Air Quality in Homes

  • Air Quality in Homes.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency have given the following advice for improving the air quality in homes:


        ◦    “Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body.  At high concentrations it can cause unconsciousness and death.  Lower concentrations can cause a range of symptoms from headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and disorientation, to fatigue in healthy people and episodes of increased chest pain in people with chronic heart disease.  The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning.  Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially sensitive to carbon monoxide exposures.

        ◦    Space Heaters.  “Take special precautions when operating fuel-burning unvented space heaters.  Consider potential effects of indoor air pollution if you use an unvented kerosene or gas space heater.  Follow the manufacturer's directions, especially instructions on the proper fuel and keeping the heater properly adjusted.  A persistent yellow-tipped flame is generally an indicator of maladjustment and increased pollutant emissions.  While a space heater is in use, open a door from the room where the heater is located to the rest of the house and open a window slightly.

        ◦    Fans Over Stoves.  “Install and use exhaust fans over gas cooking stoves and ranges and keep the burners properly adjusted.   Using a stove hood with a fan vented to the outdoors greatly reduces exposure to pollutants during cooking.  Never use a gas stove to heat your home.  


        ◦    Wood Stoves.  “Keep wood stove emissions to a minimum.  Choose properly sized new stoves that are certified as meeting EPA emission standards.  Make certain that doors in old wood stoves are tight-fitting.  Use aged or cured (dried) wood only and follow the manufacturer's directions for starting, stoking, and putting out the fire in wood stoves.  (Because some old gaskets in wood stove doors contain asbestos, when replacing gaskets, purchase the new gaskets made of fiberglass.)

    NOTE:  Washington passed a law in 2016 that allows wood stoves or other solid-fuel-burning devices that meet Department of Ecology emissions standards to be used, even during a burn ban, during emergency power outages.  Wood stoves are the only source of heat for some people. 

        ◦    Central Air Systems.  “Have central air handling systems, including furnaces, flues, and chimneys, inspected annually and promptly repair cracks or damaged parts.  Blocked, leaking, or damaged chimneys or flues release harmful combustion gases and particles and even fatal concentrations of carbon monoxide.  Furnace and Air Conditioner Filters should be replaced or cleaned frequently.  If manufacturer's instructions are not readily available, change filters once every month or two during periods of use.  Proper maintenance is important even for new furnaces, because they can also corrode and leak combustion gases, including carbon monoxide.”   (The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency)


  • Carbon Monoxide (CO).
Protect your family with a low-level Carbon Monoxide Monitor.  

NOTE:  Carbon monoxide detectors are required in all Washington State homes,effective January 1, 2013.  The alarms are required in
1)  new construction,
2) all existing residences including apartments, rental properties, condos, hotels, dormitories and residential institutions, and
3) single-family homes when they are sold or when home owners apply for a remodeling permit. 
They can be either hard-wired or battery powered. 

Installation Requirements:

1)  Alarms must be located outside of each separate sleeping area, in the immediate vicinity of the    bedroom and on each level of the residence.

2)  Single station carbon monoxide alarms must be listed as complying with UL 2034, and installed in accordance with the code and the manufacturer’s instructions.

3)  Combined CO and smoke alarms are permitted.

Carbon Monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion of all burning fuels which can come from running vehicles, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, generators, barbecue grills, camp stoves, and gas appliances, including space heaters, gas ranges/ovens, furnaces, gas water heaters and gas clothes dryers.  All gas appliances should be vented outdoors. 

Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, nausea, drowsiness and flu-like symptoms.  Those effects will disappear once patients get into fresh air. 

Carbon Monoxide is not like smoke - it does not rise to the ceiling.  This gas can quickly spread around a room, house or building, permeating drywall and even concrete.  About 73% of carbon monoxide exposure occurs in the home, and more than 41% occurs during the months of December, January and February. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 

Gas kitchen ranges releasing unvented combustion products into the kitchen are common in many homes—and studies show carbon monoxide concentrations in those kitchens are elevated when the stove is not used with a vented range hood. 

Immigrant families are more at risk, if they have come from cultures with well-ventilated homes, or traditions of cooking over indoor charcoal. 

