By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Don't overlook indoor pollutants
Health advice
Placeholder Image
I’m hiding a recent newspaper report that says house plants are banned at the Jefferson College of Health Science in Roanoke, Va.
Several of the school’s dormitories were built in 1950 and have had mold problems in the past, so officials are taking no chances with another possible incident. They maintain that plants may be over-watered and can sometimes produce mold, so they have taken action against plants, even though mold growth is extremely rare.
My problem is that my husband would love to find a reason to diminish the number of plants in our house. He jokes that National Geographic calls often to set up a wild live hunt or wants to feature our house.
Mold is a normal part of the natural environment. It plays a role in nature by breaking down dead organic matter (fallen leaves and dead trees) outdoors. But mold should be avoided inside homes and other buildings because it can be harmful to our respiratory system and skin.
All molds reproduce by tiny spores that are invisible to the naked eye. These spores float through the air and grow when they land on surfaces that are wet, whether it’s inside a building or outdoors. There are many different types of mold, none of which can grow without water.
Molds produce allergens, irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and skin rash. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.
Mold isn’t the only type of indoor pollution we need to worry about, however. All indoor pollutants release gases or particles into the air, much like mold does, and are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes. Inadequate ventilation, for example, can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels also can increase concentrations of some pollutants.
Other indoor pollutants include chemicals, cleaning products and pesticides. Less obvious are pollutants that stem from simple tasks like cooking, bathing or heating the home.
Ventilation issues arise from the presence of people in a room or a building, and the need to remove the carbon monoxide, odors and other contaminants that they generate. Ventilation is health-related. If a house is filled up with toxic materials such as second-hand smoke, carbon monoxide or toxic gases from chemicals, then there is no way you can expect to have good indoor air quality.
Signs that can indicate your home may not have enough ventilation include moisture condensation on windows or walls, smelly or stuffy air, dirty central heating and air cooling equipment, and areas where books, shoes or other items become moldy. To detect odors in your home, step outside for a few minutes and then note whether odors are noticeable when you re-enter your home.
  Indoor air quality problems are not limited to homes. In fact, many office buildings have significant air pollution problems. For additional information about air quality control or to schedule an air quality check, call your local Environmental Health Department.

Ratcliffe is an information specialist with the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-2173, ext. 236
Sign up for our e-newsletters