A newly published study finds that pollution from vehicle emissions is down – great news! – but also that there is a surprisingly high contribution to total pollution that comes from paint, perfumes, pesticides and – household cleaners. The study focused on Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) and concluded that around 50% of VOC pollutants in industrialized cities now come from chemical products such as “pesticides, coatings, printing inks, adhesives, cleaning agents, and personal care products”. “As transportation gets cleaner, those other sources become more and more important. The stuff we use in our everyday lives can impact air pollution.” The surprising thing here is that personal care products are now included along with vehicle exhaust emissions and industrial plant emissions as a significant source of air pollution.

What ‘Stuff’ are they talking about?

That ‘stuff’ comes from those bottles and cans under the sink, from those little bottles on your dressing table, and from petroleum-based products such as varnish, paint, fingernail polish, perfumes, lotions and so on. They are called “Volatile Chemical Products” (VCP’s) and are found in common cleaning solvents and personal care products.

Part of the issue is that in modern home construction, our homes seal up tightly to keep our energy usage low during cold or hot weather. When you varnish that shelf in the living room, it releases VOC’s for some time. Those VOC’s cannot escape because of the tight seals around doors, windows and vents and so they accumulate indoors. The study found that “indoor concentrations [of VOC’s] are often 10 times higher indoors than outdoors” and thus, people indoors are exposed to very high concentrations of VOC’s in their own homes.

Why Do VOC’s matter?

VOC’s are linked to health issues including respiratory irritation, asthma, headaches and dizziness. Long-term exposure may cause damage to liver, kidney and may contribute to cancers. Additionally, long term exposure to indoor concentrations of VOC’s may be a factor in people who develop Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). For strong healthy people, exposure to small amounts of VOC’s may not be a problem. But for more vulnerable people, minimizing exposure to concentrations of VOC’s in the home is the smart thing to do. You wouldn’t want your child or elderly parent to breathe in the exhaust from your car, and you also wouldn’t want them to be exposed to pollution in your home either.

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What to Do?

Your home doesn’t have to have such high concentrations of VOC’s. Here is a list of things you can do to clean up the air inside your home.

  1. Air out your home when possible. If your home is a bit drafty, then you are already doing this. If your home is newer and seals more tightly, this airing out becomes more important. Just flush out the old air by opening windows and doors.
  2. Choose cleaning products that do not have fragrances and do not contribute to VOC formation. Both SNiPER and Nok-Out are good examples of products that won’t harm your indoor environment, or you!
  3. Do away with products that have chemical fragrances. Air fresheners, laundry products, scented candles and so on. Check the labels to ensure this.
  4. Check your favorite cosmetics.  Google “are my cosmetics safe” and check the ingredients.  Here’s one list for you: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/red-list/
  5. Keep houseplants. NASA did a study showing that common houseplants can extract things like benzene and formaldehyde from your indoor environment. See https://blog.nokout.com/indoor-air-pollution-the-green-solution/ for more information.
  6. Whenever possible, use petroleum products such as paints, varnishes, nail polish, and some adhesives outside. Allow them to dry thoroughly before bringing them back indoors.

 

https://sciencesources.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-02/uoca-cai020718.php
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6377/760