Here’s another thing to add to our list of things to worry about: indoor air pollution. Apparently, all sorts of things emit dangerous fumes called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including paint, cleaners, vinyl shower curtains and materials used in building wood furniture. You can recognize VOCs by their smell — that chemically “new car” smell. Breathing these fumes in is not good for you, as they have been linked to asthma and even cancer. Because our houses and offices are sealed so tight for energy efficiency, these fumes build up, leading to indoor air pollution levels as much as 5 times greater than air pollution outside.
I know that when we first moved into our new office building, which had been upgraded with new paint and carpets and was hermetically sealed to allow in no outdoor air, I developed allergies for the first time in my life. This spring, I haven’t been working in the office and what do you know? No allergies! Not a scientific study, but that’s convincing evidence for me that we are besieged by indoor air pollution.
I have decided to do something about it. The first thing I am doing is never going to the office again, if I can help it. (Just kidding. Not really.) But I am also going to build airing out my house into my daily routine. Even opening the windows for as little as 10 minutes a day can really help circulate the air in the house and reduce the levels of the indoor pollutants. I find the best time to do it is in the morning just before I take my shower, because it’s cooler then, and I usually go through the house in the morning picking up and straightening up. Also, my son gets some fresh air while he naps. I leave the windows open for a little while, until it starts to get too hot (we live in the South).
The other important thing we can do is to eliminate as much as possible VOC-emitting substances from our homes. That means bypassing vinyl shower curtains and wood furniture that emit VOCs. Use low- or no-VOC paint. And most importantly, eliminate cleaners with chemicals, as cleaners constantly re-pollute the air; homemade cleaners can do the job just as effectively, and don’t poison you at the same time.
It’s the simple changes that can make a big difference.