Which contributes more to Smog?

Vehicle emissions or household products. The answer will surprise you.

Last summer was an unforgettable summer of fires and lingering smoke in the Pacific Northwest.  Having grown up here I can say that weeks of clouds and falling ashes as a result of wildfires is not a normal occurrence. The one exception being the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s in 1980. That’s a different story – and no, I don’t remember it.

On beautiful mornings like this morning, however, I have started noticing a lingering smog through the trees toward the horizon. And since it’s not fire season, I have to wonder if my emerald studded city is going to one day have the air quality that I’ve always associated with Southern California.

Mossy Path or a stinky street

The air on my morning walk today was crisp, cool and full of oxygen.  How do I know? I could practically see oxygen being made in the morning sun.  The sun was out (after countless days of heavy rain) and illuminating the moss that carpets the yet to leaf out trees, rocks and trail. You name it, moss was everywhere on my forest walk.  Some say that moss was so prolific and oxygen savvy that it fueled the growth of original life on this planet. Oxygen is a pretty important ingredient.

It makes sense then that my daily walks have recently had a change of course.

I used to walk along the road that follows the small lake near my house. I love the energy near large bodies of water and the bald eagles that live near there. But I didn’t ever love the vehicular emissions from cars that passed by nor the strong smell of perfume that permeates the roadway for about 20 meters at the end of my lake-route walk.

I usually held my breath as I walked past those houses where the perfume smell is the strongest, but I was never sure where the smell was coming from. And at the end of my brisk walk, holding my breath was not an easy thing to do.

Unfortunately, this stretch of road is not the only place Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are seeping out of. Have you ever noticed the smell of someones home scent from their garage? How about when you pass someone’s parked car and you can smell their scent seeping out through the cracks? Stores and airlines are also getting in on this aroma action – they use scent, which translates to VOCs, to influence behavior, from buying choices to calming.

I think the most noticeable VOC’s of all are literally on just about everyone.

Put there by their laundry products.  Isn’t that interesting, laundry products are supposed to clean our clothes, but in truth they actually deposit compounds that stick to our clothing and get breathed in by every one who comes near.  Since this isn’t a post about how dangerous our laundry products are, I’ll stop there.

This IS a post about how we can change the world we live in. Simply. Together.  And I’m here to tell you that the choices we make in our homes can absolutely affect Air Quality – not just indoors, but outdoors too.

The CDC says that chemicals and VOCs off-gassing from indoor products can affect indoor air quality even when ventilation systems are properly designed and maintained. Products that can contribute to this problem include  (1) :

  • Caulks, sealants, and coatings
  • Adhesives
  • Paints, varnishes and/or stains
  • Wall coverings
  • Cleaning agents
  • Fuels and combustion products
  • Carpeting
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Fabric materials & furnishings
  • Air fresheners and other scented products
  • Personal products  like perfume, shampoos, etc.

I’ve bolded the products that LightenUp addresses.  Some of the others on the list tend not to be an air quality problem once they’ve cured (which doesn’t necessarily make them safe). But furnishings and carpeting can absolutely contribute to poor air quality long after they’ve been installed.

The CDC takes indoor air pollution serious enough to provide an indoor air quality map for the United States. And since we spend a lot of time breathing the air in our homes, the effect of indoor air quality on health matters to even the least health conscious. 

But do these things really affect outdoor air quality and contribute to smog?

That’s a worthy question.

The Atlantic reports, “In a new study, published this month in the journal Sciencea team of researchers including [Jessica] Gilman propose an answer. They find that a wide range of household goods—such as paints, printing inks, cleaning products, fragrances, nail polishes, and hair sprays—now emit about as many VOCs as cars do in U.S. cities.” (2)

The article in The Atlantic continues:

“That has potential implications for public health—and for how the government protects it. As air pollutants go, VOCs are kind of the ack of all trades. While some of them are toxic, causing irritation and headaches and nausea by themselves, even nontoxic VOCs can be unhealthy. When exposed to another type of air pollution, VOCs produce ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks. And when VOCs are exposed to sunlight, they produce particulate matter, which is linked to heart attacks and premature death.

The list of products that produce VOCs is staggeringly long. “The type of products are pretty much everything you would think of if you look under the kitchen sink, on the shelf in your garage, or in your bathroom,” says Gilman. “They’re soaps, shampoos, lotions, cleaning products, as well as degreasers, adhesives, ink, house paints.”

“You don’t have to use a lot of consumer products to emit a significant fraction of these VOCs,” he adds.“What this means is that the person in the car—and all the products they use in the morning—is now as big a source of VOCs as what comes out of the tailpipe as they drive to work.”

It can’t be stated much more clearly than that, so I’ll say it again.

“What this means is that the person in the car—and all the products they use in the morning—is now as big a source of VOCs as what comes out of the tailpipe as they drive to work.”

Don’t wait to make a difference until you can afford to buy that hybrid vehicle. Don’t stop at riding the bus to work.  Simply take the time now to reduce emissions that are seeping from your home’s doorways, windows and vents. (And your skin and clothing too!)

According to Atticus, my neighbor’s bulldog who meets us at the school bus stop every morning, the main VOC coming from my household is the Essence of Bacon. Between bacon and moss, I like to think that my family is breathing deliciously easy despite what may be settling on the horizon.

I tend to love the fact that becoming the change I want to see in the world is immediately doable at home, in my own life.  I don’t have to wait for someone else to “get it” or to act on the collective’s behalf. 

I hope that you’ll add your effort to what is going on in my home.  When it comes to VOCs, your choices have an immediate impact not only on yourself and your family but on the people around you.

Do you find the thought of replacing your household products overwhelming or at least the prospect of it to be time consuming? It doesn’t have to be.  Schedule a consultation with me to see how simple it can be to make these changes without spending a lot of extra money.


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