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Indoor Air Quality

7. What household chemicals and products can pollute indoor air?

    The SCHER opinion states:

    3.3.2. Concerns in relation to household-chemicals and other products (e.g. decorating materials, cleaners, furnishing, etc.)

    Household-chemicals are a large, heterogeneous group containing e.g. cleaners, furnishings, air fresheners, products for laundering, glues, paints, paint strippers, personal care products etc. The products are used mostly as liquids but some are aerosols. Candles and some air fresheners (incense) are burned. These products may emit volatile and semivolatile compounds or release inhalable aerosols and particles. Consumer products, their use and the ensuing emission concentrations in indoor areas may differ much in households across EU.

    Compounds emitting from consumer products have been identified mainly in chamber studies but there are little data on their contribution to indoor air pollution. Very little is known about true exposure (in relevant use context) to components of consumer products in indoor air, in quantitative terms. Without such knowledge their health risk(s) can not be properly assessed. At least the range of resulting concentrations in indoor air in typical use situations is needed, as well as validated exposure models. The data is gradually emerging (Singer et al., 2006).

    The Danish EPA has investigated the emissions of chemicals from a large number of different consumer product categories and effect on the indoor climate of these emissions has been estimated (Jensen and Knudsen, 2006). Concentrations are predicted using models and assumptions of different products being present in three different model rooms (children’s room, kitchen/family room and utility room/hall). The assessment was focussed on eight VOCS (formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, phenol, benzene, toluene, xylenes, styrene and limonene) and three groups of SVOCs (phthalates, brominated flame retardants and perfluoroalkylated compounds). Of the 45 different product categories examined in the project, 33 were found to emit the selected VOCs; the exposure for the SVOCs was mainly estimated from levels in house dust. The highest concentrations were predicted in the children’s room, and “typical” levels were in most cases acceptable, while worst case exposures for some of the compounds exceeded accepted limits. The worst emitters of the investigated consumer products were incense (benzene and styrene); spray paint, printed matter and electronic equipment (toluene and xylenes). It is mentioned in the report that also other sources, e.g. building materials, contribute to the total exposure but could not be taken into account, and that no assessment was done for combined exposures from several stressors.

    VOCs from consumer products may contribute on average to 10-20 % of total VOCs in different indoor environments, roughly to a similar fraction as transport from outdoors (Edwards et al., 2001, Serrano-Trespalacios et al., 2004), depending on the quality of the outdoor air. Air fresheners, general purpose cleaners and floor care products have been estimated to be the major sources of VOC emissions among house-hold products e.g. in California, USA (Nazaroff and Weschler, 2004). The hazards of selected categories of cleaning agents used in Denmark have been investigated (Wolkoff et al., 1998). In some studies professional domestic cleaning has been associated with asthma (Medina-Ramón et al., 2003) or its symptoms (Medina-Ramón et al., 2007). There are a limited number of epidemiological studies where associations of adverse health effects with consumer products have been evaluated (e.g. Farrow et al., 2003, Caress and Steinemann, 2003, Scheriff et al., 2005). In most studies the use of consumer products is one qualitative exposure category. Although some associations have been observed, the exact causal relationship remains unclear because the observed effects are associated concomitantly with a number of other factors being able to contribute as well. The heavy use of air fresheners may indicate indoor environment and/or type of living which contain several other risk factors. Therefore, due caution is needed at present in the interpretation of the results. This strengthens the need for a more integrated approach that includes determinants of exposure of different types.

    Certain use conditions of consumer products (e.g. facilities in hobbies) also need more attention. Handling of products containing highly volatile components (e.g. organic solvents) in poorly ventilated spaces may result in high VOCs concentrations in air. The research needs related to household-chemicals have been included to Answer to Question 2.

    Source & ©: SCHER,  Opinion on risk assessment on indoor air quality (2007),
    3.3.2. Concerns in relation to household-chemicals and other products
    (e.g. decorating materials, cleaners, furnishing, etc.), p.19-20

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