Indoor Air Quality: Creating Safe, Healthy Environments

By Nussbaumer, Linda L. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 2006 | Go to article overview
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Indoor Air Quality: Creating Safe, Healthy Environments


Nussbaumer, Linda L., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


To create healthy environments, designers and consumers should become knowledgeable about multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). MCS is a condition in which a person reports sensitivity to various chemicals and other irritants at very low concentration levels. Individuals have become ill from chemicals emitted from materials within interior spaces, and some used in building construction, interior finishes, and furnishings. Products for installations may contain chemicals that trigger MCS. Therefore, to prevent or lessen MCS, designers should specify safe, healthy materials, and family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals can provide education for consumers in purchasing materials for healthy environments.

For 60 years, people have been experiencing health problems and becoming ill from poor indoor air quality (IAQ) (Randolph, 1945, 1947). This illness is commonly known as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a condition in which an individual becomes sensitive to numerous chemicals and other irritants at very low concentration levels (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2003). People with MCS experience various symptoms caused by chemicals in their environments.

Though many designers (architects and interior designers) create safe, healthy environments for clients, due to lack of education, not all specify products and materials that promote good IAQ (Haberle, 2003). This is a concern because furnishings such as carpet and synthetic textiles specified for interior environments may contain chemicals that emit toxic fumes into the interior. These toxins may affect IAQ and thus people with MCS (American Institute of Architects Colorado, 1997; Anderson, 1997; Riggs, 2003; Williams, 2001).

FCS professionals educate consumers on products and materials for homes. However, they may not be educating consumers on the purchase of materials that promote a safe, healthy environment and prevent indoor air pollution. Both designers and FCS professionals should become familiar with the causes and symptoms of MCS to avoid triggers and decrease exposures to toxic chemicals. A safe and healthy environment with good IAQ improves quality of life for families.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

MCS describes numerous symptoms related to environmental factors (Barrett & Gots, 1998). Symptoms of MCS may be triggered by exposure to one or more chemicals (Gist, 1999; Thivierge, 1999). One group of chemicals that triggers symptoms is volatile organic compounds (VOC), which vaporize or become a gas at room temperature (EPA, 2003). VOCs may be either natural or synthetic organic compounds (Godish, 2001) and include formaldehyde, pesticides, solvents, and cleaning agents (EPA, 1994; Wittenberg, 1996).

VOCs are found in products such as adhesives, sealants, solvents, and lubricants used in the construction and installation process; in some pressed wood products used in cabinetry or furniture; and in products for housekeeping and maintenance (EPA, 1995; Wasley, 2000; Wittenberg, 1996). Formaldehyde-based resins are found in home construction materials (e.g., particleboard, fiberboard, paneling, plywood) and formaldehyde can be found in finishes on permanent press fabrics (clothing, draperies, mattress ticking) (EPA, 1994). Pesticides may exist in building construction materials (EPA, 1994; Wasley, 2000), and asbestos-containing insulation is still found in some buildings.

Other irritating chemicals are available in synthetic textiles, tobacco smoke, petroleum products, food additives and preservatives, food sweeteners, medicines such as aspirin and synthetic vitamins (Meggs, 1999; Miller, 1994), personal care, crafts, and hobby products. Pollutants also may be emitted through mechanical and electrical systems, and allergens and biological contaminants-mold, mildew, and dust-may be trapped in carpet (EPA, 1994; Tremblay, Peng, Kreul-Froseth, & Dunbar, 1999). In addition, radon and outdoor air pollution can affect indoor air quality (EPA, 1995).

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