Standard CO alarms provide little or no protection for infants, children, elderly, and persons with respiratory or heart ailments.  Long-term exposure to Low-level CO above 15 ppm can cause illness and even permanent disabilities.  According to numerous medical doctors and environmental health centers, natural gas emissions in our homes are contributing to respiratory health problems.  (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) 

Store-bought CO detectors do not alarm until unsafe levels of 70 ppm or higher are present at the unit—which can be deadly. 

.1 ppm (parts per million) is considered normal in the atmosphere
.5 to 5 ppm – the level in homes without gas stoves
5 to 15 ppm – near a gas stove
35 ppm = can cause headaches, dizziness after 6 hours of constant exposure
70 ppm – is detected by a CO Monitor
100 ppm = headache in 2-3 hours
http://www.stopcarbonmonoxide.com/index.cfm?p=page&id=15 

When a CO alarm sounds, turn off heat or appliances and ventilate the space by opening the doors and windows.  Call a service technician to inspect the suspected appliance or fuel source.  Call 911 if someone is feeling sick. 

  • Radon Gas.
Spokane (over 20 pCi/L) has much higher levels of radon gas than the national average (1.3 pCi/L).  The EPA recommends that all homes that are 4.0 or higher be mitigated.  The EPA also says that 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has high levels of radon gas which is the #1 cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.  
Radon Testing and Mitigation, America's Home Inspection Service,
http://www.americashomeinspection.com/radon-testing/
State's Highest Radon Levels Found in Spokane County, AP, 8-22-94 

    •    Test for Radon Gas.  Of all the environmental exposures we receive, radon is the one that causes the most deaths, seeping into the air we breathe.  Spokane County radon test results are generally far higher than the acceptable EPA levels.  


Radon is a serious health threat,
linked to more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year.  Radon gas contains radioactive particles which get trapped in your lungs every time you breathe.  As the radon gas particles break down, they release bursts of radiation which is believed to damage or destroy your lung tissue, causing lung cancer; and long-term exposure may even cause death.  Next to smoking, it is the leading cause of lung cancer.  Victims usually do not know they have been exposed until years later. 

Radon is an invisible and odorless toxic, cancer-causing, radioactive gas. It develops from the breakdown of soil and rock, occurring naturally from decaying uranium underneath the earth’s surface.  Radon gas rises through the soil and seeps through cracks, holes, and drain pipes in the foundation or basement of your home, school, office or other buildings.

Radon is measured in picocuries.  The average national indoor radon level is 1.3 pCi/L.   The average indoor radon levels of Spokane County, as determined by radon test results from Air Check, Inc., is 9.2 pCi/L. If a person is exposed, even at the EPA's action level, 4 picocuries per liter, that's equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day. 

High levels of radon should be a high priority for action.  While the most significant possible risks are at home, where kids and families spend most of their time, radon can be a concern at school as well.  The EPA strongly recommends that both homes and schools are tested for radon, and that action is taken when high levels are found.

The good news is that if high levels of radon are detected, the solutions are practical, effective, and affordable. 

Anyone that is concerned about a potential radon risk should take steps to protect families and students – that includes testing to identify exposure levels, sealing foundation cracks, and ensuring adequate ventilation and fresh air circulation.  (Unfortunately, many schools are reluctant to do the tests for fear it will make them look bad.) 

Purchase a radon test kit to conduct your own test.  The test kit costs about $10 to $15, and the lab fees are about $30.00.  In addition, you can locate about 6 certified radon inspectors in Spokane who will come to your home and perform the test for you.  These inspectors can be found in the Yellow Pages under Radon, or on Spokane County's website below.    (NBC's Today Show, February 29, 2012)

Read more about Spokane County’s radon Information at
http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2009/mar/08/a-silent-danger/
Washington State’s Radon Officer:
Mike Brennan
(360) 236-3253
Division of Radiation Protection
PO BOX 47827
Olympia WA, 98504-7825 
What You Can Do
  • Protect your family with a low-level Carbon Monoxide Monitor. 

  • Purchase a radon test kit to conduct your own test.  The test kit costs about $10 to $15, and the lab fees are about $30.00.  In addition, you can locate about 6 certified radon inspectors in Spokane who will come to your home and perform the test for you.  These inspectors can be found in the Yellow Pages under Radon, or on Spokane County's website below.    (NBC's Today Show, February 29, 2012)