Peter Forestieri, now 5, was born with allergies to mold, dust, dogs, cats, and a variety of foods; his pediatricians diagnosed a dairy allergy when he was just 2 days old. When Peter turned 2, he began developing severe nasal congestion that not only affected his speech but also interrupted his sleep; specialists confirmed a series of allergies including mold. By the time Peter’s parents, Jeri and Frank, called us, they already had begun doing online research about how to “green” their home set in the midst of an agricultural and horse-breeding community in Pennsylvania.
Jeri, mother to Peter and 11-year-old Tess, had already discovered the virtues of natural, homemade cleaning agents and hadn’t used a commercial cleaning product or detergent for more than a year. But there was a lot left to do. Peter still had congestion and significantly swollen glands for which his ear, nose, and throat specialist had no explanation. We made some basic recommendations that would go a long way toward making the Forestieri’s home healthier in just weeks.
Remove cars (and other stuff) from the garage
The first thing we recommended was removing the family’s cars from the garage—part of which was directly adjacent to Peter’s bedroom. Attached garages are convenient, but storing cars in the garage can negatively affect indoor air quality. Garage vapors, which can include carbon monoxide, gasoline, and oil fumes, can enter the home through cracks in ductwork, garage ceilings, and walls and doors leading to the home. Car tires carry dust, dirt, and other contaminants (think “roadkill”) into the garage; these in turn may enter the home as airborne particulates or on the soles of shoes.
Jeri and Frank immediately took this recommendation to heart, and those cars haven’t seen the inside of the garage since last summer. (Had they been unable to give up the convenience of parking in the garage—as other clients have—we would have insisted that they let the car cool off outside first before parking it and allow the garage to air out before closing the door. Additionally, we would have advised installing an exhaust fan to vent fumes to the outside.)
We also suggested that the Forestieris store gasoline-powered tools, paints, solvents, and other potentially harmful chemicals in their outside storage shed.
Help down under
We chanted our mantra, “Basement air goes upstairs,” as we identified several problem areas in the Forestieri’s basement.
When we first walked down the basement steps, the smell of chlorine nearly bowled us over. Every chemical needed to maintain the family’s in-ground pool was stored inside the damp “pool closet.” For both health and safety reasons, we suggested they store chlorine and other pool chemicals in a cool, dry, well-ventilated storage area outside the home.
Chlorine is corrosive, toxic, and explosive, and the fumes can be irritating to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs—and they’re especially problematic for those with allergies or chemical sensitivities. We also suggested that they research and possibly implement a non-chemical-based sanitizing system such as UV, ozone, or ionization to eliminate or greatly reduce the need for chlorine in the pool.
The most problematic area of the basement—with its exposed fiberglass insulation and shelves of paint, waxes, and aerosol-spray cans, among other things—was the workroom directly underneath Peter’s bedroom. Because waxes, paints, shellacs, aerosol-spray cans, glues, and solvents may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and toluene that can leak from even tightly sealed containers, it’s best to buy only what you need or to store the products in a secured outside storage shed. The basement air and these contaminants are not confined to the basement, as basement air may travel to upper levels in the home via the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system, cracks in floors and walls, air pressure changes, and door openings.
We were able to demonstrate leakage using the TIFF 8800 combustible gas detector. As we approached one of these combustible gas or vapor sources, a signal increased in frequency and red lights showed us the intensity of the leak. This allowed the Forestieris to see and hear all of the dangerous leaks in their basement.
We also advised that Frank and Jeri cover up the exposed fiberglass insulation on the basement’s workroom ceiling, directly beneath Peter’s bedroom, with a breathable product such as plywood or drywall (sealed with a water-based sealant to prevent formaldehyde outgassing). Every time someone walked above that “fiberglass ceiling,” the vibration combined with air flow and pressure differences caused little bits of glass to be released into the air. These bits of glass eventually made their way upstairs into the living areas—particularly into Peter’s room.
Clean air for kids first
We highly recommended that Jeri and Frank filter the air throughout their home by purchasing a whole-house system if it were financially feasible. If not, they could filter the kids’ rooms first. Both Peter and big sister Tess spend considerable time in their bedrooms, so we suggested using portable air filters with HEPA and carbon filters. HEPA removes particulates down to 0.3 microns, and carbon reduces or removes odors, gases, and chemicals. Air cleaners with ultraviolet lights also can kill bacteria, mold spores, and viruses.
Large “wells” from the basement windows are situated directly beneath both kids’ bedroom windows. We suggested thoroughly cleaning out the wells, which were filled with rocks, leaves, and mold, and covering them with plastic well covers.
Unplug and unwind
In the Forestieris’ master bedroom, where everyone spent a considerable amount of time, we pointed out ways to reduce electromagnetic radiation. We suggested they move their night table lamps, clocks, and plug-in phones because each of those appliances creates electromagnetic radiation (EMR). There is increasing evidence that EMR causes adverse health effects. Transformers, like those on the end of their telephone answering machine plugs, create very high magnetic fields. Bedside lamps also contribute to EMR, even when they’re switched off at night.
We recommended that they move the cordless phone by the bed because the plug creates electric and magnetic fields and because cordless phones—which we do not advise using at all—expose people to more radio frequency radiation than cell phones.
We measured the magnetic fields in their bedroom—particularly over and around their king-size bed—using a digital Gaussmeter. While the magnetic fields—which can be disruptive to our bodies’ own natural rhythm—were very low in Jeri and Frank’s bedroom, we were able to demonstrate the presence of electric fields using a volt sensor. We placed the volt sensor near all the wires and appliances in the bedroom, and the light-emitting diode (LED) lit up if the wire or the appliance was plugged in (powered). We were able to follow the presence of the voltage and demonstrate that there were literally electrical fields crackling above their heads as they slept. We’ve had many clients who have indicated great improvements in their own sleeping patterns simply by unplugging their lamps or phones before going to bed.
We also offered the following advice.
• Stop using Teflon-coated cookware, which has been proven to be toxic at high heat levels.
• Use a high-quality HEPA vacuum that cuts down considerably on particulates that can cause allergies.
• Install a point-of-entry whole-house water filter.
• Stay indoors, close the house and car windows, shut the garage door, and turn off the air conditioning if they see neighboring farmers spraying their crops.
• Do not use pesticides in or outside of the home. This includes bug sprays and flea control products on pets. For natural pest control tips visit beyondpesticides.org.
Leeann Sagula, owner of Healthy Home Consulting in St. Charles, Illinois, is a certified Bau-Biologie Environmental Inspector (BBEI). Healthy Home Consulting is an environmental home and office testing and consulting service that also carries a full line of healthy home and allergy products.