As a doctor, I come across cases of respiratory allergies on a daily basis and many a times despite regular medicines and a healthy diet, the patient keeps coming back to me with the same symptoms – sneezing, irritation in the nose, cough, redness of the eyes, itching of the skin, hives, wheezing, breathlessness etc.
In such cases, there is generally a maintaining cause, which means something around the patient is not allowing him or her to recover and is causing him or her to develop an allergic reaction recurrently .More often than not, that something turns out to be a common and seemingly innocuous part of the household itself .
VOCs are the most common cause of indoor pollution and respiratory problems because their concentrations are usually higher indoors (actually up to 5 times more!) than outdoors.
What are V.O.C.s?
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and Chemicals – These compounds are volatile (easily disperse into the surrounding atmosphere) at 25 degrees Celsius and thus can pollute the air that is inhaled by us.
Common sources of Indoor Pollution are:
Manmade VOCs – A major source of manmade VOCs are the paints, industrial solvents (thinners) and protective coatings used indoors. Refrigerants and fossil fuels (LPG etc.) are other common culprits that contribute to VOCs in our homes.
Some common items that can emit VOCs in our homes or offices are – Furniture paint, Paints, adhesives, glues ,solvents ,spray cans, correction fluids ,copier machine toners, nail paints ,moth balls, air fresheners, carpets, draperies, deodorizers ,dry cleaned clothing (perchloroethylene vapors from newly dry-cleaned materials. have been shown to cause cancer in animals),fabric conditioners,hair sprays,aerosols disinfectants,pesticides, tobacco smoke ,cleaning products ,felt tip markers etc.
Gas from human intestines and exhaled air from the lungs also contributes to VOCs though because of low amounts it is not a serious threat.
Phytogenic VOC’s – It is a common misconception that all plants are good for improving the air quality. But in fact VOCs are also emitted by most plants and these are called Green leaf volatiles. Black gums, Poplar and Cedar trees being very high on VOC’s emissions. The warmer and humid the climate will be, the larger will be the concentrations of emitted VOCs.
Smog – A mixture of Smoke ( from coal burning and forest fires etc.) and Fog is loosely called as Smog, but a greater threat to the environment and human beings is Phytochemical smog derived from vehicular emissions and industrial fumes or even stubble burning after wheat harvest especially in North India .These gases then react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight to form secondary pollutants .The secondary and primary pollutants thus combined are known as a phytochemical Smog and pose a greater risk to health .
Dust mites and fecal matter – Many household mites that dwell in food and bedding release VOCs into the indoor air.
Pets – While our pawed and winged friends are our beloved companions and great stress busters, they may also be contributing to the indoor allergens in the form of odors, dander, droppings and feces. According to a study, feeding American pets has the same impact on the climate as that of driving 13.6 million cars! Pets can also carry pollen, molds and other allergens from the outside to the insides of our homes and deposit it on bedding and other surfaces.
Kitchen Odors – Barbeques and smoke from burnt food besides the detergents and cleaners can not only create unpleasant odors but also contribute to VOCs in your kitchen.
Molds – VOCs from Molds or fungus is called microbial VOCs. These MVOCs are responsible for the characteristic “musty, earthy, and moldy” smell in dank homes or during rainy seasons .Not only is this very unpleasant odor but it can be a great source of discomfort too for those susceptible to them.
What does Exposure to VOCs do?
Most common symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction like itching or rashes, difficulty in breathing, nausea, vomiting, nose bleeding, fatigue, malaise, dizziness etc. Long term VOCs exposure has been linked to neuromuscular diseases and even cancer.
How to Combat Indoor Pollutants?
It is impossible to avoid indoor pollutants completely but the exposure can be significantly cut down to healthy levels by taking some precautions and finding safer substitutes to the regular products used in our homes and work places.
Furniture -If possible get furniture and cabinets made from solid wood and not pressed wood or engineered wood, which is bound together with formaldehyde. Engineered wood does come cheaper but in the long term may prove costly because of the bad effect on health and also not as durable as solid wood.
Avoid air fresheners and deodorizers, aerosols and other scented products that add additional V.O.C.s to the air.
Bedrooms and wardrobes – Air out bedding regularly and even freshly dry-cleaned clothes before wearing. This is because freshly dry cleaned clothes emit V.O.C.Place V.O.C. processes such a photocopy machines, printers and photographic development in rooms with special ventilation systems so that exhaust products are expelled out of the building.
Prevent moisture build-up inside that could result in the growth of V.O.C.-producing molds. Keep humidity levels below 60% by airing out regularly or using a dehumidifier and make sure that all water seepage is taken care of rapidly.
Gardens – Keep very few indoor plants .Scientific studies have found some plants that are quite useful in removing V.O.C.s like the Japanese royal ferns, Spider plants, Boston ferns, Purple waffle plants, English Ivy, Areca Palms, Golden Pothos, Aloe Vera, Snake plants and Peace lilies etc. These plants are a good choice be used for the interiors.
Minimize the use of pesticides indoors. Instead, use other means like a concentrate of boiled Neem leaves for pest control .Throw away partially filled containers of old or unneeded chemicals safely. Because gases can leak even from closed containers, this single step could help lower concentrations of harmful organic chemicals in your home .
Pets – Bathe and brush your pets regularly to take care of dander and keeping them away from bedding and furniture can significantly. The pets should not be fed a very high meat diet .Preferably have their dwelling on the outside of the house or have a good ventilation system in place.
Ventilation – Air out newly manufactured homes and buildings or newly renovated or furnished areas with fresh, clean outdoor air for a minimum of one week or until the new odors dissipate .Try and keep the house well ventilated.
While selecting paints, select paints and protective coatings with aqueous base or formaldehyde free products, look for labels that describe a “low-emitting formula” and state that the product has a low V.O.C. content (look for a Green Assure Seal on the paint). Even when using a low-V.O.C. product, be sure to have adequate ventilation. In fact due to rising consumer awareness and as a result of latest innovations, paints that containactivated charcoal technology are now available in the market .These healthier paints help in absorbing formaldehyde and unwanted odors to give a fresher and healthier home.The Royal Atmos from Asian Paints is one such brand which promises to reduce indoor pollutants, curb select bad odors in the house and also releases a soft fragrance (obviously without V.O.C.s and also eliminating the need for a separate air freshener for your home). This could well be a superior alternative when selecting the paint for your home or office.
I hope you find this bit of information useful ,till then Breathe Clean – Breathe Easy !