We Shouldn’t Need a Gas Mask to Use A Computer or Blender!

Ever notice how when you buy a new appliance or electronic device, and take it out of the box, or plug it in, the smell makes you nauseous, dizzy, and gives you a headache? Or worse?

That smell is made up of some really toxic chemical fumes. Benzene, styrene, and toluene, among others… in everyday technology!

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New research from the Exposure, Epidemiology & Risk Program, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, on how the pollutants in indoor environments affect people’s cognitive functioning (people who are still able to work in polluted offices, not the people who are already too disabled to work in polluted offices) discovered that

Green office environments linked with higher cognitive function scores

…”People who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores–in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy–than those who work in offices with typical levels, according to a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University.

“We have been ignoring the 90%. We spend 90% of our time indoors and 90% of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought,” said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and lead author of the study.

“These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.”

Researchers wanted to look at the impact of ventilation, chemicals, and carbon dioxide on workers’ cognitive function because, as buildings have become more energy efficient, they have also become more airtight, increasing the potential for poor indoor environmental quality.

Building-related illnesses and “sick building syndrome” were first reported in the 1980s as ventilation rates decreased. In response, there has been an emphasis on sustainable design–“green” buildings that are energy efficient and are also designed to enhance indoor environmental quality. The researchers designed this study to identify the specific attributes of green building design that influence cognitive function, an objective measure of productivity.

“The major significance of this finding lies in the fact that these are the critical decision making parameters that are linked to optimal and productive functioning. Losing components of these skills impacts how people handle their day to day lives.”

In other words, pollution prevents people from being smart!

appliance gas mask

Here are just some of the harmful emissions from computers:

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What about blenders, juicers, mixers, toaster ovens, lamps, telephones, computers, cameras, washers, dryers, ….  Where are the appliances that are safe to use indoors???

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Emission Study
Poor design practices – Gaseous emissions from complex products


“The experiments reveal that a wide range of volatile chemical compounds were emitted from those 19 products chosen at random. More than one hundred different compounds have been identified.

Some of the detected chemicals are of widespread use, e.g., mixtures of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic alcohols and ketones as solvents and phenols or phthalates as plastic additives while others were found in single products only. Many of the identified compounds are toxic. Moreover, several carcinogens, sensitizers and endocrine disruptors were also detected.

Analytical results of similar products made in different countries vary considerably. This indicates differences in product quality, production conditions and occupational health standards from one country to another.

This also indicates poor product design. The international development towards global sourcing, mainly in connection with economic concepts of lean production in Western countries, ignores environmental and health aspects of products. These products are primarily designed to be cost efficient and to meet some aesthetic requirements.

The indoor concentrations of single substances emitted from some of the products were calculated on the basis of special conditions. Recent scientific research has shown that even very low concentrations of chemical substances, especially due to their synergistic effects, can cause many severe health problems. An increasing number of people are suffering from one or more chronic conditions, including immune disorders like allergic reactions, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and even health effects caused by the disruption of the endocrine system.”

… see the link for more details…

I’ve been looking for info and can’t find any blenders, washers and dryers, etc available in Canada (or the US) that have any level of chemical reduction mandate such as what is required with ROHS, a certification from the EU.

Mandatory emissions regulations are non-existent here. If a company is voluntarily reducing toxics and emissions, it may be impossible to discover or verify.

The North American market seems to be all about cheap and toxic stuff, with very few manufacturers selling safer things here, even if they HAVE to in the EU, because they don’t have to make safe, quality products here!!!

Our current options (if we want access to technology) seems to be poor health and possible disability if one ends up developing MCS/ES from all these pollutants, and/or high electric, (heating, cooling, and ventilation) plus filtration bills.

We are told to ventilate to improve our indoor air quality, but what if that is too expensive, or not enough to prevent adverse health effects? What if the adverse health effects and cognitive declines occur from even small exposures to the toxic fume cocktails emitted from everyday appliances and technology, because so many things are contributing to indoor air pollution now, that even (attempted) 24 hour ventilation (such as an HRV) isn’t enough?

Even if one does have 24/7 ventilation in their home or office, ventilation costs us more money in perpetuity, and doesn’t help much when we live in areas with a lot of outdoor air pollution. Then we’d also need filtration (both HEPA and carbon), which also costs us more money and can still introduce new pollutants depending on the materials used, their effectiveness, and even what they were packaged in, in addition to shipping contamination, if the packaging isn’t sufficient to protect the contents!

