Indoor Air Quality and Your Health
The effect of pollution on our health has been getting a lot of press recently, and for good reason. The most common air pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur oxides and volatile organic compounds) are found in most areas where there is density of population. The effect of air pollutants on people vary, however it is widely agreed that these pollutants are harmful to our health.
While major outdoor air pollutants dominate air quality discussion, we tend to forget that we actually spend most of our time indoors, and we rarely monitor or even consider the impact of indoor air quality on our health. In this article, we’ll shed some light on some of the most common causes of poor indoor air quality and what this can mean for your health. We’ll look at a certification (UL GREENGUARD Gold) that uses exposure modelling to measure the VOCs (volatile compound emissions) of household furniture, and we’ll offer a couple of helpful tips on how to improve indoor air quality in your own home.
Causes and Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality
You may not think about it as much, but poor indoor air quality can often be a major contributor to various health impediments. The most common contributors to poor indoor air quality include polybrominated biphenyl (a chemical added to plastics to stop them from burning), polyurethane (used as varnish on furniture), formaldehyde (a common flame retardant in mattresses), cigarette smoke, mold, and cleaning supplies. All of these chemicals give off high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), often at higher rates indoors due to the lack of circulation.
VOCs are gasses that are emitted from dangerous solids or liquids. To date, there are over 10,000 VOCs, many of which are present in the common chemicals mentioned above. The issue with VOCs is that they can often escape and linger within the home. This process is called “off gassing”. Off gassing is most dangerous when the VOCs have just been released, for example when you spray a cleaning product, apply makeup or skincare, or unbox a new mattress. Temperature also plays an important part- the higher the temperature, the higher the rate of off-gassing in the home.
Off-gassing can often cause throat, eye and nose irritation, migraines or headaches, irritation of the airways of lungs, and nervous system damage.
Certifications that measure VOCs
If you’re worried about off gassing and the level of VOCs in your home, there are a number of institutions that test and measure the emission levels of common household products. Among the most reputable is UL (Underwriters Laboratories), who issue a GREENGUARD certification for building materials, household products and furniture that fall under rigorous, third-party chemical emission standards.
UL’s highest certification, GREENGUARD Gold offers an even stricter certification criteria, and is designed for materials and products that are used around the elderly, children and sensitive environments such as schools and healthcare facilities.
For testing, UL uses advanced dynamic environmental chamber testing, as well as exposure modelling and analytical measurements, to test products and building materials for total volatile organic compounds (TVOC), individual VOCs (out of a database of 10,000 chemicals), formaldehyde, ozone and phthalates. There are defined allowable levels for key pollutants with known or suspected irritant or more serious health impacts.
The majority of chemical analyses are conducted with high-performance chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Some pollutants are measured with real time monitoring instruments. Certified products must undergo periodic re-testing and verification to remain certified.
Source: UL GREENGUARD Certification
Improving the Air Quality in Your Home
Thankfully, controlling the air quality in your own home or office is much easier than changing it outside. Here’s a couple of simple tips that will make an immediate difference to the air quality of your indoor spaces:
Where possible, purchase household products (everything from furniture to cleaning products) with low VOC emissions
With a little bit of research and commitment, this is achievable. As discussed, many reputable “big ticket” items such as building materials, mattresses and furniture will have a third party certification (like UL GREENGUARD Gold) stating that VOC emissions (“off gassing”) will fall under recognized emission limits. For smaller items such as perfumes and cleaning products, we recommend conducting some research into organic, low emission ingredients. Ensuring such products are fragrance free is also a big plus!
Keep your indoor area clean
It may seem simple, but often, keeping a clean house can greatly improve air quality. Chemicals and allergens from common household products can often get trapped in carpets and rugs, staying active for weeks at a time. When vacuuming, make sure your vacuum cleaner has a HEPA filter, which will trap dust instead of expelling it back out of the exhaust. Always be on the lookout for mold, and make sure “unseen” areas of the home or office (such as baseboards) are kept clean. If using dangerous cleaning products, use a damp cloth with water to wipe over the area the cleaning product has touched. This may seem counter-productive, but it will help eliminate VOC’s.
Control indoor air temperature and humidity levels
By reducing the level of humidity in your home, you’ve won half the battle against dust mites. An ideal in-home humidity level sits at around 30-50% and can be controlled with a humidifier in winter, and an air-conditioning system in summer. Common sense also applies- when bathing, washing dishes or cooking, always have an adequate form of ventilation running.
The team at Amore Beds recognizes the dangers of poor indoor air quality, which is why their natural hybrid mattress is UL GREENGOLD Gold certified. The Natural mattress is chemical, adhesive and solvent free, with minimal off-gassing that measures well under the rigorous emissions limits set by UL. Their flame-retardant firesock is 100% natural New Zealand wool, and with organic cotton, natural latex and a pocketed coil system housing up to 1,500 coils, you’re assured of a comfortable night’s sleep.
Have any other tips or tricks to keeping the air quality in your home clean? Join the discussion and leave a comment below!