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Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health, but they may not know that indoor air quality can have a similar effect. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor air levels of many pollutants may be five times higher than outdoor levels. People spend as much as 80 percent of their time inside; indoor air quality may be a public health risk.
During the past several decades, construction of more tightly sealed buildings, reduced ventilation rates to save energy, the use of synthetic building materials and furnishings, and the use of chemically formulated products have increased the potential for indoor air pollution.
According to the American Lung Association, indoor air quality can cause or contribute to the development of chronic lung diseases such as asthma. It is estimated 40 million individuals in the United States are affected by allergies. Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to foreign substances. This over reaction weakens the immune system, draining a person’s energy and leaving him/her more susceptible to infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.
Allergic reactions can range from mildly uncomfortable to life threatening, as in a severe asthma attack. Health experts are especially concerned about people with asthma. These individuals have very sensitive airways that can react to various irritants, making breathing difficult. The estimated number of people with asthma has risen more than 59 percent since 1970. The number of asthma-related deaths has also increased.
The largest source of indoor air pollution is from the common dust mite. In 1993, John W. Maunder, Ph.D., director of the Medical Entomology Center at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, published a paper entitled “Carpets, House Dust Mites and Asthma” in which he states, “There is no longer room for serious doubt about the dominant role of the house dust mite in both the initial induction of asthma and in the subsequent triggering of wheezy attacks.”
Asthmatics are not allergic to living mites but to the airborne feces of mites and, to a much lesser extent, to dead mites. Dr. Maunder states that although living mites are difficult to remove from carpet, their feces are readily removed from carpets by proper cleaning.
“A carpet regularly cleaned will not and cannot contain enough allergen to affect people. The proper maintenance of carpet completely prevents trouble from that source,” he writes.
A recent study concludes that carpets may benefit indoor air quality by acting as a filter for indoor air, trapping and holding dust mites, pollutants, and allergens such as pollen, pet dander and molds, which play an important role in allergic diseases. The key to maintaining good indoor air quality in a school or office building is to clean this filter regularly, i.e., remove these pollutants through vacuuming.
The science shows regular vacuuming is important and necessary, not just to protect and maintain carpets appearance, but for hygienic reasons, as well.
BJ Mandelstam is the founder and president of Cleaning Matters, a Denver-based custodial consulting practice. Previously, she was the owner of an award-winning contract cleaning company. For more information, visit www.onlycleaningmatters.com.