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Most people how spend most of their time indoors are at risk for negative health effects of indoor air pollution. There are many sources of indoor air pollution, ranging from decaying uranium in the soil beneath the building to secondhand smoke from tobacco products. To anyone who has cleaned a bathroom or painted a wall, it should come as no surprise that household products are another common source of chemical indoor air pollution.
Roughly all household cleaning & refinishing products (paint, varnish, wax, etc.) contain organic solvents. These compounds are released into the air during use and, to some extent, while they are stored. The primary danger from these compounds comes during use, when organic chemical concentrations can soar to very high levels, and persist in the indoor air for some time after work is completed.
Organic chemicals affect your health in a wide-ranging variety of ways, depending on the chemical, your level of exposure, and how long you are exposed. Common immediate effects include irritation of your eyes and respiratory tract, headaches, and dizziness. Long-term effects are not as clear-cut. Organic compounds are known to cause, or are at least suspected of causing, cancer.
When using any product containing organic compounds, be certain to follow the label directions carefully. Most instructions relate to ventilation. If possible, use these products outdoors or under an exhaust fan. It this isn’t possible, then open some windows.
If you are holding on to partial containers of old chemicals or chemicals you no longer need, discard them. But you should not just drop them into the garbage. Most communities have special days or collection methods for toxic household chemicals. When you buy products containing toxic organic compounds, buy only what you need and will use right away.
There are three chemicals normally encountered in homes that warrant special efforts at avoidance: methylene chloride, benzene, and perchloroethylene. Methylene chloride is often present in paint strippers, adhesive removers, and spray paint. Methylene chloride causes cancer in animals. Use these products outdoors or in well ventilated areas.
Benzene is known to cause cancer in humans. It is found in tobacco smoke, paint supplies, and automobile emissions. Ventilate your home as much as possible when painting, discard unused paint supplies or fuels, and eliminate tobacco smoke.
Perchloroethylene is a chemical used in dry cleaning and has been found to cause cancer in animals. Reduce your exposure to this potentially dangerous chemical by being alert to strong chemical odors on your dry-cleaned clothes. If they smell strongly, ask the dry cleaner to properly dry them or find a different dry cleaner.