Indoor air can be more contaminated than outdoor air.
That’s less than comforting, especially since the majority of us have been stuck indoors for the last year, thanks to COVID-19.
After discovering tiny particles of carpeting on my running pants during a post-run stretch, I started doing research about what this carpeting might be doing to my health. I just moved into my condo last July, and this carpeting could be decades old. Its level of eco-healthiness is questionable at best. Before I knew it, I was plummeting down a rabbit hole of indoor air facts, many of which caused me to subconsciously hold my breath.
One of the facts I uncovered (and had probably heard about years ago, but chose to forget):
Indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air—sometimes even 100 times, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Um, that’s a bit startling.
This startling fact about indoor air pollution, and the array of others I discovered, inspired me to create an infographic to highlight some of these facts as well as solutions. It was a painstaking exercise, but hopefully one that will prove insightful to others and provide the needed guidance for improving indoor air quality and overall health.
Scroll past the infographic for more details on what types of chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ingredients (an important ingredient to avoid: fragrance!) to avoid in your daily life.
Infographic source: Inspire Medical Products
Why avoid the fragrance ingredient in your products?
Fragrance is a common ingredient added to personal care items, cleaning products, air fresheners, candles and many more. I avoid these like the plague and here’s why:
A single fragrance in a product can contain a mixture of hundreds of chemicals, some of which (e.g., limonene, a citrus scent) react with ozone in ambient air to form dangerous secondary pollutants, including formaldehyde.2 The researchers detected 133 different VOCs. Most commonly detected were limonene, α- and β-pinene (pine scents), and ethanol and acetone (often used as carriers for fragrance chemicals).1
Steinemann and colleagues found the average number of VOCs emitted was 17.1 Each product emitted 1–8 toxic or hazardous chemicals, and close to half (44%) generated at least 1 of 24 carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants, such as acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, or methylene chloride.1 These hazardous air pollutants have no safe exposure level, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.3 Of the 133 VOCs detected, only ethanol was listed on any label (for 2 products), and only ethanol and 2-butoxyethanol were listed on any Material Safety Data Sheet (for 5 products and 1 product, respectively).1
Here’s more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on common VOCs that can be detrimental to indoor air quality and our health:
>> Trichlorethylene has been linked to childhood leukemia.
>> Exposure to toluene can put pregnant women at risk for having babies with neurologic problems, retarded growth, and developmental problems.
>> Xylenes have been linked to birth defects.
>> Styrene is a suspected endocrine disruptor, a chemical that can block or mimic hormones in humans or animals.
>> Methylene chloride, a common component of some paint strippers, adhesive removers, and specialized aerosol spray paints, causes cancer in animals . Methylene chloride is also converted to CO in the body and can cause symptoms associated with CO exposure.
>> Benzene, a known human carcinogen, is contained in tobacco smoke, stored fuels, and paint supplies.
>> Perchloroethylene, a product uncommonly found in homes, but common to dry cleaners, can be a pollution source by off-gassing from newly cleaned clothing. Environmental Media Services  also notes that xylene, ketones, and aldehydes are used in aerosol products and air fresheners.
For help finding safe personal care, cosmetic, and cleaning products, visit the Environmental Working Group.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) sources from the American Lung Association:
Indoor Sources of VOCs
>> Paint, paint strippers
>> Varnishes and finishes
>> Caulks and sealants
>> Flooring, carpet, pressed wood products
Home and personal care products:
>> Cleaners and disinfectants
>> Air fresheners
>> Cosmetics and deodorants
>> Fuel oil, gasoline
>> Tobacco smoke
>> Dry-cleaned clothing
>> Arts and crafts products: glues, permanent markers, etc.
>> Wood burning stoves
>> Office printers and copiers
Outdoor Sources that can enter your home
>> Diesel emissions
>> Wood burning
>> Oil and gas extraction and processing
>> Industrial emissions