Remember when your mom used to say “Go play outside and get some fresh air?” Turns out your mom was more right than she knew. Numerous studies have shown that the air inside a common single family residential home is 10x more polluted than the air outside the home. This is true whether you live near the freeway or in a field. These pollutants, some more toxic than car exhaust, are chemicals usually mentioned as the most toxic components of cigarette smoke, including benzopyrene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, VOC’s, ammonia and vinyl chloride. As a result of these findings, the green building movement has focused on ways of producing and maintaining clean, non-toxic Indoor Air Quality(IAQ).
Many of these pollutants are from two main sources: Building materials and household products. Building materials are used to build and run the home and include engineered wood products like particle board and MDF, adhesives, finishes, carpets, insulations, paints and heating equipment among others. The reason these materials and systems contain toxic compounds is that they are cheaper for manufacturers to use than their more expensive, yet non-toxic replacements.
The second source of indoor air quality contaminants are common household products that are introduced by the resident of the home and includes things like furniture, cleaning supplies, deodorants, fabrics, plastics, paints and solvents, pesticides, foams, etc.). Again, the main reason that these materials contain toxic components is because of cost.
Besides the obvious health risks associated with spending 2/3 of your life in an environment with numerous toxic components, the main problem is this: We have very little data on the biological effects of many of these chemicals on the human body. As a reference, think about asbestos and the toxic consequences of its pervasive use up until the early 1980s. Remediation, or removal of these toxic compounds from your home is often very expensive if not impossible(think about tearing up all the formaldehyde laden plywood subfloors under your hardwood floors throughout your house).
Easily the best solution to caring for the indoor air quality in your home is to pay attention to what you take into your home in the first place and if you are building or remodeling a home, what building materials are being used in the manufacture. When you have an option, use the natural AND non-toxic alternative to the std. product. But remember, just because it says natural doesn’t mean it is good for you or that it is non-toxic. Asbestos, radon, mold, fungi and certain types of radioactive granite, are all naturally occurring minerals.
So, how does one determine whether a material has toxic components or not? Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find out exactly which products have potentially toxic chemicals because most materials, especially building materials, do not have an ingredients list. Without doing an unrealistic amount of research into each and every product you buy, you can talk to credible, certified professionals in the field who focus on green building or environmentally responsible ways of doing something, from dry cleaning to refinishing your hardwood floors and ask them the best choices for improving the indoor air quality of your home. Then verify what they said by checking on the internet. Alternately, you can look at comparable products on the shelf. If a cleaner says “Chlorine Bleach Free”, this should suggest to you that there are things about chlorine bleach that require a little research on your part. Remember, manufacturers try very hard to differentiate their products from their competitors and many are now making efforts to meet the needs of an increasing portion of our population that uses only non-toxic, natural materials. That being said, the term “green washing” is often those same companies trying to sell you something based on bogus green credentials. Do yourself and your kids a favor, critically evaluate what is being claimed and then do your own due diligence. Trust but verify.