With our planet facing an unprecedented environmental disaster, governments around the world are acting to clean up the air and oceans and save entire ecosystems. Businesses are becoming increasingly environmentally friendly, and action is being taken at household level too.
The seeds of change are beginning to take root, with the quality of air in towns and cities improving and more eco-friendly products being produced.
But whilst the external environment is beginning to improve, millions of people are unwittingly living in toxic surroundings.
A Toxic Household
You keep your house spotlessly clean and tidy. You use organic products and eco-friendly, non-toxic detergents. But your house is STILL full of harmful airborne toxins, in the form of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS).
What are VOCs?
VOCs are organic chemicals that easily vaporise and enter the surrounding air. Not all VOCs are harmful – for example, some are released by plants, allowing them to communicate with other plants and animals.
However, many VOCs are dangerous to human health and cause environmental damage too.
The Harmful Effect of VOCs
Unfortunately, the impact of exposure to many VOCs is not recognised until it is too late; toxic compounds rarely cause severe health problems in the short term (more often than not they are merely the cause of irritation and discomfort).
Over 400 different VOC chemical compounds have been found in domestic environments. The effects of exposure to these different chemicals can cause a wide range of relatively mild health problems, including:
- Eye irritation
- Respiratory problems
- Visual disorders
- Memory Impairments
However, the potential health implications of long-term VOC exposure are more alarming:
- An increased risk of cancer
- Liver, kidney and central nervous system damage
Groups of people at particular risk are young and elderly people, people with respiratory problems and those with a heightened sensitivity to chemicals.
Where are VOCs Found?
Over 400 harmful VOC compounds have been found to exist in domestic environments. They are most commonly found in furniture and material furnishings, toiletries and chemicals.
So which household items should we be concerned about?
Ah – that ‘new carpet’ smell. Unfortunately, the chemical composition of this smell contains around 200 VOCs. And the sheer surface area of carpet means it emits a very high volume of chemicals.
Who would have thought furniture could bring dangerous chemicals into your living space? Unfortunately, pressed-wood furniture and sofas bring a high level of VOCs into your home.
Hair-Sprays, Deodorants and Air Fresheners
You may have heard that the chemicals within aerosol products are damaging the ozone layer. It is therefore not difficult to imagine how these chemicals could impact human health.
Many paints release formaldehyde – a chemical which poses a significant risk to human health.
Other Sources of VOCs:
- Vinyl flooring
- Dry-Cleaned Clothes
- Shampoos and Cosmetics
- Wood-burning Stoves
- Building Materials
- Cleaning Agents
So How Can We Avoid VOCs?
- Buy solid wood, hardboard or exterior grade plywood instead of pressed wood products
- Buy antique furniture
- Look out for ‘Low’ and ‘Zero-VOC’ paints
- Use non-toxic deodorant sticks in place of aerosols
- Use plant-based cosmetics, cleaning supplies and essential oils
- Make the inside of your home a ‘no smoking’ zone
Although it isn’t always possible to completely avoid the use of products containing VOCs, you can manage your exposure to these harmful chemicals.
Airing newly-manufactured products can dramatically reduce the risk of exposure to VOCs. For example, unwrap a brand-new sofa, and leave it to air in a garage or outbuilding for a couple of days before bringing it into the home.
Seal pressed wood products with varnish or paint before bringing into the home.
Ventilating your home can lower the concentration of VOCs in your home – particularly if you have a new carpet or have recently painted a room. Open the windows and doors, and use a fan to direct air outside.
However, it is a good idea to keep fresh air circulating through your home on a regular basis anyway for the sake of your health.
An Environment of Wellbeing
When considering health and wellbeing, people focus their attention on nutrition, exercise, sleep and mental health. It is therefore easy to miss out the quality of your domestic environment – from the cleanliness and design of your rooms, to the very air that you breathe.
So eliminate VOCs from your life to help you and your family to become happier and healthier this year.