Because we live mostly indoors, and because modern houses are hermetically sealed to prevent leaks, the air we breath contains a whole “toxic soup” of chemicals that together may damage our immune systems and hurt our health.
This soup includes many different volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
VOCs are carbon-containing gases emitted from:
- electronic devices (TVs, PC, monitors, etc.)
- wood composite furniture
- cabinets and flooring
- upholstery and carpeting
- printer ink
- perfume and hair spray
- dry cleaning chemicals
- and many other household items. (1)
Some of the most damaging VOCs and how they affect our health
- Formaldehyde, which is used in particle board, upholstery, carpet backing, cleaning products, Kleenex, toilet paper and other personal care products. Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the nose, mouth and throat, and in some cases, even swelling of the larynx and lungs (see my article on Why and How to Reduce Formaldehyde Levels in your Home).
- Benzene is known to cause cancer in humans, according to the EPA. It can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, eye problems, irregular heartbeat, and many other symptoms as well. The main indoor sources of benzene are cigarette smoke, stored fuels (such as lawn mower gas), paint supplies, plastics, and automobile emissions in attached garages. (2)
- Xylene and toluene are solvents used in paint and wood finishes. These are highly toxic to people and pets and can irritate the eyes and throat and affect the central nervous system, causing headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
- Ammonia fumes from household cleaning products can cause headaches, burning of the skin, throat and eyes, lung damage – and at extreme blood levels (in the case of liver problems), brain damage.
- Acetone is found in tobacco smoke and engine exhaust, and used in nail polish remover, particle board, and solvents. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), acetone fumes can cause nose, throat, lung and eye irritation, and exposure to high levels can cause kidney damage, coma and even death. (3)
To reduce the amount of VOCs in our homes, we can do one or more of the following:
- Just say NO to VOCs. Buy non-toxic or low-VOC paints, cabinets, flooring, furniture, and upholstery, or let them sit outdoors to offgas the VOCs into the environment, which can take up to two years. Also, find a dry cleaner that uses environmentally friendly chemicals and stop buying cosmetics, air fresheners, candles, dryer sheets, and cleaners that give off VOCs.
- Filter the air with an air purifier (see this detailed review of air purifiers at Reviews.com).
- Fill your home with plants, the natural air purifiers (see my article on how to detox your home with pet-safe house plants).
Copyright © 2018 Holly B. Martin