January 24, 2012
The popularity of the new car scent is such that it has been packaged and available for sale. However, the compounds that make up the real new car smell are actually a cause for concern.
These compounds are part of a group of products called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs for short. In our efforts to live greener lives we must be very concerned about the quality of air in our indoor environment, and VOCs can have a significant negative effect on how well we feel when indoors.
VOCs are emitted as a gas from very ordinary items in our surroundings such as glues, plastics, carpets, paint, building materials, printers, paper and the list goes on. The concentration of VOCs indoors, where we spend most of our time, has been found to be generally ten times that found outdoors.
Because there are such a wide variety of compounds, the effects range from limited to toxic, and in some cases have been contributing factors in Sick Building Syndrome, a combination of ailments associated with an individual's place of work or residence. In some instances VOCs have been known to cause cancer in animals and are also suspected of causing cancer in humans. They are more commonly attributed to irritations of the eye, throat or nose. They can also cause nausea, headaches, damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system.
Admittedly some of the problems are as a result of misuse of products by consumers. A common mistake persons make is mixing cleaning products against the advice of the manufacturer, or neglecting to ensure that spaces are well-ventilated when painting or general construction is taking place.
The problem has caught the attention of many agencies including the Carpet and Rug Institute, which introduced a green labeling program in 1992 to test carpets, cushions and adhesives for emissions. Suitably-qualified products earn the institute's green label. Building designers wishing to attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification have VOC limit tables to guide them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has its own set of guidelines called Indoor Air Plus Construction Specifications.
To limit your exposure to VOCs, get a fact sheet which is available on many websites that list the types of products that contain VOCs. Use products as they are intended to be used and avoid mixing chemicals. Store them in their original containers in garages, for example, as opposed to occupied spaces. Limit storage amounts by only purchasing as much product as you need.
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o Sonia Brown is the principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.
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