THE STATE WE’RE IN
The quality of the air we breathe is often beyond our control. It’s a given that prevailing winds pick up pollutants from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest and carry them over to us.
But we can take action to improve the air quality in our homes and beyond. Small changes in our daily routines can lead to a cleaner, healthier environment … and even save us money!
As part of its air quality awareness campaign, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection recently put together a list of tips that can help us all breathe easier. Here are some of the best:
In the house: Many common household products — including paints, varnishes, stains, hairspray, deodorants, shaving gels, cleaners, air fresheners, cooking sprays and glue — contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pollutants that contribute to ground level smog.
Read labels and look for products without VOCs. A few simple changes can help, like switching from spray to stick deodorants, and from cooking sprays to cooking oils. And, on hot, muggy days with high ozone levels, skip painting and cleaning with VOC products.
No idling: Don’t let your car idle. If you’re stopped in traffic or waiting in a parking lot, turn your car off!
There’s a good reason: Idling vehicles don’t thoroughly burn up the gasoline, causing emissions. It’s a myth that allowing the car to idle for a few minutes is better for the engine than turning it off and on, and an idling car gets zero miles per gallon! Keep your car’s engine well maintained for cleaner emissions, and combine your automobile trips whenever possible.
A laundry list: Cleaning your clothes can pollute the air, due to the energy used for dryers and chemicals used in dry cleaning.
One of the best things you can do is put up an old-fashioned clothesline. You’ll be amazed how fast laundry dries on sunny days, and there’s absolutely no energy cost. Plus, nothing beats the fresh scent of laundry dried outdoors!
Avoid dry cleaning. Perchloroethylene, also known as perc, is a cancer-causing chemical commonly used in dry cleaning. If you must get an item dry cleaned, find a “green” dry cleaner that uses safer solvents.
Follow best burning practices: On cool nights, it’s fun to have an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, or a crackling beach bonfire. But not all wood is equal when burned, and wood smoke contains fine particulate matter that has been linked to health issues, including asthma.
Use only dry, well-seasoned hardwood. Look for logs with cracks on the ends and which sound hollow when knocked together. Don’t burn plywood, particleboard, coated, painted or pressure-treated wood — they all release toxic chemicals when burned. And start the fire with kindling or newspaper, not gasoline or kerosene.
Michele S. Byers is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.