Camryn Ernst: What about our indoor air quality?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Antelope Island and the Oquirrh Mountains beyond poke up beyond the deteriorating air quality under inversion conditions on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, obscuring the ground below as pilot Jeff Greenland takes every opportunity to fly above the poor conditions.

Salt Lake’s poor air quality is no secret. In fact, the valley is so notorious for its heavily polluted air that many of us routinely check the air quality index when we wake up in the morning the same way we check for the day’s temperature and weather conditions.

The increased emphasis on outdoor air quality awareness is a much needed step in the right direction, but another vital aspect of our environmental health often ends up pushed aside: indoor air quality (IAQ).

In the last decade, the EPA has come out with numerous reports regarding IAQ that are pertinent to our health. The agency considers indoor air pollution one of the top environmental risks to humans. They have reported that concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have a variety of adverse health effects, are up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.

Health effects from poor IAQ range from irritation of the eyes, ears and throat; headaches, dizziness and fatigue; respiratory disease, heart disease and cancer and the triggering of asthma and allergies. Not to mention that populations who are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollutants, like children and the elderly, tend to spend the most time inside.

We’ve heard over and over again what we can do to help Salt Lake’s air quality problem. We’re told to carpool, take public transportation, burn less wood, not let our cars idle, turn down our thermostats and buy Tier 3 gasoline, but what can we do to improve the air inside the place many of us spend more than 90% of our time?

A great place to start is purchasing an indoor air quality monitor so you can see which pollutants you’re dealing with. PurpleAir sells affordable IAQ monitors that collect real time data and allows you to choose to make your sensor public so that it can be added to a map, benefitting the rest of your community.

The next recommendation seems obvious, but keeping your home clean, particularly carpets, by using a vacuum with a HEPA filter will help rid your home of lead, brominated fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs), pet dander, pollen and dust mites. Ensuring your home is a strict smoking-free zone is another obvious one, but probably the most important, as second-hand tobacco smoke can be extremely toxic.

Have family members and guests wipe their shoes on a mat before entering your home or have them take off their shoes altogether as shoes track in more chemicals and dirt than you’d think. Dehumidify to control dust mites and mold by using a dehumidifier or exhaust fan, not over watering plants, venting your clothes dryer outside and fixing leaky pipes.

Avoid cleaning products, air fresheners and laundry detergents with synthetic fragrances or aerosol sprays. When you use these, you are emitting chemicals into the air you breathe. Finally, houseplants are not only a great way to brighten up a room, they also act as natural air purifiers that can detoxify your home by absorbing toxins, dust and germs. Some recommendations are snake plant, chrysanthemum, aloe vera, spider plant, English ivy and barberton daisy.

Salt Lake’s air quality problem can seem overwhelming, but the air quality inside your own home is something you have more direct control over and most improvements take no more effort than switching to carpooling or turning down your thermostat.

Camryn Ernst

Camryn Ernst, Salt Lake City, is a junior at the University of Utah studying environmental and sustainability studies and Spanish.