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Consider indoor air quality when decking the halls

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published December 18, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Anticipation for the holidays begins with the ramping up of holiday decorations, bringing ornaments and trimmings out of storage, and erecting fresh or artificial trees.

However, in our haste to ring in the season, we often don’t stop to think about how holiday decorations contribute to indoor air quality. Dust and mold can collect over time and can trigger allergies, asthma or other respiratory problems.

JT Maier, the president of AdvantaClean of Northwest Chicagoland, said that when selecting live trees, buyers should look closely at the trunk and branches to make sure there is no mold growth on them.

“It could be black, white, green, almost any color, but (the mold) looks like an addition to it,” Maier said. “If it looks suspicious, just pick another tree.”

He also advised hosing off the tree outside and allowing it to dry before bringing it in, unless temperatures are too frigid to do so.

Other solutions to minimize harm include wearing gloves and long sleeves when carrying the tree to avoid exposure to sap, and wiping down the trunk of the tree with a solution of one part bleach, 20 parts lukewarm water.

While artificial trees are less likely to contain pollen and mold, Maier said that they are still apt to carry volatile organic compounds — especially brand-new trees.

“All new furniture, carpets and anything you buy new in today’s world probably has those, but a Christmas tree is no different,” he said. “Wipe it down. Anytime you’re getting rid of dust or getting rid of mold, the person who should be doing that is not a person allergic to it.”

In order to best preserve an artificial tree, wrap it securely and store it in a cool, dry place.

Maier said that storing ornaments in an attic in metro Detroit during wintertime could lead to them getting condensation on them. He said to wipe them down, wrap them in toilet paper or dry newspaper, place them in plastic grocery store bags, and stash them in a climate-controlled environment, such as a basement.

“Mold looks for organic materials to eat. Cardboard is food for mold. If it gets wet even for a day or two, mold growth takes place. We see mold growth in as little as 21 hours,” he said. “You can buy really nice boxes or storage containers made from nylon or plastic with pads between the layers, and all of it is synthetic.”

Maier also recommended avoiding turning humidifiers up too high in order to prevent condensation on windows, and to run an air purifier at full blast when cleaning — especially when vacuuming carpet.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend an average of 90% of their day indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants can be two to three times higher than the air outdoors.

John Dowling, the asthma program manager with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said asthma triggers can range from dust mites to strong odors to cold temperatures, and each individual is different.

“Know your triggers and communicate with family to see if there’s anything that can be done. People don’t know what they don’t know,” Dowling said. “Fireplaces can definitely be a trigger; depending on how the unit is put in, there’s usually a leakage of smoke, and that’s a definite trigger for folks.”

Dr. Teresa Holtrop, the executive director and medical director of Wayne Children’s Healthcare Access Program, said scented candles, plug-in air fresheners and incense are definitely a problem for people with asthma, because they release particulate matter into the air.

“It causes an increase in the risk of having an irritant get into lungs,” Holtrop said. “The best alternative is fresh air.”