Radon belongs to the family of noble gases, which includes other odourless, colourless chemicals like helium. Unlike the others, though, radon is radioactive, making it a health hazard in high concentrations.
Radon is naturally occurring and traces of it can be found everywhere. When the uranium in soil, rock and water decays, radon is created. Homes constructed over bedrock and soil are exposed to radon as it seeps through cracks in the foundation walls and floors or spaces around the pipes and cables.
Radon does have a short lifetime but, in enclosed areas like basements, it accumulates. Thus, ventilation is extremely important in homes and buildings; modern builders make spaces too air-tight for this chemical to escape.
The Health Risks of Radon
In high concentrations and over long periods, studies have correlated radon with lung cancer. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking.
Because radon is a common indoor pollutant, it’s important to test for it regularly. Radon will always be present—the bigger question is how much of it. To measure radon’s concentration in your home, you have two options:
- Hire a radon measurement professional;
- Buy a DIY test kit.
If you choose to do it yourself, the test will take appropriately three months (not including lab analysis delays). Although the cheaper option, it might be faster just to bring in a professional with the proper equipment to immediately notify you of a problem.
Many people don’t realize it, but the kitchen is a major source of indoor air pollution. It can come from various sources throughout the kitchen as well as from cooking stoves. Exposure to indoor air pollution from kitchens can contribute to asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Here are some things you can do to prevent and reduce indoor air pollution:
Cooking releases a number of volatile, toxic compounds that can contribute to serious health and respiratory problems. Using ventilation such as exhaust fans on top of a stove as well as fans in the kitchen is an effective means of reducing exposure to harmful compounds. Ventilation together with fans will also work well in reducing humidity, which can lead to the growth of mold and mildew.
The absence of any ventilation will allow pollutants to remain in the air, which are then ingested by people who are around.
- Turn on the ventilation hood every time you cook. Set the vent fan to the highest setting possible, which will make the sound more tolerable.
- The vent should release the air outdoors. Otherwise, it will recirculate the air into your kitchen.
- When buying a new hood, make sure that it covers the front burners. The setting should also enable it to move at least 200 cubic feet of air each minute.
- If it isn’t possible to have a range hood, cooking by a window and keeping it open should be just as effective.
Get Rid of Odors
Instead of buying sprays to mask the odor, the goal should be to eliminate them completely. Find the source of bad odors and clean it thoroughly. Whether the source is from rotting food or a pet accident, eliminate it by using baking soda. Conventional air fresheners contain harmful chemicals and phthalates that can cause health problems later on.
Dust around the kitchen can result in the growth of pollen, mites, mold, mildew and other harmful bacteria, which are inhaled. Chronic exposure to these contaminants can lead to respiratory illnesses and allergies. Use an electrostatically charged duster or a damp rag to thoroughly clean your kitchen. Make sure that you clean even hard-to-reach areas, which can harbour the growth of bacteria if it’s left untreated.
Known as the silent killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is a common odourless, colourless gas found inside our homes. Furnaces, stoves, cigarettes and vehicles are among the most common sources of CO, a reason why it’s important to regularly service household appliances and properly ventilate the home.
Interestingly, Ontario law mandates that homes need CO detectors because this gas is impossible to detect otherwise. So make sure that your home has a detector and that its batteries are still energized.
The Dangers of CO
According to Statistics Canada, 380 Canadians died from carbon monoxide poisoning between 2000 and 2009. Fatality is the result of high CO concentrations; low to medium concentrations often produce milder symptoms like:
- Chest pain,
- Blurry vision,
- And short-term memory loss.
CO produces the aforesaid effects once it enters the blood stream. There, it binds with hemoglobin, a protein responsible for carrying oxygen to cells. Once bound, hemoglobin cannot effectively transfer oxygen.
CO Levels in Your Home
Carbon monoxide is the by-product of incomplete fuel burning, which happens in malfunctioning appliances. Because homes today are so airtight—described as “energy efficient”—any CO in the home gets trapped. Over time, the concentration can grow from harmless to lethal. For this reason, installing an air exchanger is a necessary preventive measure, as such a system expels stale, polluted indoor air. Exchangers also reduce heating and cooling costs, helping offset the upfront investment.
To learn more about the dangerous gases found inside your home, read our previous article, “Common Pollutants You Might Find Inside Your Home.”