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What’s That Odor: VOCs and Their Impact on Health

Hello Again,

In the last blog I discussed how to test for and remediate mold and mycotoxins (LINK).  In this blog, I will discuss another issue that can occur alongside mold or be its own separate issue in an indoor environment.  The issue for today is testing and alleviating Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the home.  VOCs are an ever-increasing issue, with more chemicals getting introduced every day.  As seen in this graph (Figure 1), production of chemicals and VOCs have been increasing the last five years and have been for decades.   I will also discuss some of the supplements that practitioners are recommending to help patients that are suffering from chemical sensitivity.

Figure 1: VOC Production Over the Last Five Years

Indoor air quality (IAQ) can have considerable health affects on individual’s health, including allergic symptoms, cardiovascular illness, respiratory illness, cancer, and premature mortality 1.  These types of symptoms include both acute and chronic health effects.  Examples of acute effects include hay fever, nausea, dizziness, headaches, atopic dermatitis, rhinitis, and conjunctivitis2 .  Examples of chronic health effects include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, asthma, muscular and joint pain, and cancer 3-5.  Included with this are individuals who have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or also labeled as idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI).  It is a complex disease that manifests as a result of exposure to various environmental contaminants.  However, the factors that lead to this disorder and what markers to use to diagnosis are still under investigation 6.

The two things that we can do to combat VOCs in the home include testing and treatment.  For testing, we utilize Prism Analytical Technologies (LINK).  We added VOC testing to our menu of items because of the high propensity of patients with mycotoxin exposure to develop MCS.  We test for over 500+ airborne chemicals.  We can sample from multiple rooms to help determine the source of the VOCs.  Prism utilizes state of the art technology for measurement of VOC gases.  These include Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GCMS), Fourier Transform Infra-Red (FTIR) Spectroscopy, and Fluorescent Spectroscopy (FS).   Here are some of the important chemicals to be aware of and their sources (Figure 2).

Figure 2: VOC Sources within your home

  • Ethanol – Cleaners, especially antiseptic wipes, personal care, consumable alcohol, some solvents; renewable gasoline component; pharmaceuticals
  • Isopropanol – Rubbing alcohol; cleaners, especially antiseptic wipes; personal care; solvents; food and beverages; microbial biocides or antimicrobial agents\
  • Butane (C 4) – Aerosol propellant; cooking/camping/lighters fluid; liquefied petroleum gas (LPG); refrigerant; food additive
  • Pentane (C 5) – Aerosol propellant; blowing agent; gasoline fuel component
  • Acetone – Personal care, especially nail care; cleaners; paints and coatings; strippers and thinners; PVC cleaner, caulks and adhesives; wood filler; solvent
  • Isobutane – Gasoline and fuel additive; aerosol propellant; refrigerant; cooking/camping/lighter fluids
  • Cyclohexane – Solvents; glues and adhesives; some paints and coatings, petroleum fuel component
  • a-Pinene – Pine lumber; fragrances and essential oils; solvents; insecticides
  • Limonene – Limonene (CAS 138-86-3) ir d-Limonene (CAS 5989-27-5) Fragrances; paints and coatings; cleaners; solvent; preservative
  • Tetrahydrofuran – Solvent; PVC cement/cleaner, some adhesives
  • Benzene – Gasoline. Less common sources include some discontinued solvents; printing and lithography; paints and coatings; rubber; dry cleaning; adhesives; detergents
  • Toluene – Gasoline; adhesives (building and arts/crafts); contact cement; solvent; heavy duty cleaner
  • Ethylbenzene – Gasoline; paints and coatings; solvent; pesticide
  • m,p-Xylene – Gasoline; paints and coatings; adhesives and cements; solvent; print cartridges
  • o-Xylene – Gasoline; paints and coatings; adhesives and cements; solvent; print cartridges
  • Styrene – Polystyrene foam; synthetic rubber; flavoring agent
  • 1,4-Dichlorobenzene – Moth balls/crystals; room deodorant
  • Naphthalene – Gasoline; diesel; Moth balls/crystals; insecticide

What to do if you have VOCs? 

The next question we need to answer is what to do if you have excess VOCs in your home?  My goals for VOCs is to E.N.D. them.  Which stands for Eliminate, Neutralize, and Dissipate.

Eliminate

Eliminate means to get rid of all the worst offenders of VOCs off gassing in your home.  Is it cleaners, carpet, furniture, beauty products, etc.?  Utilizing our testing and a checklist of the worst offenders of VOCs, we can help clients to minimize their exposure to VOCs.

Neutralize

There are several different dietary and supplement strategies that can be undertaken to help deal with VOC exposure. First, there are two of the most common used: the supplements Liposomal Glutathione and its precursor N-Acetal Cysteine (NAC).  Glutathione conjugates with electrophilic compounds.  Through multiple cellular processes these conjugated compounds are broken down to form mercapturic acids which are released into circulation and delivered to the kidney for excretion in urine 7.  Second, a diet rich in antioxidants, protein, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as the Mediterranean diet, may reduce DNA damage, inflammation, and promote neuronal regrowth 8,9.  Third, foods high in sulforaphane such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage can benefit health in multiple ways.  Foods high in sulforaphane can benefit the sulfation pathway which assists in detoxification.  Also, sulforaphane is a potent ligant for the Nrf2 transcription factor, which regulates expression of antioxidant response element-related genes 10.  In one study, consumption of a beverage high in sulforaphane increased the excretion of carcinogenic air pollutants over a 12-week period 11.

