Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Airborne Chemical Exposure from Household Products

Written by guest blogger Martin Spartz, Ph.D., Prism Analytical Technologies, Inc.

Consumer-type personal care and household products (e.g., hand sanitizers, reed diffusers, nail polish remover, gasoline, etc.) contain chemicals that off-gas into the air, and are called VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).  The total level of all VOCs in the natural outdoor air is about 12 to 25 parts per billion (ppb).  Home air routinely contains total VOCs of between 125 and 750 ppb, which is 10 to 60 times that in outdoor air. In some homes, VOCs have been measured at more than 12,500 ppb!  Approximately 50% of homes tested for airborne VOCs had a significant percentage of the total VOCs come from personal care products and gasoline.  What this means is that we cause a vast majority of the air pollution in our own home!
 To determine the potential effect of VOCs on your health is to first understand how the human body interacts with these chemicals.  In a recent study, four people were placed in a room and exposed to controlled airborne levels of ethanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and toluene for a short period of time.  Ethanol, acetone, and isopropyl alcohol are common VOCs found in personal care products. Toluene is a VOC found in gasoline, paints, and adhesives. All of these chemicals are found in most homes at elevated levels.  Each person was then asked to provide a deep lung breath sample (just like a breath alcohol test) so that a determination could be made of the percentage of each VOC retained in the body – either by entering the bloodstream or remaining in the lung. Following are the results:
·         Isopropanol (rubbing alcohol, sanitary wipes) – 84% to 91% was retained
·         Acetone (nail polish remover) – 39% to 80% was retained
·         Ethanol (drinking alcohol, reed diffusers) – 20% to 76% was retained
·         Toluene (gasoline, many adhesives) – 61% to 74% was retained
As these compounds are breathed in and reach the deepest part of the lungs they can be transferred to the bloodstream.  Once the chemicals reach the bloodstream it is the same as if they were ingested by drinking (like alcohol), but in this case this “ingestion” is happening continuously while being exposed to the elevated VOC level. For people with chemical sensitivities, or children and pregnant women who can have twice the metabolic rate (chemical absorption will occur more quickly than in adults or non-pregnant women), chemical exposure can cause adverse health affects like headaches, confusion, respiratory issues, and/or general malaise.

So before you add another seemingly harmless household or personal care product to your home, think twice about how that product will be  “consumed” by the body and the potential health consequences of that consumption.

Want to find out what's in your home's air?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Children & Indoor Air Quality

Everyone seems to generally know and accept that our indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air… but unfortunately this general knowledge has yet to spur significant, proactive action on the part of homeowners.   We’re not in the habit of being alarmists, but when something is as serious and widespread as the effects of poor indoor air on children, we’re going to do everything in our power to get people thinking about the air they and their families breathe.

    Children and Indoor Air Quality
    Is your home's air safe and healthy for your children?
    On average, people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.
  • Sixty-five percent of that is spent at home.
  • Pollutant levels inside can be 2-5 times higher than outdoors; after some activities, pollutant levels can be 100 times higher.
  • Children breathe in 50% more air per pound of body weight than adults do.
  • Because of their developing systems, children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poor indoor air quality.
  • About 4.2 million children in the US are affected by asthma each year.
A recent study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concluded that 65 percent of asthma cases among elementary school-age children could be prevented by controlling exposure to indoor allergens and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). By controlling biological contaminants, asthma cases could be reduced by 55 to 60 percent.


One of the fundamental problems with something like poor indoor air quality is that it generally can’t be seen, smelled or tasted – so it’s easy to ignore.  It’s typically only thought about AFTER the negative health effects start appearing (i.e. your child is wheezing and coughing), and even then it’s viewed like a ‘hail mary pass’ when nothing else seems to improve the condition.

There’s no good reason for the avoidance.  Indoor air quality testing like the kind performed by Pro Energy Consultants is relatively inexpensive, non destructive, and will give you insights in mere days.  Once you know what the contaminants are and the sources, you know what to concentrate on fixing.  And most of the fixes are low or no cost.

And once you’ve improved your indoor air, you – and your children – can breathe easier.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Weekend Project: Improve The Air You Breathe

So many projects on that weekend to-do list, so little time.  How does one prioritize?  Hmmm…we want it to make an impact, not cost too much money, and hopefully leave us time for other fun stuff, right?
Nothing fits this description better than proactively improving your indoor air (you do know you spend 65% of your time at home, and that it’s as much as 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, don’t you?)  The impact is huge (avoid illnesses and long term health problems for you and your family), and the cost and time is minimal.

Quick & Easy Ways To Improve Your Indoor Air This Weekend
  1. If you have an attached garage, move gasoline containers and lawn equipment out of it.  These are sources of pollutants that are entering your home (you just don’t realize it).
  2. Change your furnace filter (25% of folks have NEVER done this).
  3. Clean your humidifier and/or dehumidifier (this can become part of the problem rather than a solution if not cleaned regularly).
  4. Clean your exhaust vans and kitchen exhausts (while commonly used daily, these guys almost NEVER get cleaned).
  5. Really put some thought into writing down a cleaning action plan, suitable to your home’s occupants.  Regular, thorough cleaning is an essential (but often forgotten) strategy for maintaining healthy indoor air.  Set frequencies for key tasks (such as vacuuming 3 times per week), then delegate those tasks out to family members or elicit the help of a professional cleaning company.
  6. Seal the holes/cracks in your ducts.  Think of ducts as the conduit for air to travel around your home.  Poor performing ducts will leak undesirable air (such as that in your attic space) to the primary living areas of your home (such as your child’s bedroom).
  7. Throw out those air fresheners and scented candles (have you actually read the ingredients list on those?).
  8. Seal that minor, annoying leak you’ve been avoiding because “it’s no big deal”.  Even the smallest water leakage will, under the right conditions, produce mold.
  9. Talk about the merits of getting a professional indoor air quality test done.
Ok, yes, #9 is self promotional.

But in all seriousness, it makes no sense to embark on further initiatives to improve your indoor air quality without knowing what your home’s specific issues are, and where they are located.  That’s like going into surgery before the diagnosis!

In good health,
The PEC Team