When your health starts to TILT

Each month we publish a newsletter titled IAQ Website of the Month.  The excerpt below was originally published in the February 2013 newsletter. 

You may know someone with intolerances to seemingly low levels of chemicals.  They may no longer be able to work, go to school or engage in everyday activities like driving or grocery shopping.  Although everyone gets exposed to chemicals such as pesticides, solvents and those associated with new construction and remodeling, only a subset of exposed individuals develop multi-system symptoms.  These symptoms are best described as TILT- “Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance”. There are no biomarkers for these intolerances, as there are for allergic sensitivities (e.g. skin prick test for dust mite allergies).
Continue reading

Yesterday’s Home Health Assessment

Allergy Skin Testing

Yesterday I performed a home health assessment for a woman who was referred to me by her allergist.  The woman had her fair share of allergies: dust mites, ragweed, mold and various plant and grass pollens.  But beyond the typical allergy symptoms, the woman was experiencing tightness in her chest and difficulty breathing.  Lung function tests performed by the doctor indicated that she does not have asthma.  The breathing difficulties go away when the homeowner spends more than a few hours away from the home.

In today’s blog post, I want to describe how I personally go about assessing potential indoor air quality problems like these.

The first step is to Continue reading

Paint Selection for IAQ Nerds

Indoor Air Nerd's wife displaying selection

When the Indoor Air Nerd was faced with selecting a new paint for his family room, he did the only sensible thing… had his wife pick it out!

Fortunately, my wife is an interior designer who is also passionate about indoor air quality (right honey?). We also have two small children that will spending a considerable amount of time in the room. As a frame of reference, our coffee table was replaced with a Thomas the Tank Engine train table!

I gave my wife just a few basic requirements…. (cue wife cringing) Continue reading

Which is better, indoor air or outdoor air?

If you do a quick straw poll on this questions, the results will be mixed. Some point to vehicle exhaust and factories and say the indoor air is better. Others point to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and airborne microorganisms indoors, and say the outdoor air is better.

This morning I was reading the August edition of the journal, Indoor Air. The editorial by William Nazaroff raised this very question about indoor vs. outdoor air.

The answer to this question has wide implications. Continue reading

How long does it take for VOCs to dissipate?

Contrary to what many may believe, it is quite difficult to predict how long it takes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to off-gas from new materials in a specific building.  Sure, you can do chamber studies under controlled conditions to determine emission or concentration decays, but how the material will behave in the real world can be quite different.

On Friday I was hired to perform a follow-up assessment for a home under construction that is experiencing elevated VOCs from varnishes and paints applied almost 7 months ago.  One month ago I was in the home and found some very high levels based on measurements with a photoionization detector (PID).  While PIDs are not as accurate or detailed as other methods of measuring VOCs, they can be used as a good screening tool with immediate feedback. Continue reading

Reducing VOCs

Yesterday I received a call from a homeowner concerned about volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  After using an epoxy resin (and other VOC-laden building materials), the odors in the home were very strong and his wife stared showing signs of sensitivities.  Fast forward a year and now his wife has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (although I prefer the term “toxicant-induced loss of tolerance or TILT).  They are trying to stay away from the home as much as possible, putting them in a very difficult position.

Here is my general advice:

#1. It’s always best to prevent the problem in the first place by using low VOC products.  These used to be very difficult to find, but now they everywhere.  You really have no excuse for using high emitting products.  For the homeowner’s situation, this advice didn’t help because he already installed all the materials and was unwilling to gut the place (I don’t blame him). Continue reading