A second method to neutralize toxins in the home is through High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.  These filters capture particles on fibrous materials.  The most efficacious of these include adsorbent media such activated carbon to remove gaseous air pollutants.  These filters are rated on a minimum efficiency reporting value or MERV, which ranges from 1 to 16.  The use of HEPA filtration reduces indoor particle concentrations between 40%-72%12.

Besides diet or HEPA-filters, one other way to neutralize airborne toxins is through plants, more specifically living near and with plants in your home.  Studies have shown that residential proximity to greenness is associated with diminished risk of mortality, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and cancer13. Vegetation has the ability to disperse, filter, and block air pollutants 14.  In one study, levels of VOC urine metabolites were measured in subjects that live in either low wooded or high wooded areas (Figure 3).  Patients that have higher residential greenness exhibited less VOC urinary metabolites (Table 1)15.

Figure 3: Greenery and VOC levels

Table 1: Association between urinary metabolites of VOC’s and residential Greeness

Dissipate

The third key to dealing with VOCs is to dissipate the toxins.  In order to help with this, The Mold Pros has utilized the EZ Breathe system (LINK).  This is a low-cost exhaust/dehumidifier for your home (Figure 4).  It is installed in either the basement or crawl space in your home and pulls out moist air which can contain mold spores, VOCs, pollen, and radon.  Internal studies have shown a 75% reduction in radon levels, 99.5% in mold spores, and a 90% reduction in VOCs.  We install these devices in many of our remediations to help prevent future problems.  Especially in climates that have high humidity, these devices help to remove the humidity and dampness throughout the home.  One additional reason that we appreciate this device is the low maintenance needed to keep it running.  There are no buckets to empty and no filters to change, which makes it easy for the home owners to forget that it is there.

Figure 4: EZ Breathe Air Movement

Conclusion

I hope this helps in understanding why VOC monitoring is important for your health and how we can help you maintain a low VOC environment.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.

Source Material

  1. in WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Selected Pollutants (Geneva, 2010).
  2. Sarigiannis, D.A., Karakitsios, S.P., Gotti, A., Liakos, I.L. & Katsoyiannis, A. Exposure to major volatile organic compounds and carbonyls in European indoor environments and associated health risk. Environ Int 37, 743-65 (2011).
  3. Jordan, R.E., Cheng, K.K., Miller, M.R. & Adab, P. Passive smoking and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: cross-sectional analysis of data from the Health Survey for England. BMJ Open 1, e000153 (2011).
  4. Blanc, P.D. et al. Impact of the home indoor environment on adult asthma and rhinitis. J Occup Environ Med 47, 362-72 (2005).
  5. McCormack, M.C. et al. In-home particle concentrations and childhood asthma morbidity. Environ Health Perspect 117, 294-8 (2009).
  6. De Luca, C., Raskovic, D., Pacifico, V., Thai, J.C. & Korkina, L. The search for reliable biomarkers of disease in multiple chemical sensitivity and other environmental intolerances. Int J Environ Res Public Health 8, 2770-97 (2011).
  7. Hinchman, C.A. & Ballatori, N. Glutathione conjugation and conversion to mercapturic acids can occur as an intrahepatic process. J Toxicol Environ Health 41, 387-409 (1994).
  8. Guilleminault, L. et al. Diet and Asthma: Is It Time to Adapt Our Message? Nutrients 9(2017).
  9. Whyand, T., Hurst, J.R., Beckles, M. & Caplin, M.E. Pollution and respiratory disease: can diet or supplements help? A review. Respir Res 19, 79 (2018).
  10. Dabass, A. et al. Systemic inflammatory markers associated with cardiovascular disease and acute and chronic exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) among US NHANES adults with metabolic syndrome. Environ Res 161, 485-491 (2018).
  11. Egner, P.A. et al. Rapid and sustainable detoxication of airborne pollutants by broccoli sprout beverage: results of a randomized clinical trial in China. Cancer Prev Res (Phila) 7, 813-823 (2014).
  12. Karottki, D.G. et al. An indoor air filtration study in homes of elderly: cardiovascular and respiratory effects of exposure to particulate matter. Environ Health 12, 116 (2013).
  13. James, P., Banay, R.F., Hart, J.E. & Laden, F. A Review of the Health Benefits of Greenness. Curr Epidemiol Rep 2, 131-142 (2015).
  14. Terzaghi, E. et al. Towards more ecologically realistic scenarios of plant uptake modelling for chemicals: PAHs in a small forest. Sci Total Environ 505, 329-37 (2015).
  15. Yeager, R. et al. Association between residential greenness and exposure to volatile organic compounds. Sci Total Environ 707, 135435 (2020).

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