Why Indoor Air Quality Matters

NADS Blogman, checking in.

Let’s talk about the room you’re sitting in right now.

Unless you’re currently on a beach in the Seychelles (you lucky dog), there’s a good chance that you’re breathing polluted air.

You read that right. We’ve discussed the harmful effects of toxic chemicals in previous posts, but have primarily covered the issue of skin contact with products containing toxins, xenoestrogens, etc. So let’s branch out a little bit.

Today we’re going to be talking about air quality.

It’s estimated that the average human being spends 90% of his or her time inside of a building. When we think of air pollution, we think of smog-infested cities like LA, or Delhi. But indoor air pollution is on the rise as well, and the World Health Organization estimates that every year, 3.8 million people die prematurely from chemical exposure through indoor air pollution. Basically, there’s a good chance that merely existing in the building you’re in right now is detrimental to your health and well being. Yikes.

There are a vast number of products that contribute to indoor air pollution, but some of the main culprits include building materials, insulation, household cleaning items, carpeting, curtains, bed sheets, seat coverings, and of course, inorganic clothing (we can help you with that one).

Now don’t get us wrong–we’re big fans of organic products (obviously). But the rise of indoor air pollution is in part caused by the fact that organic compounds in everyday items can generate harmful gasses that build up and become concentrated in the average home, in both rural and industrial areas. These are called Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are gasses emitted from various organic solids and liquids. Examples of some of these products, think: paints, varnishes, wax, cleaning and disinfecting chemicals, cosmetics, degreasing chemicals, hobby products and fuels, office equipment, even dry-cleaned clothing–all of which contain organic compounds in their makeups, and can release those compounds in gas form when they are used, and even when stored. These VOCs lead to a host of adverse health effects, including: eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches and nausea; liver, kidney, and CNS damage; allergic skin reaction; fatigue; dizziness . . . the list goes on.

In short, VOCs are bad news.

But wait, there’s more . . .

Ozone is also a problem. Not the good ozone that exists in the atmosphere and which protects us from harmful UV rays. We’re talking about the bad ozone, the type that smog is made of, and which makes its way indoors during the Summer months, which we’re currently right in the middle of.

Scientists are only beginning to learn about the effects of indoor ozone, and conducted a recent study seeking to understand the effect it has when interacting with household items–in this case, our clothing.

Curiously, the study found that dirty clothes actually REDUCE indoor ozone levels, but that it comes at a cost to general human health (little paradox action eh?). The reason for this: dirty clothes contain human skin oils, which are often composed of fatty acids, wax esters, and squalene, all substances that absorb and remove ozone (especially squalene). In a process called squalene ozonolysis, the ozone is removed, but new VOCs are produced as a byproduct, such as carbonyls that can irritate the skin and the lungs. And while breathing in ozone is of course bad for your health, leaving dirty clothes around to remove ozone isn’t an ideal solution, due to the skin and lung irritants produced as a byproduct of ozone depletion, and also because it’d be gross and weird to do that.

To combat the effects of ozone indoors, you can do things like isolate dirty laundry to a less-used room of the house that people don’t usually frequent; open windows and doors when the weather permits; and turn on exhaust fans. Additionally, ozone can be reduced by eliminating synthetic cleaning compounds, and by choosing building materials that are certified as green (for a more in-depth look at what you can do to reduce indoor ozone, look here).

Now, we’re not necessarily scientists, but we’re going to recommend adding in another approach on top of the ones listed above: switch to organic clothing. Why? Because it’s more breathable, meaning less buildup of skin oils over the course of the day, which in turn might mean less production of VOCs. We don’t have a full fledged lab to test that theory out at the moment, but since we’re caught between a rock and hard place with either breathing in ozone, or its byproduct VOCs, it’s worth a shot until big science can prove us right or wrong.

If you want to test it out for yourself, here’s a good place to start. Let us know how you feel afterward.

Till next week fellas,

NADS Blogman, signing off.