Volatile Organic Chemicals VOCs are a terrifying and insidious side effect to industrial modern life…we are only just learning the side effects and health impact of the high levels of VOCs often found inside our homes… learn more below
Know your chemicals – I keep a list of harmful chemicals on my phone to look at when buying household products. The worst VOCs include;
- naphthalene (moth repellents) – damages liver, nerves and eyes and is a possible carcinogen)
- benzene (car fumes, building materials (new buildings), furniture, heating and cooking systems, solvents) – causes eye, nose and throat irritation and damages lungs liver and central nervous system. It is a known carcinogen.
- 1,4-dichlorobenzene/ para dichlorobenzene (air fresheners, household sprays, pesticides, disinfectants) – causes eye nose and throat irritation and damages eyes, skin and liver, known carcinogen.
- isopropylbenzene/ cumene (solvents, enamels, acetone, nail polish remover) – can cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness affect the brain, eyes, liver, kidney and adrenal glands.
- ethylbenzene (cleaning products, paints, polystyrene) – can cause eye, throat and lung irritation, dizziness and may affect the blood, kidneys and liver.
- styrene/ vinyl benzene (plastics and resins in luggage, toys, shoes and food containers, rubbers, packaging, latex, paper processing and waxes and polishes) – headaches, fatigue, weakness, depression, hearing loss, possibly an increase in miscarriages and possibly an increase in the risk of lymphoma and leukaemia.
- chloroform (chlorinated water, dyes and pesticides) – can affect the skin, brain, liver and kidneys, cause fatigue, dizziness and headache. Known carcinogen.
- 1,2-dichloroethane (to make PVC – pipes, furniture, car upholstery, wall coverings) – toxic and likely carcinogenic affecting eyes, lungs, nervous system, liver and kidneys and causing heart arrhythmias.
- tetrachloroethene (dry cleaning, degreasers) – affects the skin and nervous system, may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, probably carcinogenic
- trichloroethylene (degreaser) – cardiac arrhythmias, affects the central nervous system, foetal toxicity, known carcinogen
Open your windows – As well as letting in ‘fresh air’ from outside as levels of VOCs are in most cases much higher inside than outside open your windows and air your rooms regularly.
Reduce toxic VOCs – pick natural cleaning brands like Method, Ecover and BioD. Now readily available in supermarkets and online or make your own cleaners with many effective cleaners made from vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda – we find vinegar better than any window cleaner!
Swap air fresheners and scented candles for a diffuser – A diffuser is a great, safe and environmentally friendly and effective air freshener in which you can put a few drops of health boosting essential oils, making your own blends and changing the smell as often as you like (as well as great for putting lavender and tea tree oil in at night for coughs and colds).
Grow indoor plants – Some of the top plants for removing VOCs are also the easiest to grow. Bromeliads are one of the most effective at a wide range of VOCs, Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are one of the quickest starting work a few minutes after being placed in the house and Chrysanthemum, peace lily’s (Spathiphyllum sp.) and gerberer daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) were found by NASA to be the most effective flowering plants at removing VOCs.
The three stars in an Indian study in 2008 were the areca palm (Crysalidocarpus lutescens), the money plant (Epipremnum aureum) and mother-in-laws’s tongue (Sanseviera trifasciata) which radically changed the indoor air quality in a large building with much lower levels of eye and lung problems and headaches in their workers.