Common household products can affect indoor air quality (IAQ)

We can try very hard to help you build a home or commercial building that provides a strong, safe, healthy and highly energy efficient building envelope.  And a very large part of the safe and healthy aspect of an Eco-Panels home comes from proper ventilation to regulate indoor air quality.  That's all fine and dandy, but what happens after you move in and start to collect common household products?

Anne Steinemann of the University of Washington wondered the exact same thing.  Taking common products ranging from plug-in air fresheners to laundry detergents to an independent testing facility, Dr. Steinemann found that some some of these products that most of us have in our homes contain hazardous and carcenogenic chemicals and that through various regulatory loopholes the manufacturers are not required to identify their presence. 

As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:

When UW engineering professor Anne Steinemann analyzed of some of these popular items, she found 100 different volatile organic compounds measuring 300 parts per billion or more -- some of which can be cancerous or cause harm to respiratory, reproductive, neurological and other organ systems.

Some of the chemicals are categorized as hazardous or toxic by federal regulatory agencies. But the labels tell a different story, naming only innocuous-sounding "perfume" or "biodegradable" contents.

"Consumers are breathing these chemicals," she said. "No one is doing anything about it."

Industry representatives say that isn't so.

"Dr. Steinemann's statement is misleading and disingenuous," said Chris Cathcart, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Specialty Products Association, in a statement.

I'm not so sure her statements are misleading or disingenuous.  Based on this article I can guess that the plug in air freshener my wife uses in the area we keep our two border collies contains acetaldehyde - a hazardous chemical "unsafe to breath at any concentration".  Great.

Ten of the 100 volatile organic compounds identified qualified under federal rules as toxic or hazardous, and three of those -- 1,4-dioxane, acetaldehyde and chloromethane -- are "hazardous air pollutants" considered unsafe to breathe at any concentration, according to the study.

The labels gave no indication that the irritating and potentially dangerous chemicals were present, so Steinemann checked the product's Material Safety Data Sheets. These technical documents provide ingredient information for the safety of workers and emergency responders. They, too, disclosed little detail, mostly citing ingredients such as "essential oils" and "organic perfume."

"It's a reasonable expectation to think that laundry products and air fresheners would be free of chemicals that can cause cancer," said Erika Schreder, a staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition.

 I entirely agree.