Stay healthy! 😷 Pollutants and toxins and indoor air quality. 🤪
those that have been following this blog for a while know that it is all about staying healthy.
Normally I focus on healthy and easy-to-prepare foods 🥦 (i.e. high fiber, low saturated fats, high in phytonutrients). My mission is to inspire you to include some simple and healthy foods into your daily routines.
But staying healthy is not only caring about eating and foods. Yes, you might say, exercising and sports is also important. 🏋️🤸 ⛹️ Of course, you are right! But neither foods nor sports is the focus of this post.
Staying healthy is also related to reducing your everyday exposure to pollutants and toxins.
In this post, my aim is to raise awareness regarding some pollutants and toxins you might be exposed to everyday when you are in rooms. It is about chemicals that are present in indoor air and that potentially can make us sick. 😷🤒🤧🤮😵🤪💀
If you are living in a city, many of these pollutants might come from outside (e.g. traffic exhaust fumes).
However, many people do not know that pollutants are constantly emitted from the inside of their rooms.
What are these substances, you might ask, and where do they come from? 🌬
Well, most of them are colorless liquids or gases used in the production of "goods" by different industries. And these "goods" are constantly emitting them into the air. These goods are, for example, furniture or painted walls. But they also include household devices and electronic equipment. It also affects goods such as printed papers (such as in books, magazines), even clothes or cosmetics and hygiene products. Other sources of indoor air pollution are heating, cooking or smoking.
I guess you have never heard about these substances, right?
In the remainder of this post, I want to introduce you to five important substances that might be prevalent in our homes and might play a role when it comes to indoor air quality. These are pollutants that you might certainly want to decrease because of their negative effects on health. These five chemicals are (1) benzene, (2) formaldehyde, (3) trichloroethylene, (4) xylene, and (5) toluene. Of course, there exist more than those five, but I will focusing on these five in this post.
If you are not an expert working in the industrial setting I guess you might have never heard of these substances before. Right? That is why I will introduce them briefly to you. Since almost everybody is affected by them - at least to some extent - I think everybody should know at least some basics. The health effects of these substances depend on the degree and the lengths of the exposure and on personal sensitivity to the substance.
Benzene (chemical formula C6H6) is a clear colorless and highly flammable liquid that evaporates rapidly at room temperature. According to the Publication "WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Selected Pollutants. Benzene" Benzene in indoor air can come from the outside but can also originate from sources indoors such as
- house building materials
- garages attached to the house
- heating system
- cooking systems (oven)
- chemicals such as cleaning chemicals and solvents.
Short-term and long-term exposure to benzene has known health effects. Acute symptoms include fatigue and headaches and with higher concentrations dizziness, headaches, faintness and nausea. With extremely high concentrations also death.
Chronic exposure can lead to carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects.
Non-Carcinogenic effects include pathological changes in blood chemistry and immunological diseases.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies benzene as a known human carcinogen (group 1), as evidenced in the following publication:
International Agency for Research on Cancer. A review of human carcinogens – Part F. Chemical agents and related occupations. Lancet Oncology. 2009;10:1143–1144..
It has been stated that the available evidence is sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship exists between benzene exposure and leukaemia.
Formaldehyde (chemical formula CH2O) exists as a colorless gas with an irritating odor, but can easily change its form and chemical formula (e.g. when it condensates). According to the publication "WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Selected Pollutants. Formaldehyde" it is easily flammable and and highly reactive at normal room temperature.
Formaldehyde in indoor air mostly emanates from man-made products inside the room but can also stem from outside sources such as industrial emissions and fuel combustion from traffic. Some of the products or processes that emit formaldehyde from inside the room are described by Salthammer T, Mentese S, Marutzky R. Formaldehyde in the indoor environment. Chemical Reviews. 2010;110:2536–2572.:
- smoking, heating, cooking, or candle or incense burning
- wood-based materials such as furniture, flooring materials,
- paints, colors, dyes, inks, glues, insulation materials
- cosmetics, cleaning and caring products
- disinfectants and preservatives
- clothes and fabrics, especially T-shirts, pants, and shirts
- electronic equipment.
Short term exposure to low doses formaldehyde in indoor air usually causes discomfort. Common symptoms are irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, sneezing and coughing, dry and itching skin. High doses lead to nausea and finally death. Formaldehyde has also known carcinogenic effects and has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the IARC based on cohort mortality studies with increased incidence of nasopharyngeal cancer (source).
Trichloroethylene (chemical formula: C2HCl3) is a volatile colourless liquid with a sweet chloroform-like smell according to the publication "WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Selected Pollutants. Trichloroethylene".
In the industry it is mainly used for cleaning of metal parts, but also for ink and paint production and printing (e.g. textile printing). Indoor, it is emitted by
- paints, inks, varnishes, finishes (e.g. wood stains)
- lubricants, adhesives
- paint removers and certain cleaners
There are many known carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of Trichloroethylene on health.
Non-carcinogenic effects include cardiac arrhythmias and narcotic effects, but also reduced fertility (male and female). Carcinogenic effects include kidney cancer. In Europe, it has been classified as "mutagenic" (category 3) according to the following publication "Trichloroethylene: assessment of human carcinogenic hazard. Brussels: European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals; 1994. (Technical Report No. 60)".
According to the agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, xylene (chemical formula: C8H10) is a colorless flammable liquid with a sweet odor that evaporates and burns easily.
It is widely used as a solvent in the medical and industrial setting. It is also found in airplane fuel and gasoline.
In the indoor setting, xylene might be present in a variety of consumer products. These products might emit xylene in its vapor form, but also touching these products can expose you to xylene.
- paint, varnish, shellac
- rust preventatives
- cigarette smoke
- plastic bottles
- polyester clothing
- printed textiles.
Currently, there is inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of xylene in humans. However according the publication "Kandyala, R., Raghavendra, S. P. C., & Rajasekharan, S. T. (2010). Xylene: An overview of its health hazards and preventive measures. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. 14 (1): 1–5.", long-term exposure to xylene has been shown to be related with headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, irritability, and slowed reaction time.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety toluene (chemical formula: C7H8) is a clear colorless liquid with an aromatic odor. It is highly flammable and vaporizes easily. Compared to the four other chemicals portrayed in this article, it is less likely that the present concentrations in your private home may be harmful for you, unless your home is located near or on an industrial-contaminated site.
According to the government of Canada and other sources primary sources for toluene are
- traffic exhaust fumes
- vapors from stored fuel coming form attached garages
- paints, paint thinners, printing ink, lacquers
- adhesives (glues)
- leather tanners
Exposure to toluene might cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, hearing loss, and color vision loss. Toluene is not known to cause cancer.
In the next post, I will talk about what we can do to reduce our exposure to such toxins.
Have a nice day!
Hope to inspire you! 💕
Good luck and best wishes!
Chris aka smallstepschange 🐾
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