There’s a certain smell we associate with new products whether it be from opening packages or fresh paint jobs. Although the smell itself can be off-putting, is there an actual health risk associated with this smell? What is the cause of these lingering scents and what should we be doing about it?
We are surrounded by tiny molecules in our indoor environments called VOCs (volatile organic compounds). They are a result of molecules being broken off from materials we use to build, maintain and clean our buildings. Oftentimes (but not always), they release a scent because of “off-gassing” – this is the smell we associate with new buildings or opening a package. Do these smells pose a health risk for us? The short answer is: yes, they are harmful to our health because they reduce our air quality, but it’s quite difficult to effectively remove VOCs from our air due to their tiny molecule size and it’s also an issue that many are largely unaware of.
VOCs levels can be 10x higher indoors than outdoors which makes prolonged and excessive exposure to VOCs from off-gassing a big health risk. Sick Building Syndrome (SBS or BRI) describes occupants of certain indoor spaces to develop symptoms that appear correlated to their time spent in the building. Increased and persistent exposure to VOCs can result in a multitude of symptoms that have long-term or short-term side effects. These health effects ranging in their severity from skin irritation to damage of the nervous systems.
The most common health effects include:
Hotel Cleaning Products
Businesses in the hospitality industry (ie. hotels) are host to hundreds or thousands of guests daily. This means lots of cleaning to maintain the space and to better service guests. These spaces are thus very susceptible to high levels of off-gassing and VOCs presence because of the high amounts of cleaning products used to maintain the cleanliness. Although a room may feel and smell clean, this comes at a cost of lower air quality unless the air can be properly treated.
Doing renovations (ie. building a new baby nursery in our own homes) increases the levels of VOCs in these spaces. Although many will take the time to air out these rooms and increase ventilation, some materials can take from 6 months - 20 years to fully dissipate to a safe level. The level of VOCs remnant in a room is also very difficult to detect unless an indoor air quality (IAQ) monitor is used, however, this is not common in most homes. Infants brought into new nurseries are one of the most vulnerable groups for Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) as VOCs can be extremely high due to newly painted walls and new furniture.
Office workers spend a large portion of their day inside the building surrounded by printers, photocopiers, office supplies and furniture – all which are materials that release large amounts of VOCs from off-gassing. Coupled with low ventilation from lack of windows being open and a sole reliance on HVACs, this makes office buildings a space of poor air quality.
The nature of VOCs can make them hard to detect and effectively remove. However, there are ways we can reduce the presence of VOCs and ways we can remove them.
We can reduce their presence by:
VOCs released from off-gassing may feel unavoidable in our environments, but with proper education and awareness of their presence and how we can improve our indoor air quality. we can still remain confident that we are able to mitigate their affects and thus their harm on our health.
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In The ClearZone Corp.