VOCs and Indoor Air Quality

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VOCs or volatile organic compounds are gases that are emitted from certain materials and they can come from a rather large variety of sources.

VOCs or volatile organic compounds are gases that are emitted from certain materials and they can come from a rather large variety of sources.  Cleaning products, paint, new carpeting, personal care products, aerosol sprays, room deodorizers, pesticides, as well as office equipment like printers, glues and permanent markers can all release organic pollutants that persist in the air long after the activity is completed.

The reason we pay attention to this is due to studies that now show a direct correlation between health and these volatile compounds.  In fact, according to the NIH, National Library of Medicine 2022 article titled Volatile Organic Compounds: A Proinflammatory Activator in Autoimmune Diseases, “Research evidence shows that continuous environmental exposure to various VOCs can lead to autoimmune disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, dermatomyositis, multiple sclerosis, etc., through DNA methylation.”

If you suspect that there are VOCs in your home, there are a few things you can do.  First, consider any recent renovation or painting projects.  If these were done without proper ventilation, it’s possible that VOC’s have built up in the air.  A great way to test the air quality in your home is by using an air quality monitor.  The 2022 NY times article The Best Home Air Quality Monitor* rates some great options.  Opening windows throughout the year is another great way to ventilate your home and allow VOCs to escape.

*https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-home-air-quality-monitor/

Additionally, science is catching up and so are marketing companies.  For example, so called Ecofriendly cleaning products have been hitting the markets with brands such as ECOS and Seventh Generation.  These products promise to use solutions that keep us and our environment healthy and free of toxins.  The Environmental Protection Agency makes it easier to identify these products with their Safer Choice Program which certifies products that contain clean ingredients for both human health and the environment.  To browse Safer Choice-Certified products, go to epa.gov/saferchoice

Phytoremediation is a word used for plants scrubbing contaminants from the air.  How does that affect us and why should we care?  The answer is again, VOCs.  We know that plants take in carbon dioxide as well s give off oxygen but did you know they may also play a role in reducing the concentration of some VOC’s in indoor air?  In fact, NASA began studying this in 1984 in their Clean Air Study with the findings that plants can absorb airborne compounds via both their roots and leaves.  https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19930073077

Both aesthetically pleasing and a green solution, growing houseplants may be a wonderful addition to cleaning indoor air.  Studies seem to show that while a single houseplant won’t make an impact, some plant species have more of an air purifying effect than others and being surrounded by greenery can also do wonders for our mental health.  The Chinese Evergreen, Queen Fern, Rubber Tree, Snake Plant (also known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue), English Ivy and the Spider Plant are great options for both cleaner air as well as to promote calmness and relaxation.

While living in a toxic-free environment is not sustainable, there is always room for improvement.  With wonderful resources at our keyboard fingertips, it’s becoming easier to make strides towards cleaner living.  In the end, it’s our health, and the health of our loved ones that will benefit.

*Adrian R, Chin-chi K, Pilar P, Wan-Yee T, Josep R, Jose MO, et al.. Environmental chemicals and DNA methylation in adults: a systematic review of the epidemiologic evidence. Clin Epigenet (2015) 7:55–70. doi: 10.1186/s13148-015-0055-

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