Indoor Air Quality

Pollutants—including formaldehyde, mold, carbon monoxide and ozone—may be lurking in your home. Here’s how to freshen the atmosphere.

By Anne Marie O’Connor

Aspen or The Hamptons conjures up images of fresh air and healthy sea breezes. But inside your home, it may be a different story. Indoor air pollution can cause everything from an itchy nose and watery eyes to asthma, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. In the long term, it can be responsible for more serious and even fatal ailments, including cancer and lung and heart disease, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The East End is prone to specific indoor air pollution issues. “Molds tend to be a big issue here, due to our proximity to the water,” says Erin McGintee, M.D., an allergist with ENT and Allergy Associates in Southampton.

Ozone levels in the Hamptons are also high, points out Jessica Le Dinh, a design engineer for Dyson. In fact, the American Lung Association gives the area an “F” for its high ozone levels. Ozone can decrease lung function, aggravate asthma and cause shortness of breath and coughing.

Cigarette smoke is another major source of indoor air pollution, as are wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, says Dr. McGintee. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—which are found in many household products including aerosol sprays, building materials like composite woods, adhesives, carpets, carpet padding and paints—are another common contributor.

Other contaminants in the home can trigger allergic reactions. “Pet dander and dust mites are ubiquitous indoor allergens,” says Dr. McGintee. Like all outdoor pollutants, plant allergens, such as tree, grass or weed pollen, can also make their way indoors.

But there are ways to insure your house is a healthy home—here’s how:

Hoover it. “A vacuum with a HEPA filter is ideal,” says Dr. McGintee. “A double bag—often marketed as a vacuum bag for allergies—is a good alternative. Bagless vacuums are not a good option, as they will trap dirt but not allergens.”

Run a dehumidifier. “Dust mites tend to thrive in warm, humid environments (as does mold),” she explains. A dehumidifier will help keep humidity levels in the EPA’s recommended range of 30 to 60 percent.

Invest in dust-mite-proof mattress and pillow protectors, she suggests. Also, wash your sheets once a week in hot water (and all your bedding once a month).

Take off your shoes inside. “This will help minimize the amount of outdoor allergens that are brought into the home,” says McGintee. If you’re allergic to pollen, she recommends putting all your clothes in the laundry as soon as you come inside and immediately taking a shower.

Open a window or turn on the exhaust fan while cooking or taking a shower.

Make your house a no-smoking zone—for so many reasons.

Invest in an air-purifying fan. The Dyson Pure Cool has a fully-sealed HEPA filter, says says Le Dinh. It traps many indoor pollutants, including mold, smoke, fumes from household products and cooking, as well as allergens.