Hidden Toxins in the Home and Workplace

Many of the products we use everyday are giving off toxins that we then breathe in, or absorb through our skin.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Chances are you are exposed to indoor air pollution in the house where you live or the building where you work.

When was the last time you were exposed to fresh paint, new carpets, a copier or laser printer?

What about cleaning products, nail polish remover or other solvents?

How about a big flat-screen TV, which can give off an odor of slowly cooking plastic?

Let's face it: these things aren't making the air we breathe any cleaner or safer.

Many of the products we use everyday are giving off toxins that we then breathe in, or absorb through our skin.

With 90 percent of time spent indoors, there is a good chance that indoor air pollution impacts your health, for the worse.

In fact, if the building in which you live, work or study in is a sick building, it could very well be making you sick too.

And you probably don't even realize what is making you ill.

Do you experience:

  • Eye or ear irritation?
  • Stuffy nose?
  • Headache?
  • Chest tightness?
  • Impaired memory or concentration?
  • Dizzyness?
  • Nausea?
  • Itching?
  • Skin rash?
  • Shortness of breath?

These are just some of the symptoms of sick building syndrome that I outline in my book Power Healing.

The source of the toxic indoor air is discovered in about a quarter of the cases, but in most cases, no single source of environmental exposure can be identified.

Of course if you or neighbors have a wood stove or fireplace, you can easily smell the source. Learn the results of a fascinating new study on indoor air pollution: Air Filters Cut Heart Risks from Pollution

A survey of 9,000 office workers in Europe found that 50 to 80 percent of them had symptoms typical of sick building syndrome.

In the U.S. it is estimated that up to 25 million workers have building related illness at any given time.

What are the main sources of toxins?

The first category is volatile organic compounds (VOC's).

VOC's are gases that come from:

  • paint
  • adhesives
  • solvents
  • cleaning solutions
  • carpeting
  • building materials
  • copy machines
  • laser printers
  • and many other products

Exposure to VOC's can cause headache, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Samples of air from buildings with sick building syndrome and without have established the connection between VOC's and illness.

And any exposure to tobacco smoke is hazardous to your health. If you or anyone you know smokes, get the help you need to quit.

While the problem of sick building syndrome has gotten more attention recently, it has been a recognized health issue for many years.

In 1998 the groundbreaking book Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes, Second Edition was published, which examined in great detail the vast amount of symptoms and illnesses caused by toxic exposures. This important book was written by Nicholas A. Ashford Ph.D., J.D., Professor of Technology and Policy at MIT and Claudia Miller, M.D., M.S., Professor in Environmental and Occupational Medicine the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

When Ashford and Miller wrote their book, sick building syndrome was commonly called tight building syndrome, which came from the effort to insulate and seal buildings for energy conservation.

Old buildings got tightened with storm windows and sealer, while new buildings went up without any opening windows at all. These steps effectively reduced the amount of fresh air that is brought into buildings.

The authors conclude: "Increased sources of indoor air pollution, coupled with decreased fresh make-up air, have transformed the indoor environment." (Chemical Exposures, page 17)

Groups with Chemical Exposure Sensitivity.

Tighter buildings, along with the rise in synthetic chemicals and consumer products, has led to people having trouble with low levels of exposure, according to Ashford and Miller, who observe that the types of people affected are remarkably diverse:

1.Industrial Workers
2.Office workers, school children and others who occupy "Tight Buildings"
3.People living where air or water are contaminated by chemicals
4.People with exposure to chemicals in pesticides, indoor air, consumer products, and drugs. (Chemical Exposures, page 3)

From hard-hat wearing industrial workers, to school children, and from office workers to farmers exposed to pesticides, these groups seem to have little in common.

Yet people from each of these groups have been identified as having trouble handling chemical exposures after experiencing such exposures in the past.

Mold and Asthma.

Mold is an all-too-familiar indoor air pollution problem for many people. While it is no surprise that mold overgrowth is common in damp places such as basements, mold can also grow in unlikely spots, such as the air ducts in office buildings.

Researchers from the School of Medicine at Cardiff University in Wales studied the connection between indoor mold and asthma symptoms. In a study funded by Asthma UK, they discovered that symptoms of asthma improved when indoor areas were cleaned to remove mold, and ventilation was improved by the use of fans.

Dr. Michael Burr, of the School of Medicine, explained: "In the houses where mold was removed, the symptoms of asthma improved and the use of inhalers decreased ... Removing mold also led to improvements in other symptoms: sneezing, runny or blocked noses, and itchy-watery eyes."

Break the Mold.

The U.S. EPA provides the following for controlling mold:

The key to mold control is moisture control. It is important to dry water damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture. Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water. Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles & carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.

Ideas for Limiting Exposure.

Here are a few quick ideas for reducing exposures from common sources of indoor air pollution.

For your home or office, look for non-VOC paint. Stick with white, because adding a color can add VOC's.

Laser Printers and Laser Copy Machines
Use an inkjet printer or copier instead. There should be no odor when using these types of machines.

Household Cleaning Products
Use all natural and non-toxic cleaning products. I use baking soda and water for most cleaning, and vinegar diluted with water for windows, mirrors and glass.

New Clothing
Wash new clothes well before wearing, to soak out some of the dyes and bleach used in manufacturing. Avoid scented laundry detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheet products; these increase your exposure to chemicals. Get unscented laundry detergent instead.

Stale Indoor Air
With airtight buildings and homes, toxins can build up. Get outside for some fresh air from time to time.

And don't forget about keeping your pets safe from hazards in the home: Are Pills Poisoning Your Pet?

Now I'd like to hear from you...

Do you suffer from any indoor air pollution?

What symptoms do you experience?

How do you deal with the problem?

Please let us know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Best Health,

Leo Galland, M.D.

Important: Clear the Air with your friends and family by forwarding this article to them, and sharing on Facebook.

Leo Galland, M.D. is a board-certified internist, author and internationally recognized leader in integrated medicine. Dr. Galland is the founder of Pill Advised, a web application for learning about medications, supplements and food. Sign up for FREE to discover how your medications and vitamins interact. Watch his videos on YouTube and join the Pill Advised Facebook page.

References and Further Reading:

Power Healing: Use the New Integrated Medicine to Cure Yourself. Leo Galland, 384 pages, Random House, (June 1, 1998)

Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes, Second Edition, Nicholas A. Ashford, Claudia S. Miller, 464 pages, Wiley-Interscience; 2 edition (January 8, 1998)

Burr ML, Matthews IP, Arthur RA, Watson HL, Gregory CJ, Dunstan FD, Palmer SR, Department of Epidemiology, Statistics and Public Health, Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4YS, UK

The study was funded by the charity Asthma UK, the Medical Research Council, and the Wales Office of Research and Development.

This information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine or the provision of health care diagnosis or treatment, (iii) or the creation of a physician -- patient relationship. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your doctor promptly.

Popular in the Community