To begin with, a refresher on what they are and why they are really really bad and where we find them. If you already know all you need to know, feel free to skip down to the end of this blog for the 13 steps.
What are VOC’s?
VOCs are volatile organic compounds that easily turn from liquid to gas / vapor. We then breathe these vapors in.
What exactly are we breathing?
All organic compounds contain carbon, so we are breathing in carbon gas as well as elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, sulfur, nitrogen.
Volatile organic compounds are released from burning fuel, such as gasoline, wood, coal, or natural gas. They are also emitted from diesel exhaust, oil and gas fields. Many VOC’s are also hazardous air pollutants like smog (smog is when NO mixes with carbon VOC’s to make Ozone O3)
This was personally a scary discovery, I previously had no idea how prevalent and insidious VOCs are in our homes and work places.
VOCS in our daily life, where do they lurk?
- paints, glue products, permanent markers
- new furniture, carpet, mattresses, cribs
- new clothes, blankets, toys
- electronics, appliances
- artificially scented products, nail polish remover, nail polish
- plastics, packaging and wrapping
- printers, ink cartilages, photocopier machines, scanners
Essentially anything made from petroleum (which is just about everything, will off gas)
The Not So Good Effects
- eye, nose and throat irritation
- headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans
- allergic skin reaction
- declines in serum cholinesterase levels
- visual disorders and memory impairment
As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed.
Jess and I often discuss that there are two people out there highly reactive people, and low reactive people. When it comes to VOCs we need to understand that although everyone is exposed, highly reactive people are the ones to get hit the hardest, and they may not know why they feel more effected, not realizing that they are reacting to toxins.
These people are usually very sensitive to perfumes, air pollution, alcohol, chemicals of any sort, indoor lighting, wifi signals, artificial smells. They tend to get headaches easily, especially when entering synthetic environments. If this sounds like you, then please read on, apply the 13 steps below.
If this sounds like anyone you know, perhaps they are a highly reactive person and just do not know it. If you suspect that is the case, please pass this information onward.
Here are 13 ways that you can reduce your exposure.
- Take a few hours to walk around your home and survey it for possible VOC sources. Take action to safely throw away any serious items ASAP. At very least take them out of the rooms that you spend more of your time in, like removing them from bedrooms and living rooms and transferring them to spare rooms/attics.
- Read product labels, and opt for products with no or low VOC’s. Jess and I recently bought a custom mattress for our van, we selected it because it has no VOCs, meaning no side effects and no awful off gassing smells either. Ironically though, the new memory foam topper smelt awful, so we let it air outside for 4 weeks before using it. Which leads to our next point of action…
- Always allow newly purchased items to air out. Remove the item from packaging and allow it to off gas anywhere from several days to several weeks. In the summer put it outside, or in the garage for winter months. Especially important items include, baby cribs, curtains, furniture, mattresses, electronics, and clothes.
- Opt to buy re-used items. Not only is this a great way to save money, and the environment, but you do not have to worry about any off gassing in this case.
- Remove carpet. This sounds extreme, and may not be feasible. But do have this is the back of your mind. Carpet is highly toxic, with high levels of volatile compounds, heavy off gassing, not to mention that it is a carrier of bacteria and mold.
- If feasible, opt for solid wood furniture rather than furniture made with particle board. Again make sure it is used though. The varnish on new hard wood furniture is high VOC. Also, there is the ecological impact of buying new hardwood, particularity teak.
- Avoid polyvinyly chloride (PVC) which is found in linoleum, upholstery and shower curtains
- Wait until summer to repaint/renovate the house. That way you can leave doors and windows open to air out.
- If you can afford it, try to buy an organic wool, bamboo or natural mattress. After all you will be sleeping on it for nearly 1/3 of your life.
- Circulate fresh air in your home as often as possible, those days when birds a chirping and a nice breeze in blowing on by, open your windows for some hours to allows the crisp windy air to freshen your home.
- Use computers wisely; use them in a well ventilated area and take frequent breaks.
- Use a de-humidifier; products seem to off gas more in a humid environment, reduce humidity, reduce VOC’s.
- We have saved the most important for one last, and this one is regarding our babies. How many parents (especially when having their first child) go out and buy a new crib with new blankets, a whole entire collection of stuffed toys, all of Africa’s most iconic animal in fact. They decide to paint the bedroom a new color. They then stick the most vulnerably and fragile of humans in a closed room that is in the peak of its off gassing. This poor baby is suffocating in VOCs, especially scary because of the effects that volatile organic compounds have on there little nervous systems.
Try to buy hand me downs, used items. If painting the room, allow it to air our for months before the baby sleeps in the room.
Please take this if you are a mom to be, pass this awareness along to your friends and family.