Over the years, many environment groups and agencies have sought to clean up pollutants in the environment. Recycling campaigns and carbon footprints are now the norm and most households are at the very least, conscious of a greater environmental problem.
However, while much of the environmental efforts have been focused on improving our outdoor environment, there is a growing amount of evidence that our indoor environment can actually be much more toxic.
This column has previously reported on the dangerous chemicals found within common household cleaners, as on of the main culprits. However, another often-overlooked source of toxicity in the home is the construction materials used to build the home itself.
VOCs or “Volatile Organic Compounds” is the name given to a group of toxic gases that are emitted from items like paints, plastics, glues, and building materials.
One study found levels of VOCs to be 2-5 times higher within the home than outside. This is because these chemicals can persist in the air long after the construction process is complete.
Symptoms of VOC exposure include headaches, nausea, dizziness, allergic skin reactions, loss of concentration, damage to the kidneys and nervous system. They are also suspected in some cancers.
Some of the most toxic, VOC containing items include:
Paints – Paints are the second largest source of VOCs (next to new cars). Choose low or no-VOC paints instead.
Shower Curtains – Vinyl curtains will continue to off-gas over a hundred different chemicals after unpacking. Go with cloth shower curtains instead.
Flooring – All new carpets emit VOCs after installation. Purchase low VOC materials and ensure your home is properly ventilated during and after installation.
Glues and Adhesives – Many of the materials and glues used to construct furniture contain VOCs. Because of their close contact with our skin, these materials can be especially problematic. Some extra research before buying new furniture is highly recommended.
While exposure to VOCs can be quite concerning, it is easy to improve the quality of your indoor environment. Start by making small changes like adding green plants, which naturally filter the air. When renovating, make sure low VOC products are used and the home is well ventilated.
Cleaning up your indoor environment can be easier than you think and will make your home a better place to live.