Indoor air pollution as harmful as car fumes, study finds

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The shampoo, deodorants, air fresheners, cleaning products and even perfumes in our homes could be creating as much air pollution as the transportation sector, a new study finds.

Conventional wisdom maintains that outside air pollution from cars, industry and public transport are the main sources of air pollution. While this was true in previous decades, today particle-forming emissions from chemical products are about twice as high as those from transportation. According to this new study, as cars get cleaner, VOCs come increasingly from consumer products.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) atmospheric scientist Jessica Gilman, a co-author of the new paper, attributes this disparity partially to differences in how we store those products versus fuels. “Gasoline is stored in closed, hopefully airtight, containers and the VOCs in gasoline are burned for energy,” she said. “But volatile chemical products used in common solvents and personal care products are literally designed to evaporate. You wear perfume or use scented products so that you or your neighbor can enjoy the aroma. You don’t do this with gasoline,” Gilman said.

What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are any chemical compound that evaporates into the atmosphere at room temperature, potentially causing health effects within the environment.

Many VOC concentrations are up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors. They are emitted by a wide array of products, including paints, varnishes and wax, as well as many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products. It is thought around 350 different types of VOCs exist in our indoor environment.

What effects can VOCs have?

VOCs can react with the atmosphere to produce either ozone or particulate matter—both of which are regulated in many countries due to the potential health impacts, including lung damage.

There’s a wide range of long- and short-term health effects associated with exposure to VOCs, including eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, and some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

How can you reduce VOCs in your home?

Store paint, paint thinners, pesticides, particle board, fuel, cleaners, and similar materials in a detached shed or garage to protect your family from VOCs.

Let fresh air in by opening a window, or using exhaust fans in the kitchen or bathroom.

Decorating with houseplants is an easy, inexpensive way to absorb VOCs and other toxins. Some of the best plants for cleaning your air are aloe, spider plants, chrysanthemums, Chinese evergreens, and peace lilies.

Cleaning regularly can reduce VOCs already in your home, and can be done without introducing new VOCs. Use lemon juice and olive oil as a healthy wood polish, or a few drops of tea tree oil mixed with water to prevent mildew in your bathroom.

Dig into DIY deodorisers. Herbs and flowers can make a lovely potpourri, and simmering cinnamon sticks, orange slices, cloves, or other spices on the stove will produce a welcoming aroma. Natural essential oils are also popular as air fresheners.

Read about the study here. You can also learn more about making your own products with essential oils at our 2018 Training Congress, where Penny Price will be running a session entitled Making Aromatherapy Skincare Products. Find out more on our website.

 

 

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