Common appliances in your home-appliances like your gas oven, stove, water heater or clothes dryer-can, in certain circumstances "produce combustion pollutants that can damage your health, or even kill you," says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
These pollutants are produced when the fuel in these appliances (natural gas, kerosene, wood or coal) is burned. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ultrafine particles, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and sulfur dioxide are just some of the pollutants that can be produced and released into your home's air.
Combustion pollutants including ultrafine particles are known to cause numerous health problems like inflammation, oxidative stress, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, watery eyes, breathing difficulties or even death. These effects can occur immediately or after years of long-term exposure.
Combustion pollutants are so problematic because the air inside our homes is subject to a variety of toxins, not only from our gas appliances but also from building materials, tobacco smoke and activities like cleaning and cooking. When they're all combined they make our indoor air significantly more polluted than the outdoor air, even in big cities, according to the EPA.
People spend the majority of their time indoors and therefore the majority of their time breathing indoor air, so if that air is contaminated health problems will almost indefinitely result.
Are my Gas Appliances a Risk to my Health?
It appears that even natural gas appliances that are vented to the outdoors (such as clothes dryers) may release high levels of ultrafine particles indoors.
According to an 18-month study of the ultrafine particle emissions in a townhouse (conducted by Lance Wallace, a retired EPA expert on air quality monitoring) an outdoor-vented clothes dryer was responsible for producing an "order of magnitude increase in the ultrafine [particle] concentrations [in the home] compared to times" when the dryer or other appliances were not in use.
According to the EPA, the amount of pollutants produced by a particular appliance depend on how well the appliance is installed and maintained, how well it's vented and what type of fuel it uses. However, because the health effects from these pollutants can also occur from a number of other sources, it can be difficult to determine if your gas appliances are to blame.
Tips to Keep Your Gas Appliances as Safe as Possible
The EPA does offer some tips to reduce your exposure to combustion pollutants, which you can apply to your own home today.
- Make sure your home has good ventilation, and open windows, etc. when you can.
- Only choose vented appliances, if possible.
- When buying combustion appliances, look for products that have met current safety standards (they'll contain labels from organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the American Gas Association (AGA) Laboratories).
- Consider buying gas appliances that have electronic ignitions rather than pilot lights. They're more energy efficient, and they don't give off the constant low-level pollutants that pilot lights do.
- Make sure your appliances are the proper size. Heaters that are too big may produce more pollutants than necessary.
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