Most of us are spending more time in our homes than ever before. But is your home supporting your health?
For those of us able to work outside of the home, public health guidelines require that we sanitize regularly. Does that affect our health?
I was blessed to be able to attend the Environmental Health Symposium virtually last spring. The theme, chosen in 2019, was IMMUNOTOXICOLOGY - what's happened to our environment that has overwhelmed our immune systems so much that they can't handle infections, and instead tend towards allergies and autoimmunity.
Several speakers discussed how common chemical, EMF, and mold exposures in indoor air alter immune cell function.
How do we reduce these toxic exposures AND follow Health Canada guidelines for disinfecting to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Read on for tips to improve your indoor air quality, whether you're working from home or sanitizing a work environment:
1. REDUCE EXPOSURE TO MOLD TOXINS BY CONTROLLING MOISTURE
Vent bathroom, kitchen, dryer, stove hood outside. Run a fan when bathing or cooking.
Use a dehumidifier in damp basements or in humid, warm weather to keep your the humidity below 50%.
2. LOWER EM RADIATION
Minimize screen time. If you're using a screen for work, delineate clear boundaries so that you're putting the screen away when you're off work, and getting out into nature. 2 hours/week optimizes health; even if it's just a 20 minute after dinner walk 6 days/week.(1)
Minimize cell phone use. Turn off or use Airplane Mode when not in use & at night.
Hard wire your computer(s) or turn off wireless router when not in use, & at night. Use wired instead of wireless ear buds.
Remove your Smart Meter. Purchase an LCD TV rather than a plasma TV. Remove vinyl floor and wall coverings. Use natural fiber clothing and bedclothes. Replace CFL lights with LED lights without drivers. Increase daily exposure to natural light. (2)
Keep electronic devices 6 feet away from your bed. Use a battery alarm clock. Remove electric blankets, pads, extension cords and power strips from near the bed. Avoid metal bedsprings and bed frames. (3)
Unplug electronics when not in use.
3. REDUCE PARTICULATES
Use a MERV7 rated or better pleated furnace filter, and replace every 2-3 months. Get air ducts professionally cleaned annually.
Remove carpet; use hard floor surfaces. Remove outdoor footwear and wear designated footwear in the home.
Vacuum weekly with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner. Empty the canister and beat rugs outside.
Have fireplaces & wood stoves professionally inspected and maintained annually. Ensure that exhaust systems are properly vented to the outside.
Use an outside vented stove hood when using a gas stove.
4. PROVIDE FRESH AIR VENTILATION
Bring fresh air inside via the heating/AC system or
Keep a few windows slightly open at all times.
5. ELIMINATE VOLATILE COMPOUNDS (VOCs)
Use VOC-free paints. Don't smoke or vape inside. Use solvent-free dry cleaning. Remove memory foam mattresses/toppers/pillows. Replace non-stick & plastic with glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or cast iron. Get rid of vinyl shower curtains.
Open windows when cleaning or disinfecting, using glues or permanent markers, printing or photocopying.
Avoid storing and using chemicals in your home. Use cleaning and personal care products that list their ingredients in full on their label. Ensure those ingredients are non-toxic by checking them with the Environmental Working Group's searchable tools. (4) Avoid any product that lists "fragrance" on their label, which could conceal hundreds of chemicals. Get rid of air fresheners & room sprays.
Fill your home and work space with living plants, as they provide a natural, calming way of removing toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air. Include the top toxin removing plants of the NASA Clean Air Study; Mother-in-law's Tongue, Peace lily, and Areca/Bamboo palm. (5) In the 4 minute TedTalk How To Grow Fresh Air, researcher Kamal Meattle recommends 4 shoulder height Areca Palms in the living room, and 6-8 waist-high Mother-in-law's Tongue in the bedroom. (6)
Consider a HEPA/carbon air purifier (avoid hydroxyl/PCO units that produce ozone). (7)
6. USE AUTHORIZED DISINFECTANTS WITH LESS TOXIC ACTIVE INGREDIENTS
Health Canada has included many products with a single, less toxic active ingredient in their list of disinfectants authorized for use against COVID-19. (8)
The Environmental Protection Agency has also registered products that contain safer active ingredients. (9)
Look on the label of your disinfectants for them: hydrogen peroxide, alcohol (isopropanol/ethanol), citric acid, caprylic acid (octanoic acid), lactic acid & thymol.
Avoid quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach), triclosan & triclocarban.
Environmental Working Group cross referenced the EPA's list with their own Guide to Healthy Cleaning and landed on 16 products with anti-viral efficacy and fewer ingredient concerns, and there are a few common brands that might surprise you! The handout includes instruction on what to do when you can't find these products. (10)
Women's Voices for the Earth has posted a webinar with links to studies that investigate the risks and benefits of disinfecting in addition to regular cleaning. Their director of research points out that disinfecting technologies like microfibre cloths, steam cleaning, & UV light aren't on the EPA list because they aren't registered pesticides. (11)
Environmental Defence Canada has also reviewed the evidence and reminds us to wash our hands often with water and soap (avoiding "antibacterial" or "fragrance"), practice physical distancing, choose non-toxic cleaners and safer disinfectants with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, and to ventilate our homes when cleaning or disinfecting. (12)
BOTTOM LINE/KEY TAKE-AWAYs:
There are many things we can do to improve our indoor air quality and immune system function.
Read labels to ensure that disinfectants used have disclosed their ingredients and contain only low toxicity active ingredients.
Building Biology Free Factsheets
Health Canada List of disinfectants for use against COVID-19
EPA Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
Women's Voices for the Earth Safer Disinfecting at home in the times of Coronavirus
Environmental Defense Canada Top 5 ways to effectively clean your home and reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals during the COVID-19 pandemic