INDOOR AIR QUALITY
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the air inside our homes is 3-10x more polluted than the air outside. That’s more toxic than the air in Los Angeles on the worst day and it's said that 2 million people die each year from the adverse effects of indoor air.
So what’s the deal? Over recent decades, as more and more synthetic chemicals have entered our daily lives, energy efficiency standards have simultaneously tightened-up buildings with double pane windows, sealing, insulated walls and roofs. One of the troublesome trade-offs to this well-intentioned move towards energy efficiency is the trapping of toxic gases inside our homes, without anywhere to go.
Volatile organic compounds are a group of chemicals that are used to make materials during production that then become gas at room temperature. This is the process we often refer to as “off gassing”. Off gassing is when the chemicals like ethanol, formaldehyde and benzene vaporize and let off gas pollutants into the air. In the real world, we experience off gassing as that "new smell" you have when you bring your new furniture or carpet home, or after you apply a fresh coat of paint. Even that "new car smell" we love so much is an off-gassing of toxic chemicals in the plastics and synthetic fabrics in the car. Materials continue to off gas even when you can't smell them anymore, sometimes taking up to 10 years to off gas completely.
Biggest culprits of toxic off gassing:
Carpeting: Of the 400 compounds in the VOC family which have been identified in the home, over 200 can be found in carpeting. Carpeting has many toxic components, from the fibers that comprise the carpet, the dyes used to color the carpet, the padding and adhesives used to install the carpet and chemicals applied to made them water, stain or fire resistant. The adhesive used to affix the carpet to the floor typically contains benzene and toluene, some of the most harmful VOCs, and is found on 95% of carpets.
Building products: Building products off gas a variety of chemicals that can be harmful to your health with increased exposure. These include paint, sealants, stains, caulking, adhesives and vinyl.
Pressed wood products: Materials like particleboard, plywood, paneling, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and pressed wood that are often the greatest contributors to unsafe formaldehyde levels in indoor air. You can find them in flooring, cabinets, shelving, desks, wall paneling, furniture, sofa legs, tables, chairs, essentially anything that is not made of 100% solid wood.
Foam products: Mattresses and sofa cushions are usually toxic because they are made with synthetic foams that contain petroleum-based chemicals and fire-retardants that off gas that are inhaled as you sleep.
Household cleaners: Have you ever gotten dizzy while spring cleaning? Most conventional cleaners contain off-the-chart levels of VOCs. The EWG tested 21 commonly used cleaning products—like air fresheners and multipurpose cleaning sprays—and found that they emitted more than 450 chemicals into the air, including a number of compounds linked to asthma, developmental and reproductive harm, or cancer.
Clothing: Fabrics used to make our clothing go through a really intense processes before making it onto your hangers. Today, most conventional clothing are made with toxic chemicals such as dioxin, formaldehyde, and chemical dyes. Permanent press, wrinkle free and stain resistant fabrics are coated with a layer of chemicals. And dry cleaned clothes are sprayed with a super toxic chemical called Perchloroethylene, aka “PERC” that is a neurotoxin and carcinogen.
The good news is there is a lot you can do to prevent the build-up of harmful gasses in your home. The first line of defense is to avoid bringing these toxic products into your home. But what do you do once they're there? Download the GUIDE to IMPROVING INDOOR AIR.
Something as easy as having houseplants in every room can help clean the air significantly! NASA even conducted a famous experiment that looked for ways to effectively detoxify the air in space station environments, and ultimately found that some indoor plants were very good at absorbing harmful gases and were able to remove as much as 87% of certain chemicals within 24 hours!