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Nine ways to improve indoor air

In April 2012, a wildfire broke out in a compost pile in an area on Staten Island, NY, that formerly housed the Fresh Kills Landfill. Residents across the island worried if the billowing smoke rising into the sky was toxic in nature as a result of the years of trash that had been buried in the soil.

Though it's understandable to worry about contaminants that could be polluting outdoor air, it's important not to overlook indoor air quality as well.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air inside people's homes can be two to five times more polluted than air outside the home. Although the EPA regulates the quality of outdoor air and monitors potential contaminants, the air inside one's home is his or her own domain. Oftentimes, people do not realize how polluted the air in their homes and businesses can be. Cigarette smoke, radon, carbon monoxide, lead-laden dust from old paints, dirt-filled carpet, household cleaners, and furniture made with wood glue containing formaldehyde are all sources of indoor air pollution. Even cooking on a gas stove may introduce high levels of nitrogen dioxide into the air, causing respiratory problems.

The National Safety Council says that Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, so poor air quality can greatly affect personal health.

There are several steps that can be taken to improve the quality of indoor air.

1. Open the windows and let fresh air circulate. It is important to change the air inside of the home several times a day to prevent the buildup of pollutants. Even opening windows a crack can help.

2. Change the filters on home heating and cooling systems as the manufacturer suggests.

3. Routinely clean the exhaust vents in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms.

4. Consider the installation of an air purification system in the home. Or purchase in-room HEPA filters.

5. Routinely clean bedding used by pets and groom animals to remove shedded fur.

6. Avoid the use of toxic cleaning products. Thoroughly cleanse the air by opening windows after doing any cleaning.

7. Use natural pest control procedures inside when possible.

8. Introduce more plants to the home, which naturally filter air.

9. Use detectors to test for radon and carbon monoxide in the home. If there are high levels present, go outside and investigate ways to identify the problem and remedy the situation.