what else can you expect in the thick of cold and flu season, right?

Maybe. But while you're downing zinc lozenges and chicken soup, consider this: eye, nose, and throat irritations, wheezing, coughing, skin rashes, and severe allergic reactions may result from extensive exposure to indoor air pollution. Elevated levels of indoor air pollution have also been linked to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Think you're not at risk 'cause you live where the air is fresh and clean? Think again. Recent studies have shown that the air within homes (even country homes) and other buildings can actually be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest cities. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) counts indoor air pollution among the five most urgent environmental problems facing the United States. But there are ways to combat indoor air pollution. And at least one organization, the New York-based Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet (M&O), is committed to showing you how.

A national nonprofit advocacy group started in 1989 by actress Meryl Streep, M&O is dedicated to teaching consumers — and particularly women, who do much of the household buying — how to shop "green."

"Consumers can [prompt] environmental changes through their pocketbooks and by making manufacturers aware of their environmental concerns," says Aisha Ikramuddin, research editor of M&O's The Green Guide, a monthly newsletter, designed to raise consumer awareness of toxic products and their eco-friendly alternatives, that goes out to the group's 35,000 members.

The Green Guide recently tackled the issue of indoor air pollution — a problem exacerbated during the winter months when windows and doors are shut tight against the cold. "The big problem in winter is that there is not good ventilation," says Ikramuddin, who notes that today's homes are being made increasingly airtight to conserve energy — trapping not only heat, but also potentially harmful pollutants. "It's a tradeoff," admits Ikramuddin. "If you open your windows, you improve ventilation and air quality, but you lose energy efficiency."

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