Radon is a soil gas that is released by the break down of uranium and radium, two minerals that are widespread in the Upper Midwest. It is estimated that one in three Minnesota homes have enough radon to pose significant health risks with long term exposure. Radon is also known to be the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon enters a home because of negative pressure, which acts as a vacuum that pulls the gas into the lowest level of the home. Radon test kits, recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health, can be purchased here. If the radon levels in a home exceed 2 picoCuries per liter, then a radon mitigation system should be installed. Learn more about radon here.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ):
Indoor air quality is greatly affected by products that are brought into a home. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) include a variety of chemicals that are found in paints, adhesives, floor and wall coverings, furniture, and cleaning products. Exposure to VOCs off gassed by these products has led to rising cases of allergies, as well as respiratory and immune system problems among infants and young children. However, the availability of products that contain a low level of or zero VOCs is continuously increasing, and as Americans spend more time indoors, it will be important to purchase these products. Learn more about indoor air quality here.
Lead was added to paint to increase durability, speed drying time, and resist moisture that could cause corrosion. Ingesting the dust from lead paint, however, can cause nervous system and kidney damage, reproductive problems, and delayed development. Although lead paint was banned in the United States in 1978, many homes built prior to that time may still have lead paint. The greatest concern for exposure to lead paint dust is during home repairs and renovations. As of April 22nd 2010, all renovation and remodeling contractors are required to be certified to work in and around areas that have lead paint, and thus execute procedures to properly handle and contain lead paint dust. Learn more about lead here.
Mold is a type of fungus that depends on moisture and nutrients to grow and multiply. Mold can grow on building materials and furnishings, eventually damaging these items. Controlling and preventing moisture problems is the key to preventing and stopping mold growth. Poor building practices can often lead to mold problems in homes. Exposure to mold can cause health concerns, including nasal and throat conditions, worsened asthma and allergy symptoms, and fungal respiratory infections in people who have weakened immune systems. Learn more about mold here.
The comfort of a home can be affected by a wide variety of issues, including those listed above. A home is not comfortable if it is making its occupants sick through the presence of mold and VOCs, or leading to more serious health problems due to radon exposure or lead pain dust inhalation. A home’s comfort is also affected by the heating and cooling system. Heating and cooling systems should be designed and installed to properly distribute air evenly throughout the house. Air filtration systems can also be installed to improve the home’s indoor air quality. Lastly, the placement of windows can make a home more comfortable simply by providing an abundance of natural light for its occupants.
Cost of poor health:
A recent study done by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy examined the cost of childhood diseases caused by pollutants, such as those listed above. It is estimated that environment-related childhood diseases, including asthma, cancer, lead poisoning, birth defects, and neurobehavioral disorders, cost an between $1.3 billion and $1.8 billion per year in the state of Minnesota. The full version of this study can be found here.