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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Basement Air Quality
February 2000

Q. I moved into a basement apartment. The air circulation is poor, there is an extremely small window and the landlord has not fixed it so I can't open it. Is this bad for my health? Do you think plants would help air quality, and would a warm paint color help?

A. I think that we're dealing with two separate issues. The first is the psychological impact of living in a small, dark place. In this case, there's no doubt that warm paint, plants and other things to improve the "atmosphere" will do much to improve the overall living conditions.

The second issue has to do with the poor air circulation and whether there are any health concerns associated with the poor air circulation. Without knowing more about the specifics of your living situation, it is difficult to say. Certainly if there is poor ventilation it is possible for fumes to collect that can cause some difficulty. However, if you're not having any symptoms (such as headache, nausea, and sleepiness) it is unlikely to be an issue. If it is a problem there's little you can do other than improving the air circulation. Plants, while helping to a degree, are unlikely to be enough.

So, the bottom line is that most likely the stale air present in a small room with poor circulation will not be a health hazard, though living in this situation could have some psychological impact. Doing what you can to brighten up the place is advised.

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