Action from the government cannot come soon enough. For all the mounting evidence, most people are still blissfully unaware that the air in their homes can pose a threat to their health. “People think of their home as something they have a lot of control over, and they underestimate the dangers,” says Kassirer.
Kelly of the EPA notes that people also have a much greater awareness of a home’s cosmetics. “They are much more likely to be concerned about changing the kitchen cabinets than they are with improving their exhaust system and ventilation.”
However, once aware, the individual can take control over the air in his or her own living space. Virginia Salares, a researcher at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., notes that if you found a dead animal in the house, you’d “get rid of it.” In the same way, a homeowner should know what is causing indoor air pollution, and either stop bringing it into the house or remove it when possible. Ventilation is an alternative strategy.
Specifically, a person could choose to stop using pesticides and cleaning supplies with harsh chemicals, eliminate scented personal care products, ensure that bathrooms and kitchens are properly vented to the outside so humidity doesn’t build up. “Basements and crawl spaces are often sources of mould problems,” Salares says, adding that homeowners should control moisture by dehumidifying in warm months, and noting that humidifiers should only be used in winter when “absolutely necessary”.
Back in Fredericton, Michele Chase, now a mother of three, still has to manage asthma. Her daughter, Cara, is also asthmatic. She keeps them both under control with daily medication and by meticulously cleaning their home to avoid triggers. She washes bedding every couple of days, her curtains once a week and uses a dry mop on her hardwood floors daily. She shies away from pesticides, and any cleaning products with harsh chemicals.
The Clemens family certainly made radical changes to their home life. For the sake of their daughter’s health, they moved into a small townhouse, where they ripped out all carpets to avoid the allergens they would harbour, and replaced them with laminate flooring. They put in a central air conditioner so they could keep the windows closed and the pollen out. Angela, now 6, has only had one asthma attack in the past three years.
Although the federal government is taking some positive steps in identifying troublesome substances, Clemens, for one, finds even the new formaldehyde guidelines confusing.
She doesn’t believe Health Canada is doing a good enough job of educating the public and communicating the dangers of polluted indoor air: “Issues regarding secondhand smoke and children have been successful, but I really haven’t heard about much else.” As a parent of a child with asthma, she would welcome further guidance.
When it comes to the risk of allergies and asthma, the statistics released by the Public Health Agency of Canada show the pressing need for government to finalize guidelines and to communicate what actions homeowners should take. By 2000, 15.6 per cent of children in Canada aged 4 to 11 had been diagnosed with asthma – and some of these cases will have developed in their own homes.
Chase and Clemens are two who have gone to great lengths to manage their children’s health, with success. They illustrate the good news when it comes to indoor air pollution: if we are part of the problem, we can also be part of the solution.
First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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