September’s hurricanes in the southern United States caused untold damage to homes and lives. Beyond the destruction caused at a personal level, one of the under-reported aspects of this natural disaster has been the indoor air quality issues that were caused by spilled toxic waste and chemical leaks. Especially in Texas, where oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants are big business, indoor air quality has been taking a huge hit after Harvey moved through. In Houston, Texas, officials are reporting high levels of benzene (a chemical by-product of the oil industry) in the air near a refinery in the Manchester neighbourhood. At concentrations of up to 324 parts per billion, this is at the level at which safety professionals recommend specialized breathing equipment – for residents stuck in this neighbourhood, this is a serious indoor air quality and health concern.
While the GTA may not have mega oil refineries in close range, natural disasters, extreme weather, and flooding can still have a huge effect on our indoor air quality. The most common weather event that happens in Southern Ontario is flooding. After a record of 191 millimeters of rain in 2014 (nearly two months’ worth!), the city of Burlington began to work on a flood and waterways management strategy to help mitigate damage from future flooding. The mayor himself had to deal with one of every homeowner’s worst nightmares – a flooded basement. These basement floods can bring with them serious indoor air quality concerns in part because it’s not just water that comes in, but sewage, toxic waste, and other things that have been flushed into the water system. After the water has receded, all that moisture creates the ideal conditions for mold growth, and the spores released by this growth can cause respiratory issues in people with indoor air quality sensitivities.
The increasing airtightness of modern buildings may also contribute to some of these indoor air quality issues too, as substances brought in by floods or weather events can trap pollutants indoors. The materials used to help clean up after these events can also negatively affect your indoor air quality by releasing volatile organic compounds or chemical allergens that can linger and cause trouble in the long and short term.
With climate change comes increasingly severe weather events, and we should be aware of how these events can have a significant effect on our indoor air quality. At SafeAir, we are indoor air quality specialists with over a decade of experience working with homeowners affected by natural disasters, floods, and other weather events. Our focus on ensuring safe indoor air quality after your home has been affected by weather or a local event can give you the peace of mind needed to feel comfortable in your home. Indoor air quality testing can help pinpoint the source as well as offer solutions to improve your indoor air quality if local businesses or events are causing the problem. If you have any concerns about your indoor air quality after an unexpected event in your home or neighbourhood, give us a call or write us an email, and we’ll be happy to assess your home’s indoor air quality and offer solutions!