Dangerous Chemicals: Sick Building Syndrome

If you’re like most people, you spend up to 90% of your time indoors. Unfortunately, many buildings have poor ventilation, making airborne chemical levels significantly higher in your home, office or school than outdoors (Consumer Product Safety Commission). Industrial chemicals can evaporate into air, collect in dust, and get into people. Kids are particularly at risk for inhaling, absorbing and ingesting chemicals, because they crawl around on floors and put things into their mouths (Maron). Sometimes the chemicals can be obvious. When you’re breathing fumes from fresh paint, you’re breathing a mix of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that have been known to cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and loss of coordination and have been associated with damage to the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, as well as cancer (Falcon), Your “new carpet” smell is likely a combination of odors from styrene and 4-phenylcyclohexane (4-PC—also a VOC), both of which are associated with the latex backing, which is found on 95% of new carpets. 4-PC may irritate eyes and respiratory tracts and has been linked with impacts to the central nervous system. In addition, the glue used to affix carpets contain benzene and toluene, also VOCs (Cowles). Hang a new vinyl shower curtain, and you’ll likely have to leave the room because of the smell. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shower curtains contain as many as 40 different VOCs, as well as phalates, organotins, and metals, all of which have been associated with severe health impacts (Lester, et al.) But even if it’s not obvious to you, the air and dust in your home can make you sick, because throughout your house, walls, flooring, treated wood, fabrics, furniture, beauty products, cleansers and electronics are releasing fumes and dust that contain potentially dangerous chemicals. Ventilate poorly, and you can end up breathing a mixed-up cocktail of chemicals that can harm you (Consumer Product Safety Commission). What can you do? Ventilate. If you can open doors and windows, do so often. Let some fresh air in and get those pollutants out. This is especially true if you have recently installed new carpets, paint, shower curtains, cabinets or counters. Change the filter on your heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Learn more about Sick Building Syndrome at The Healthy Building Network. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has a good website, with more information on Indoor Environmental Quality and ways you can mitigate your problems. The EPA Green Chemistry program is an effort to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals during the manufacture of many products.

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