Chemical sensitivity and home safety

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ September 27, 2011

Slowly, it seems, homeowners and contractors are paying closer attention to the side effects of chemicals and building materials. The main culprits being addressed today are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that "off-gas" into the living area of homes. As more builders create air-tight, energy efficient homes, the effect of VOCs is compounded in that they can be trapped indoors.

The Healthy House Institute (HHI) says that chemical sensitivity, allergy and illness are not new to Americans. Seemingly unrelated problems like sore throats, digestive ailments, mental confusion, blurred vision have been reported since the end of World War 11 - all symptoms accepted today as side effects from VOCs.

Today's health agencies and physicians have labeled the complex reaction with names like Ecological Illness, Total Allergy Syndrome, and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Susceptibility, HHI writes, varies from person-to-person based on genetic factors, age, pre-existing illnesses, stress, or overtaxed immune systems. Several million Americans are said to have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, a term now recognized on the list of conditions that qualify for Social Security Income Benefits.

Remodeling, Painting, and VOCs

If you're planning on a bathroom remodeling project, take heed from researchers at The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). First, consider replacing shag carpet flooring with natural sheet linoleum. Add a new, improved exhaust fan in the shower area. Avoid using any cabinetry materials that use added formaldehyde plywood. Finally, choose no-VOC paint for the walls.

Bathrooms are often the largest VOC offenders in the home, especially when you consider how many chemicals are used to clean surfaces, glass, flooring, toilets and showers.

Other irritants to avoid

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) says sensitive people can react violently to strong odors alone. Irritations to the nose, eyes and throat can persist if untreated. And toxic materials in the house when combined with pollens, molds and dust can really make life miserable for people with existing allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma.

The AAFA estimates that there are 11 million wood burning stoves in American homes today. Emissions from wood-burning stoves are additional irritants to sensitive people and should be curtailed if more efficient, cleaner heating sources are available.

Finally, cigarette smoke is one of the leading toxic irritants in the home, especially in the newer air-tight, energy efficient homes. Eliminating tobacco, formaldehyde products, VOC paints, and toxic cleaning chemicals from your house may be the most loving thing you can do for your family.

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