Spending More Time Indoors? Here’s What You Should Know About the Air You’re Inhaling, Especially Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
There’s nothing like fresh air, but with the winter approaching and pandemic measures hampering mobility, you’re apt to be spending more time indoors. And because of that, the air you are breathing may be a problem. Why? Because mold spores, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead dust, radon, and other sources of indoor air pollution may be present. If they are, your health may be affected.
A Word About VOCs
Volatile organic compounds, which are in the form of a gas, are toxic vapors that emanate from man-made materials and everyday household (and workplace) items. A multitude of different chemicals fall under the umbrella of VOCs, including formaldehyde, benzene, plasticizers, and by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment, such as chloroform.
Problem is, VOCs are found in thousands of different household and office products, from electronics to paint to carpeting to furniture, and are off-gassed over time. That means your home’s indoor air quality is likely to become polluted. Now, especially during flu season and the coronavirus pandemic, when these diseases affect the lungs even more, we need to be extra vigilant about keeping indoor air as clean as possible. Otherwise, the impact of VOCs on your health can be pretty steep.
VOCs and Your Health
Short-term exposure to and inhaling air containing elevated levels of VOCs can cause throat and eye irritation, nausea, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and headaches. Long-term exposure, however, is linked to cancer, as well as damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
Top Sources of VOCs
One of the biggest sources of formaldehyde, in particular, are new building materials, according to a recent article in the New York Times, that points out that new plywood, particleboard, adhesives, varnishes, paints, and carpeting are all common offenders. Even if your home isn’t brand new, you can still be exposed to VOCs through painting, renovations, new furniture or bedding, household cleaners, disinfectants, cosmetics, and more.
Other Common Sources of VOCs
- Electronics, such as copiers and printers
- Scented candles
- Composite wood products, like furniture and cabinets
- Vinyl, such as shower curtains or tile
- Air fresheners
- Moth balls
- Dry cleaning and laundry detergents
- Wood burning stoves
According to the New York Times, one of the best defenses is to keep levels low in the first place by looking for “low- or no-V.O.C.” or “low formaldehyde” labels when shopping for paint, couches, mattresses and wood products. If you do purchase an item that has that “new car smell” or some other chemical odor, you should let it off-gas in a garage or an outdoor area before bringing it indoors.
What Can I Do?
The best defense against elevated levels of VOCs is fresh air and proper ventilation. This can be a challenge during colder months, of course, but there are additional steps you can take.
- Open your windows – even for just a few minutes a day – to circulate fresh air.
- Make sure your HVAC system is in tip top shape. Mold and dust can easily build up in HVAC systems if you don’t maintain them properly, and pollutants will spread throughout your home, compounding the indoor air quality and VOC issues.
- Test your indoor air quality. Mold and VOCs are responsible for approximately 80% of indoor air quality issues. Once you have identified a problem and the source, you can take steps to mitigate the issue.
- If you have a newer, air-tight home, you may want to consider a whole-house ventilation system, as your house is less likely to “breathe” and release the build-up of toxins on its own. These systems can be costly, however, and don’t work in all homes.
With us spending more time at home during COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to ensure your indoor air quality is healthy. If you think you may have an indoor air quality issue, contact RTK Environmental today to find out more about your options.