If you think the air quality inside your home is healthy, you’re wrong. As a matter of fact, indoor air quality is five times more polluted than outdoor air. Of all toxins, volatile organic compounds are the major contributor to indoor pollution.
Cleansers, disinfectants, air fresheners, moth repellents, dry-cleaned clothing, furniture, and hobby supplies– almost everything that you own or use emits VOCs.
The harmful effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on humans are well-known. But do you know how these chemicals affect your growing children? Inhaling excess VOCs can lead to health complications in children. Many times, the damage is irreversible.
With that said, we will discuss the health issues associated with exposure to VOCs in this article.
A group of chemicals that dissolve into water and vaporize into air are known as volatile organic compounds.
These chemicals are ubiquitous, meaning they are found everywhere. These chemicals are found at higher levels in indoor air, i.e., 0s to 100s of μg/m3, than in outdoor air.
When everyday household items release or off-gas these chemicals into the indoor air, we either inhale them or our bodies absorb them. What’s alarming is that a number of VOCs found in the indoor air are carcinogens, meaning they cause cancer.
Besides, VOCs can enter our bodies through the water that we drink. That’s because these are common groundwater pollutants at sites where chemical mishandling or spills contaminate the soil.
In a recent study, VOCs were detected in around 36 percent of drinking water aquifers. MTBE or methyl tert-butyl ether and trichloromethane were the most common VOCs found in groundwater used for public supply.
Numerous studies have also linked VOC exposure to leukemia, respiratory illnesses, neurocognitive impairment, and birth defects.
A recent article issued by Aerosol and Air Quality Research reveals that children are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of VOCs than adults. They are more seriously affected by them because of their high breathing volume per body weight.
Children are more sensitive to environmental toxins because their pulmonary systems are still developing. Exposure to VOCs can lead to a host of health issues in them. We’ve discussed the most common ones below:
The incidence of respiratory diseases in children has risen dramatically over the last decade. Children exposed to VOCs are also at an increased risk of asthma, respiratory tract irritation, airway inflammation, wheezing, and breathlessness.
A case-controlled study highlighted that children with asthma were exposed to high levels of VOCs. Aromatic VOCs are strongly linked with asthma and wheezing attacks.
Several studies have found that even low levels of VOCs, such as 1,3-butadiene and benzene, can increase children’s susceptibility to asthma.
Long-term exposure to high concentrations of VOCs has been demonstrated to cause cancer in children.
The Health Risk Assessment of Volatile Organic Compounds for Children in Indoor Air study reveals that children are at an increased risk of cancer when exposed to an average concentration of 8.7 μg m–3 formaldehyde indoors. Exposure to an average concentration of 25.4 μg m–3 of benzene indoors is also linked with cancer in children.
It further discloses that children between seven months and four years of age are at the highest risk of developing cancer from benzene and formaldehyde exposure.
Speaking of VOCs, the Camp Lejeune water contamination tragedy deserves mention. Between 1953 and 1987, water wells of the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were contaminated with VOCs. Many children born at the military base during that period developed cancers such as lymphoma due to exposure to contaminated water.
Degreasers and dry cleaning agents were among the 70 VOCs that were present in Camp Lejeune’s water wells, reports TorHoerman Law. Exposure to VOCs such as trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, vinyl chloride (VC), and trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (1,2-tDCE) with cancers in children born at the military base.
Thousands of veterans have filed lawsuits against the U.S. government. However, none of them have reached a settlement yet. Law firms predict that the Camp Lejeune lawsuit payout per person could be between $10,000 and $500,000.
Little do people know that long-term exposure to VOCs from everyday household items can result in intellectual and cognitive impairment in children.
Previous animal studies have disclosed that VOCs can cause damage to multiple systems and organs in the body. Sub-chronic exposure to low-concentration VOCs can impair the memory and the learning ability of mice, especially pups.
Inhaling high-concentration of formaldehyde can cause cognitive abnormalities in rats. Besides resulting in memory and learning disorders, it can damage the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory.
Another study links toluene and xylene exposure with impaired neurodevelopment in children. In-utero exposure to toluene has been reported to cause cerebral problems in children.
Here are a few tips that will help you reduce your children’s VOC exposure and create a healthy environment indoors:
- Choose products that are labeled as “zero-VOC” or “low-VOC”
- Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter to eliminate VOCs from indoor air
- Avoid or minimize the use of aerosol sprays, air fresheners, and perfumes containing VOCs
- Clean and dust your home regularly to prevent VOCs from accumulating on furniture, walls, or other surfaces
- Install an activated carbon filter to get rid of VOCs from the drinking water of your home
Health effects associated with exposure to VOCs in children are a cause for concern, given their bodies and immune systems aren’t fully developed. While eliminating VOC sources completely from the indoor environment isn’t possible, you can create a healthy environment by limiting exposure.
By increasing ventilation, choosing low-VOC products, installing activated carbon filters, and using air purifiers, you can improve the air quality of your home. Adding a few indoor plants, like snake plants, will also purify the air, as they remove toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde.