VOC (volatile organic compounds) in the Household
September 25, 2015
There are three ways in which people are exposed to chemicals: ingestion, dermal absorption and inhalation. Ingestion occurs when materials that have chemical content are eaten or placed in the mouth. Dermal absorption occurs when chemicals come into contact with the skin. But the majority of chemical exposure comes from the air we breathe in our homes, offices, schools and other indoor environments. These airborne chemicals that we come in contact with daily are called Volatile Organic compounds VOC’s.
Other impact of VOCs are that it is a principal ingredient of ground level ozone that will increase the levels of urban smog. When VOCs are deposited in landfills they will find their way into our water supply (e.g. groundwater or urban runoff).
The majority of VOCs are found in furniture, paint, drywall, bedding, paint strippers, adhesives/glues, solvents, upholstery and other textiles, carpet, cleaning products, copy machine toners, office supplies, electronic equipment, dry-cleaned clothing, and materials.
What can you do to minimize VOCs in your house? For starters you can use Low- or Classified Zero-VOC paints, wood finishes, adhesives, and caulks. Look for labels indicating “Low-VOC” and “zero-VOC” paints. They contain a reduced number of grams of VOC per liter (under 150 grams for low-VOC and under 5 for zero-VOC).
For flooring you can explore the possibilities of sustainable wood floors. Visit the site “Eco-Friendly Flooring.” Other options include cork, bamboo or plyboo. For carpeting, ideally your rugs and carpets would come from 100% natural and renewable resources, with biodegradable backing. If this is in your budget, Nature’s Carpet and Shaw may be of assistance. For conventional carpets, look for those with high percentages of recycled content from wool, cotton, nylon or recycled plastic bottles.
For countertops, floors, and backsplashes, you can use recycled content tile, such as Sandhill Industries and Vetrazzo, which contain up to 70% recycled glass and other materials. There are also a number of cement countertops available with recycled and post-industrial by-products, like those of Wilsonart. Icestone is made of recycled glass and concrete, and Richlite is recycled paper compressed into a warm, durable alternative to stone.
The possibilities are endless for choosing exterior surfaces—cladding, siding, roofing, and decking, but those key environmentally-preferred items mentioned above should be applied to all. Of the many siding options, FSC-certified or reclaimed wood, recycled metal, fiber cement board, and durable, recyclable materials, such as stone, brick, and stucco, are preferred over virgin wood, metal, or plastic.
A few years ago, choosing environmentally preferred product was a much harder task that today. Today, manufacturers and suppliers are picking up on consumers’ demand for healthier products that retain a high level of style and design. By purchasing these products, you support the growth of the sustainable industry. Soon we may not need an alternative home store for our green needs, because they’ll be filling the shelves where everyone shops.