According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) web site, “the EPA and its Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.” EPA statistics show levels of many airborne pollutants as high as two to five — to even 100 times higher indoors than outdoors, a noteworthy fact as most Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “50 percent of all illnesses are caused by or aggravated by polluted indoor air.”
Researchers had long wondered whether Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) plays a role in the increasing rate of asthma nationwide. About 17.3 million Americans have this long-term respiratory disease. Since 1980, the prevalence of asthma and asthma-related hospitalizations and deaths has increased 75 percent. It is the most common chronic disease among children. Of particular concern are the high death rates among African Americans with asthma. Moreover, the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. The prevalence of the respiratory disease in some countries — including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom — exceeds that in the United States.
Protein related allergens are the key group of indoor pollutants that act as triggers for asthma and other respiratory ailments. These proteins, in addition to mold and fungi, include allergens from dust mites (Der p 1 and Der f 1); Cockroach (Bla g 1); dog dander (Can f 1) and cat saliva (Fel d 1).
The Institute of Medicine (IOM), after reviewing the latest scientific studies, wrote their report concluding “exposure to allergens produced by house dust mites — found in nearly every indoor environment — can lead to asthma in children who are predisposed to developing the disease. The indoor agents included allergens from dust mites and cockroaches; fungi and mold; dander, hair, and saliva from domestic pets and other animals; viruses and bacteria; spores and materials from houseplants; and irritants from secondhand tobacco smoke, pesticides, cleaning and building materials and other pollutants.”
Lets take a look at dust mites since they are the number one household allergen.
House dust mites are arachnids, not insects. Related to spiders, dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged creatures that are 0.3mm in length and invisible to the human eye.
House dust mites are found in virtually all homes, no matter how clean. They live on the dust that accumulates in carpets, fabrics, furniture and bedding.
The primary source of dust mite exposure in the home is in the bedroom, which provides the best conditions of warmth, humidity and food for their growth. They are present in mattresses, pillows, blankets, carpets, upholstered furniture, curtains, and similar fabrics. The average bedroom can be infested by millions of microscopic dust mites. We spend around one-third of our lives in the bedroom so we are in close and prolonged contact with dust mites.
The house dust mite survives by eating our dead skin cells, which make up to 80% of house dust. They also live off water vapor, which we provide for them by perspiring and breathing approximately one pint per person, per night. So mites are even found in climates with very low humidity.
A dust mite will produce 20 fecal pellets per day that is 200 times its own body weight in feces during its short lifetime. If dust mite pellets were the size of golf balls, the average queen size bed would have a pile of pellets 70 feet high.
During the night, most people toss and turn up to 60 or 70 times. This expels mite feces pellets into the air from bedding and pillows. These allergens can stay in the air for up to two hours. Once airborne, dried dust mite droppings are inhaled into our airways causing allergic reactions in asthmatics. These allergens can cause wheezing, coughs, itchy eyes, sniffles and in more serious cases, asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis.
The eradication of the dust mite should not be your objective because total eradication is impossible.
Eradication would require such high levels of pesticides that it would be harmful to humans. Additionally, we always carry some mites on our hair or eyebrows that would be re-introduced to our bedding; therefore starting the cycle again.
Laurence Lee, a Certified Industrial Hygienist at Argus Pacific has even found high levels of dust mites in office work places. He believes this is due to poor maintenance practices.
What is the solution for allergy suffers?
Less than four years ago, the anti-allergen products market was worth less than $50 million. Today all anti-allergen consumer products sold are valued in excess of $200 million, in addition to the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical services. The U.S. Department of Commerce believes the sale of anti-allergen chemistry (exclusive of pharmaceuticals) will exceed $1 billion per annum by 2010.
The current chemistries used to fight these allergenic proteins are either mitacides and other insecticides or allergen neutralizers.
Benzyl benzoate was the mitacide used in SC Johnson’s product Allercare®. However, that product was plagued with a lack of foresight with regards to the use of fragrances. The product used a persistent fragrance that proved to be a severe irritant to asthmatic patients. This debacle resulted in SC Johnson pulling their product from retail shelves in 1999.
Tannic acid has been the traditional component in formulations for neutralizing protein allergens. The drawback is that it stains upholstery and carpeting. Though some of these formulas have been “de-colorized,” exposure to sunlight and pH will still cause fabrics to become discolored. New plant-based anti-allergen products are available that do not discolor textiles.
Dr. Bob Hamilton, a senior laboratory research biochemist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, states if an anti-allergen product is to be 100% effective, then the surface must first be cleaned with the hot water extraction method. Just spraying a dust mite treatment on the surface by itself will not do a complete job of treating the problem.
This is where the professional cleaner comes in. Who is better situated to extract soft surfaces and treat them with a neutralizing product?
The professional cleaner is already in the home performing cleaning services. Adjusting procedures to focus on the allergy suffer would not be a major change.
In the July issue of ICS Cleaning Specialist, I’ll address how the professional cleaner can develop and market this service to the homeowner.