The term ‘volatile organic compound’ (VOC) refers to the various carbon-based chemicals that can readily evaporate at room temperature, usually but not always accompanied by a strong smell. It’s commonly called “off-gassing” in the construction industry and it comes with a negative connotation, due to the dangerous chemicals released over time from fresh paints, adhesives and even building materials.
In industry, the cost of doing business is high for polluters and they are required to use enormous amounts of energy and resources to manage their emissions. Smoke stacks can employ burners or the same kind of catalytic converters found in your car’s exhaust to reduce and oxidize VOC emissions into the more simple carbon dioxide. Cleaner factories and cars are all well and good, but why are we still subjecting ourselves to air pollution inside our homes?
You might hope to find that the “clean smelling” household detergents and disinfectants are actually safe, but they too come with a host of adverse health risks if not used in a well ventilated area. Over the years, chemical manufacturers have done a remarkable job of conditioning us to expect a bit of irritation and wooziness that comes with cleaning a home, rather than formulating safer products with lower VOC emissions.
Canadians spend hundreds of dollars a year on cleaning supplies that make them less healthy and our regulations lack behind Europe and other parts of the world, despite us spending the most time indoors due to our long winters. For example, German AGÖF institute says healthy homes should have no more than 1,000 ug/m3 of VOCs in the air. Using this metric as a starting point, Environmental Defence conducted a study on Canadian homes and found that many of them were teetering over the limit even before cleaning with chemicals. Using conventional non-green products, their VOC levels skyrocketed well beyond safe limits.
Canadian practices seem to reflect our neighbours to the south, and that can be a serious problem. We are both woefully behind the times when it comes to federal regulations. Nowhere is that more evident than with the disturbing twist that came when the US had to procure trailers for people displaced by hurricanes. The foreign manufacturer took advantage of there not being any regulations for VOCs, and sold products that wouldn’t have even passed inspection in their own country. The materials the trailers were constructed from were off-gassing the carcinogen formaldehyde, and it’s something that could just as easily happen to Canadians. We simply don’t scrutinize chemicals in products that aren’t meant to be ingested or applied directly to our skin.
One thing we can do as consumers is to turn our noses up at products that aren’t certified with Greenguard or Green Seal, or better yet, avoid using off-the-shelf products altogether and stick to homemade solutions with vinegar or baking soda. Vapour Clean takes this philosophy to heart, and to ensure air-quality standards, we use demineralized water vapour that is cleaner than the air itself. You can breathe easy, knowing substances that are safe enough to drink are being used to clean your home.