3. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Organic compounds — compounds that contain carbon — are used in many household products. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted from some of these solids and liquids while in use or even while stored.
VOCs are known to cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some are also suspected or known to cause cancer. They can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation.
VOCs are emitted from a variety of household products, including paints, varnishes, wax, adhesives, cleaning and disinfecting solutions, hobby materials, and cosmetics. VOCs can also be emitted from carpeting, flooring, furniture, and dry-cleaned clothing and draperies.
It is an extensive list. Most families likely have several, if not all, of these items in their homes. It is important to keep in mind that VOCs become hazardous to health when you are exposed to high concentrations. Eliminating exposure to VOCs in daily life is difficult, if not impossible, but reducing exposure will help keep you and your family safe.
Exposure to high concentrations of VOCs can lead to a variety of symptoms, including irritation of the nose, throat, and eyes; headache; an allergic reaction on the skin; labored breathing; nausea; fatigue; dizziness; and nosebleeds.
Reducing your exposure begins with finding and using products with low VOCs. Online databases can point you to safe products. The EPA’s Safer Choice program, for example, provides an online search tool for consumers. You can also look for products labeled “No VOC” or “Low VOC.”
When using any chemical product, it’s wise to increase ventilation. When bringing home new furniture or rugs, “off gas” them outside or in a detached garage before bringing them inside.
A few other guidelines will help keep your family safe:
- Follow label instructions carefully.
- Buy products in quantities you will use quickly, and throw away any unused or little-used containers safely.
- Do not store open containers of paint in your home.
- If dry-cleaned clothing or other items have a strong chemical odor, don’t accept them until they have been properly dried. If items continue to have a strong odor, try another dry cleaner.