Air Impact to Health – Do you know what's in the air that you breathe?
Indoor Air Quality and exposure to VOCs
First developed during WWII to prevent radiation seepage, HEPA technology is still in use today by hospitals and militaries worldwide. By removing VOCs and 99.97% of airborne particles, a HEPA filter combined with activated carbon essentially eradicates health-affecting pollution as well as the substances that exacerbate asthma and allergic conditions. No other technology before or since has been able to provide this level of effectiveness.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are gasses emitted from liquids and solids that include a variety of chemicals that have short- and long-term negative health effects. An example of a product that contains VOCs is household paint, and VOCs present indoors are typically ten times more concentrated than outdoors. In the EPA’s most recent studies, the level of VOCs was equally high in both rural and urban areas, and VOCs contributed strongly to poor overall indoor air quality (IAQ).
The most common effects are minor and include loss of coordination, headaches, nausea and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. The minor effects are much more significant in people who suffer from asthma and allergy conditions. There are severe negative effects as well. These include damage to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver, and there is some correlation between VOCs and various types of cancer.
Levels in Homes
Recent EPA research demonstrates that organic levels are significantly higher indoors. VOCs are typically ten times higher and other organic levels are usually two to five times higher. During significant VOC-releasing activities, such as paint stripping and pesticide application, VOC levels may be one-thousand times more concentrated than normal and it may remain that way for several hours or days depending on the rate of ventilation.
Whenever participating in VOC-releasing activities, increase ventilation proportionately by using fans and opening windows to introduce fresh air. And when done, never store opened containers in living areas. Always store containers closed, and if possible, store them in a shed or a garage. In addition:• Always use products according to label directions.
• Always provide adequate airflow and extra fresh air.
• Properly discard unused containers.
• Keep products out of reach of children and pets.
• Never mix products unless directions allow for it.
It’s important to recognize that closed containers still leak VOCs. For this reason, you don’t want to store them in living areas and you don’t want to keep old containers. Many homeowners save paints and other substances just in case, but the damage caused to air quality simply isn’t worth it.
Effective Removal of VOCs
The only known way to remove VOCs from indoor air is by using activated carbon, which is found in air filters used in high-quality HEPA air purifiers. Carbon becomes “activated” when it is treated with oxygen, creating tiny pores that can trap VOCs, chemicals, vapors and odors. Combining activated carbon with HEPA filtration allows the air purifier to eliminate a greater range of pollutants from your indoor air.
Exposure to Potentially-Hazardous VOCs
Recent study suggests that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can potentially harm lung function and may exacerbate symptoms of heart or lung disease in the elderly. Scientists recommend reducing your exposure to VOCs, especially if you already have a cardiovascular condition. There are many ways to reduce such exposure, one of the most effective of which is to get an air purifier that filters out these harmful airborne chemicals.
Indoor Air Quality
People spend most of their time indoors. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that people take 9 out of every 10 breaths indoors, making indoor air quality extremely important. The EPA has also estimated that indoor air is two to three-times more polluted than outdoor air. That pollution includes VOCs from manufactured household materials, concentrations of which are often five times higher indoors than outdoors.
Volatile Organic Compounds
VOCs have become more of a concern in recent years, though they’ve been around for decades. These compounds are released by manufactured household products. For example, many types of pressed wood contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen that releases chemical fumes into the air for years. This is called off-gassing and it can be odorless and undetectable by your senses. Its hidden nature is what makes it so potentially harmful. Paints, treated wood, varnishes, air fresheners, mattresses, box springs, sheets, even the glue used in carpeting, all of it likely contains formaldehyde or similar chemical compounds. It’s practically everywhere, problematic for those who are sensitive or have cardiovascular conditions.
Effects of VOCs
Symptoms of exposure to VOCs in the short term include irritation of the eye, nose, and throat, as well as headaches, coughing, dizziness, skin rashes, nausea, nosebleeds, and even vomiting. Long-term effects include liver damage, kidney damage, and nervous system damage. That’s in addition to the study suggesting VOCs exacerbate cardiovascular conditions in the elderly.
Korean Study Findings
South Korean researchers published a new study in the European Respiratory Journal concluding that exposure to everyday levels of VOCs may harm the elderly. In that study, they tested the lung function of 161 elderly subjects with no history of VOC exposure at work. They measured the amount of air they inhaled with each breath as well as the speed with which the air flowed. Urine samples were tested for byproducts of four kinds of VOCs as well as for levels of oxidative stress. Each subject was tested up to 8 times on different days. The researchers found a correlation between two VOC byproducts, toluene and xylene, and decreased lung function. People who had byproducts in the 90th percentile experienced a 1% decrease in the amount of air they could exhale in one second when compared with people who had byproducts in the 10th percentile. Researcher Dr. Yun-Chul Hong of the Seoul National University College of Medicine stated, “This amount of reduction could exacerbate existing lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or give additional burden to existing heart disease.” They also discovered a potential way that VOCs might indirectly harm lung function – through oxidative stress. Those with higher levels of VOCs also had higher numbers of oxidative-stress markers. An increase in oxidative-stress markers is related to decreased lung function.
Reduce Exposure with Air Purifiers
If you’re concerned about the effects of VOCs, the best thing to do is limit your VOC exposure. Given that so many products include VOCs, one broad way to reduce exposure is to get a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifier. HEPA filters remove 99.97% of airborne particles of size .3 microns and above. Many also come with activated carbon filters, which soak up chemical fumes and odors.