Chemicals That Go Up in Smoke:
The Hazards of Gas Stoves, Fireplaces, Kerosene Heaters,
and Cigarette Smoke
The burning, or combustion, of wood or fuels like natural gas or kerosene can be a formidable source of pollution, particularly if your home is poorly ventilated. Smoke, whether from a fireplace, cigarette, car emissions, or incense, contains thousands of chemicals, including cancer-causing substances and allergens. We now know that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, and respiratory infections. Infants are even more vulnerable than adults. Exposure to tobacco smoke has doubled the incidence of pneumonia, bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments among infants and children up to age three. Similarly, exposure to pollutants from combustion appliances, heaters, and fireplaces also increases the risk of cancer, respiratory infections, heart disease, and retarded fetal development. Children living in homes heated with wood are more likely to develop respiratory illnesses. In the United States, 37 percent of all deaths in the first year of life are the result of lung disease and breathing problems, which are the leading cause of disease and death among newborns, according to the American Lung Association. Wood smoke has become a significant part of outdoor air pollution, too. In Washington state, for example, residential wood stoves and fireplaces release 10 percent of the state's total air pollution.
Because many of the particles and gasses found in smoke and fuel emissions are undetectable to us, we often don't realize the dangers that we may be exposing ourselves and our loved ones to. Some of the gas and particle byproducts of combustion include:
Particles and PAHs produced from combustion cling to soil and dust, which may be tracked around the house on shoes and infiltrate rooms through open windows and ducts. These pollutants can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, and ingested from hand-to-mouth contact.
Sources of Combustion Pollutants
There are three primary sources of combustion pollutants in the home. Unvented appliances, such as gas stoves and kerosene heaters, can be worrisome because they do not have an exhaust fan or flue that carries pollutants out of and away from the house. Even unvented pilot lights in gas appliances can increase indoor air pollution, according to the EPA. It's best to vent appliances to the outdoors whenever possible. And kitchen windows must be easily opened so that gases and particles can be dispersed.
Vented appliances, including most furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces, gas water heaters, and gas clothes dryers, are supposed to exhaust pollutants outdoors through vents, flues, or ducts. But exhaust leakage, due to cracked heat exchangers or blocked vents, may cause the pollutants to seep into the home instead. Blocked flues or chimneys can cause backdrafts, or a reversal of airflow through a chimney or flue. Backdrafts push smoke into the house instead of outward. They are also caused by lowered air pressure, or depressurization, which occurs when other chimneys, exhaust fans, or forced air systems pull air from the house without adequate air replacement, producing a "suction" effect. "Even operating a clothes dryer, which expels air outdoors through a vent, can cause a backdraft, particularly when the fire is low," says Jamie Craighill.
Secondhand smoke, or the smoke from smoldering tobacco, emits more than 4,000 particles and gasses. At least forty of these, such as formaldehyde and benzene, are carcinogenic. Infants of smokers have a higher incidence of ear infections and may suffer reduced lung function and lung growth. Maternal smoking impacts fetal development as well and increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Other activities related to combustion may also degrade indoor air quality. Pollutants from an idling car or fuel-burning heaters in the garage may seep into the house. Grilling or burning food, the oven-cleaning cycle on your kitchen stove, welding and soldering projects, and incense and candles release particles and gasses into the air as well.
Polluted outdoor air from passing traffic, outdoor barbecues, wood stoves and fireplaces in neighboring homes, and gas-powered lawnmowers can enter your home through open doors and windows.
Reducing Combustion Pollutants in Your Home
Once combustion pollutants contaminate your home, they are very difficult to remove. Particles cling to carpets, furniture, curtains, and household dust, and gasses spread throughout the house. You need not replace all your gas appliances and board up your fireplace. Instead, reduce contamination as much as possible by doing the following:
- A constantly running furnace or one that cannot adequately heat the house
- Sooting, especially on appliances
- Decreasing hot water supply (if you have a gas water heater)
- A burning odor or other unusual smells
- Visible rust or stains on vents and chimneys
- Make sure your home is adequately ventilated. See "Good Ventilation" later in this chapter.
Excerpted from: Guideto Natural Baby Care, by Mindy Pennybackerand Aisha Ikramuddin
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