You are at home, silently fuming

You stay indoors during high-pollution days, and you shy away from dirty, congested street corners. But inside your home, you may be breathing in fumes that aren't as pure as you may like them to be.

If you light a candle, use an air freshener or even print an e-mail, you may be polluting your indoor air, and that could cause a stuffy nose at best and more sinister health issues at worst. But it's easy to improve your in-house environment by making a few changes involving potentially hazardous items.


The problem: Nearly half of all laser printers from popular brands including Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba can clog your home with as many harmful pollutants as you'd find on a crowded, high-traffic street corner, according to a study from researchers at the Queensland University of Technology. Every time you use your printer, you may be spraying micro-particles such as toner, ink and ozone into the air, and those particles can bury themselves deep inside your lungs.

The solution: The International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health has a list of high-pollution-emitter printers (visit If you can't get rid of your polluting printer, open your windows and leave the room whenever you're printing, says Lidia Morawska, Queensland University professor and lead author of the study.


The problem: Candles may smell lovely, but recent research from South Carolina State University found that paraffin candles — the most common type of candle — can cause liver damage, leukemia and neurological problems. Over time, the smoke from the candles can damage your heart and lungs. Dr. Ruhullah Massoudi, lead author of the study, found that after just six hours of burn time, a paraffin candle releases a significant amount of dangerous fumes such as alkenes and toluene — all of which are poisonous. That's because the candles are made from the delightfully camouflaged byproducts of oil refineries.

The solution: Candles that are vegetable-based, such as soy candles, aren't a health hazard, Massoudi says. If you must use a paraffin candle, don't even think about lighting up in the bathroom, which keeps the chemicals floating around a small, enclosed space.

Air fresheners

The problem: The chemicals that make air fresheners smell — called terpenes — mix with the ozone and create irritating and toxic compounds including formaldehyde and formic acid. A study by California researchers finds that those compounds bring your indoor air to smog levels, irritate your eyes and nose, and may lead to a higher incidence of cancer.

The solution: The air fresheners have "no known safe thresholds," says William Nazaroff, lead author of the study and professor at University of California at Berkeley. If you're set on using one and it's electric, unplug it on smoggy days and whenever you're using electronic air cleaning devices. Infants, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with chronic respiratory conditions or chronic cardiovascular conditions should never use an air freshener.


The problem: New wall-to-wall carpeting emits volatile organic compounds that can cause headaches, skin irritation, asthma, fatigue, and eye, nose and throat problems, says a study published in the journal Heat and Mass Transfer. The pollutants come from the adhesive used to bind the backing of the carpet, and while the intensity of the chemicals varies from company to company and lessens over time, each carpet contains some amount of dangerous compounds.

The solution: Ask the store to unravel the carpet a few days before delivering it to your house, since most of the chemicals are released when it's unraveled, says Jeffrey May, author of "My House is Killing Me: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma." After you install it, keep the windows open and fans blowing for at least a day — or until the new carpet smell dissipates.


The problem: Nearly all furniture is made from pressed wood, which is bound together by glue and other resins. The binding emits a colorless gas called formaldehyde, which causes asthma, rashes and nausea, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The average home has more than 25 parts per billion (ppb) of formaldehyde in the air — and many have more than 200. Levels between 40 and 500 ppb can cause health problems, according to the California Air Resources Board, which adds that formaldehyde is the cause of about 115 cancer cases per million people.

The solution: If you can't afford solid wood furniture, which doesn't usually contain formaldehyde, you should air out all new furniture for one to two days before bringing it into your home, says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy with the American Lung Association. Try to circulate the air in your rooms on a regular basis by placing a fan in the window, and have it blow the air outside, which creates a small exhaust fan system to get rid of the chemicals.

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