DEP Publishes March 'In Our Backyard' Column

March 9, 2011

CONTACT:
Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP Spokesperson samantha.depoy-warren@maine.gov/ 287-5842 (office) or 592-0427 (cell)

A note about In Our Backyard: In Our Backyard is a monthly, staff-written informational column developed by the Maine DEP and available to the media and the public. E-mail your environmental questions to infodep@maine.gov or send them to In Our Backyard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

Healthier Aging and Breathing Easier In Our Backyard

By Deb Avalone-King, Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Wintertime in Maine brings significant increases in particle matter air pollution from home heating, wood burning and even how we furnish and maintain our homes. While we’ve long known that real world air pollution levels have harmful affects on our respiratory health, the latest scientific research has shown a direct correlation to increased blood pressure and vascular inflammation after just two hours of exposure to particle matter.

According to numerous studies from the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA), there is now extensive evidence that even short-term exposure to ultrafine particle matter causes cardiovascular affects that can lead to changes in heart rhythm, systemic inflammation, vascular function (e.g. blood pressure, vessel constriction), reduced coagulation factors, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. They’ve even discovered increased diabetes risks from air pollution.

With such a growing list of known health risks from air pollution, it is wise to be alert to opportunities that will reduce your family’s exposure to air pollution both in your homes and your backyard. The American Heart Association advocates that “reducing air pollution in homes is a modifiable condition where people have some control.”

Common indoor pollutants include tobacco smoke, animal dander, dust mites, cockroaches, mold, dust and pollen. Other sources of indoor air pollution that can contribute particles include wood smoke from fireplaces and leaky wood stoves; combustion products of oil, gas, kerosene and coal; and building materials and furnishings made of pressed wood products. Pesticides, household cleaning products and substances with irritating odors can also add to the mix.

Even outdoor pollution seeps into our homes. A recent study by the Connecticut-based nonprofit Environmental Health & Human Health, Inc. documented how outside air can affect our homes. They found that “after just one hour of a ‘smoky’ outdoor situation – in a house with good interior air circulation—the concentration of emissions inside the house is about half of that outside the home.”

The good news is you can reduce air pollutants in and around your home and help your family to age healthier and breathe easier. Some of the practical advice the EPA and we at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection offer to improve your home’s air quality is to avoid tobacco and wood smoke, reduce mold and dust in your home, keep pets out of sleeping areas, tune up furnace and heating units annually and fix water leaks promptly.

Installing a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system in your home is also a smart way to stay healthier. Just be careful to choose a system that does not use an ozone purifier – that type of unit can worsen the air in your home even further by adding ozone into the air. For information on choosing a safe and effective HEPA air filtration system, visit www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/ozonegen.html.

Every day, our Maine Department of Environmental Protection staff meteorologist reviews monitored particle pollution data and weather information. Whenever unhealthy concentrations are expected, staff will issue an advisory message to the press and public. Air quality updates are made available to the public on the 24-hour toll-free Maine Air Quality hotline at (800) 223-1196 or online at www.maine.gov/dep/air/ozone/index.html.

This column was submitted by Deb Avalone-King, an Environmental Specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Air Quality.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for protecting and restoring Maine's natural resources and enforcing the state's environmental laws. Legislative mandate directs DEP to prevent, abate and control the pollution of the air, water and land. The charge is to preserve, improve and prevent diminution of the natural environment of the State. The department is also directed to protect and enhance the public's right to use and enjoy Maine’s natural resources. For more information about the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, visit www.maine.gov/dep.