Volatile organic compounds abound in homes

It is a policy of this writer to present to the readers a general review of indoor air quality problems in the home, school and business. So, let’s take a little time over the next couple of weeks and look at the problem areas that are well known to affect most of us.

Indoor air quality problems generally come in two classes: gases and particles. Gases can include everything from the lack of oxygen to the excessive amount of carbon dioxide we breathe. They also include volatile organic compounds or VOCs.

As far as oxygen vs. carbon dioxide, these problems arise when too many people occupy too little space with too little ventilation. The symptoms are drowsiness, lack of motivation and headaches. The cure is fresh air.

This problem happens a lot in schools, businesses and even hospitals where rooms are assigned for the use of holding many people compared with just a few before the remodeling.

The air ducts are not balanced to provide enough fresh air to the room (20 cubic feet per minute per person) and an overload occurs because there is a buildup of carbon dioxide.

Surveys and studies have found that the average home has hundreds of VOCs in the indoor air. Some of these are called background counts and include brewed coffee, cooked bacon and microwave popcorn. Others include hair spray, deodorant, fragrance detergent and dryer sheets, clothing and bedding that has been washed in the washing machine with fragrance detergent and dryer sheets, automotive exhaust, deodorants and other personal care and home care products.

Although many people believe that formaldehyde is present in carpeting, this chemical has not been used in domestic carpeting for more than 20 years.

The glues that are used to hold down commercial carpeting is at fault for giving carpeting a bad name as far as odors are concerned.

The odor of paint in new homes is a bigger VOC problem by far than that of carpeting.

However, formaldehyde is used in new clothing and bedding as a fire retardant and crease resistant chemical. That’s what we smell when we walk into a clothing store.

Plastics emit a high concentration of VOCs, especially plastic used in wrappings. Video stores emit a lot of VOCs that can lead to headaches, burning eyes, and a wide variety of symptoms.

Most common furniture polishes contain a lot of petroleum distillates. These are lung irritants.

The VOCs follow similar rules. These include hundreds, if not thousands, of products and include nail polish and its remover (acetone), chemicals used in hair and nail salons, paints, varnishes, polishes, cleansers, degreasers, detergents, anti-static products for the clothes dryer, perfumes and fragrances. They include air fresheners, bug sprayers, and insect repellents.

Books have been written about VOCs and their effect on our health. The object is to switch to products such as lemons, vinegar, baking soda, borax and water to solve our domestic cleaning needs. Non-fragrance products are available for personal care products.

Dr. Mark Sneller

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