By Robyn Griggs Lawrence, Experience Life
Potentially hazardous chemicals, in the form of building materials, furnishings and cleaning products, infiltrate nearly everyone’s homes. They’re found in upholstery, manufactured wood products such as plywood and pressboard, traditional paint, permanent-press fabrics, vinyl, sealers and adhesives. And they hang around in the air and carpets for years.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that the air in our homes has pollutant levels two to five times higher than the air outside, and sometimes even 100 times higher, depending on what furnishings, building materials and cleansers you’re using.
Synthetic or engineered home-building materials and furnishings contain chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which evaporate at normal room temperatures (the process known as off-gassing) to pollute indoor air. Some VOCs are suspected carcinogens. The carcinogenic effects of formaldehyde, for example, common in pressboard and plywood, are well established. People who are exposed to VOCs can experience a range of symptoms, from headaches and nausea to skin and respiratory irritations, memory impairment – even central nervous system disorders.
Unfortunately, exposures have increased during the past 30 years. To conserve energy, homes have been sealed so tightly that air is exchanged only once every five hours or less. Today’s tight houses also harbor biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, pollen and toxic molds, which grow easily in wet basements and bathrooms and on the cardboard backing used for drywall. The combination of these toxic factors can pose particular challenges to children, pregnant women, older people and individuals with allergies or compromised immune systems.
Although the conflagration of potential health threats in today’s conventional homes may sound rather dire, the concerned homeowner can make significant improvements just by phasing out and replacing toxic items on a gradual basis. Unless a member of your household suffers from chemical sensitivities, and more immediate remodeling is critical to their well-being, you can simply begin making selective choices, starting today, that support you in creating a chemical-free home over time.
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