I am sure that at some point in the past you have seen one of those food TV programmes which aim to unravel the mysteries of a list of ingredients…
and actually it made you realise that what appears so irresistibly mouth-watering (thanks to marketing ploys) is in fact seriously unhealthy, depleted of any nutrients and, as in the case of some sausages, simply gross.
It was exactly the sausage-analogy which came to my mind when I was thinking about VOCs, i.e. Volatile Organic Compounds.
“Okay Ania”, I hear you think, ” sausages and VOCs. What on Earth are you talking about?!”
To put it simply VOCs are carbon-containing compounds which, according to the British Coatings Federation, are materials which evaporate readily from commonly occurring sources such as vehicle exhausts, furniture polish, detergents, synthetic fabrics, pesticides, adhesives etc. So, just like the sausages, you see a great product on the surface being unaware of its darker side and the effect it will have on your own health and that of your family.
OK, so what “bad effects” are we talking about?
Well, the list is quite long and varies for the individual VOCs. Just to give you an idea, VOCs can cause “minor” side-effects like headaches, dizziness, a sore throat, irritated eyes, coughing, wheezing, respiratory infections all the way to cancer.
Below is an actual example of the ill-effects of benzene (present in petrol but also used in the production of nylon and other synthetic farbics) which is just one of many VOCs. (Source: Healthy Child Healthy World)
- Cancer, particularly leukemia and other cancers of the blood and blood-producing organs, such as multiple myeloma.
- Decrease in red blood cells leading to anemia; bone marrow damage, including myelodysplastic syndromes; excessive bleeding; immune system depression; drying and scaling of skin.
- Effects on the central nervous system ranging from drowsiness, dizziness, sleepiness, rapid heart rate and headache to loss of consciousness. Death may result from respiratory failure due to central nervous system depression.
- Chromosomal damage.
No one will say that these are not of concern but you may say that in today’s world it is impossible to stay away from these chemicals so why don’t we come to terms with that and stop freaking out and trying to lead an unattainably perfect green lifestyle?
I agree that it’s not easy, and with some financial and time limitations we can only be “imperfectly green”. But! There is always a but…just like the “bad” sausages and other foods, that I will not eat out of principle and a deep conviction of their detrimental effect on my body, there are a few things that have resonated with me as an individual and a parent more than other facts and figures, so I thought I would share these 6 thoughts and facts here:
#1 Paint is a good example of a product that can contain VOCs that can off-gas for approx 1 year. That means breathing it in for 365 nights! Talking about refreshing, healthy sleep(!!)
#2 I have never been fond of air fresheners but learning that they actually contain VOCs made me even more convinced that they are adds-on that I can definitely live without!
#3 A resting infant takes in twice as much air per pound of body weight as an adult. Subject to the same airborne toxins, an infant therefore would inhale proportionally twice as much as an adult. Hmm, think about the paint, mattress, carpet, and all the “plastic-y” soft furnishings a nursery can be kitted out with… Yuk!
#4 The notion of fresh air indoors just got that extra more important to me when I learnt that concentration levels of chemicals indoors can be 2-5 times worse inside than outside (that is including the city quality of air). VOCs can be 1000 times(!!!) higher indoors and outdoors. Opening windows regularly is easy and can really make a difference to what you and your children are breathing in.
#5 Shops that smell. Since I have had my baby and stopped regularly using perfume my nose has become so much sensitive to smells and more than ever I get put off by smells of merchandise and packaging. It is actually quite amazing how the sheer volume of the stuff can actually make a large space just be filled with chemical smell that when you get used to it, becomes deceitfully unnoticeable!
#6 Someone once said to me how they liked walking into shops which sell cleaning products as they smell of “cleanliness”…Now I know that that cleanliness is really a cocktail of VOCs. So interesting how used to we have become to the chemicals that we now associate them with the “good” things.
Well, for me the cleanliness is actually what the picture shows and it costs nothing but a little time out…
This post is my totally non-scientific attempt to talk about VOCs. If you would like to find out more then I recommend visiting Oecotextiles which I have quoted in this blog and which is a great resource for further, much more in-depth info on this subject.
Until next time,