Where do we go if we want non-toxic, VOC-free appliances and electronics (among other things) that won’t harm our health? And why are manufacturers allowed to make and sell us appliances and electronics that pollute our air and harm our health?

Someday if my brain isn’t being so cognitively impaired by these kinds of pollutants, I may be able to break the following links down some more. Hopefully there will be more interest here in North America, so that people start demanding safe products and materials, products that are safe right out of the box, and don’t require days, weeks, or months to off-gas the toxic fumes (and some cannot ever be off-gassed)!

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Here are a few links of interest

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Restriction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS) (EU)

Ecolabels, Quality Labels, and VOC emissions (EU)

World market leader in VOC emissions testing (EU)

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Development of Low VOC-Emission Products and Analyses (pdf)

Residential Indoor Air Quality Guidelines (Health Canada)

Low-Emitting Materials Third Party Certification table

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Chemical Emissions Testing for Electronic Equipment (US)

UL Services: GREENGUARD Certification (US)

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A STUDY ON THE VOCS EMISSION RATES OF HOME ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES (pdf)

We all need to be complaining to the manufacturers if we open up boxes and get dizzy, nauseous, or a pounding headache.  When we have to have someone run things somewhere else for a week, month, or a year before we can use them safely, if at all, then something is seriously wrong! They need to hear how unacceptable it is to poison us all for profits while we pay all the costs! Safe technology should be the norm!

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Where Are the VOC-Free Appliances and Electronics?

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5 responses to “We Shouldn’t Need a Gas Mask to Use A Computer or Blender!

  1. I can see two basic things working against us as the consumers, greed on the behalf of the companies that make these products and use the cheaper, recycled, toxic laden refuse of old products to make their new products, and the consumer, whose purchasing power has dwindled year after year until most of us are forced to buy the cheapest products, reinforcing the companies desire to produce more cheap products.

    You make a good point that we, the consumers, need to become a force in the decision making and policies of the companies through our purchasing decisions, but I can also see that this is a hard uphill battle fighting against our growing wage disparity between the haves and the have nothing more than the shirt on my backs.

    I can see a growing need for this to become a political battle, throwing law and science against the apathy of the companies and either legislating them or shaming them into changing their manufacturing practices.

    Maybe we’ll still be here to see change when it finally comes. Personally, I’m not about to give up trying.

    • You raised some excellent points… and about the haves and have nots…

      I have been thinking of this recent article, and how it ties in to why so many of us are chronically ill and dying young… and can’t access what we need to be healthy…

      Think about this:

      When 80 people own 50% of the world’s assets, then the other 7.3 billion people have to share the other 50%…

      That is, 7.3 BILLION people share 1/2 of the pie, while 80 people share the other half…

      but that’s not all…

      “Since the release of the Oxfam report in January, Credit Suisse released a new report validating the concern for the acceleration of global income disparity as the richest ten percent of people now hold 87.7 percent of all wealth.”

      Meaning 90% of the population have to share 12% of the global pie…

      http://usuncut.com/class-war/meet-the-80-billionaires-who-own-as-much-as-half-of-humanity/

  2. Thanks for the article, as I have been feeling alone lately in my frustration with the offgasing on practically all new products. Just bought a new computer in early January, and I still can´t use it without feeling sick within a few minutes. I´ve been running it in another room now for a couple weeks with ventilation to see if the smell disapates but no luck so far. However yesterday I wrote to the company I bought it from in the UK, and to my surprise they seemed sympthatic and suggested I return it so they can investigate the problem, even though my return period of 14 days is over. We shall see. I will check into some of the references you have included – I live in Europe, so I´m interested to hear that VOC emissions are more regulated here than in North America -time for me to investigate. On the other hand, it seems to me that the percentage of people with MCS is much higher in North America than in Europe (I´m Canadian by the way) and I´ve been wondering lately exactly why that is, though I do have a few theories. If you´ve seen any research on that I would love to see it.

    • My “new” (from November) computer has not off-gassed enough for me to use it yet, but I am only able to run it an hour or 2 a week with the windows open and a fan on, as I don’t have air tight room separation, proper ventilation, or filtration here to run it when the windows are not open (and it’s winter).

      That’s great that the company will look into it, hopefully do some chamber testing for VOCs. We really need that to be happening…

      As for more MCS here than there, it seems to me that because the EU is a much smaller space, they learned to protect it, to value history, to not tear everything down and replace it with cheap and toxic materials, and to enact stronger precautionary laws than what has happened here. Of course now the US chemical industry is so big and powerful that they have been sabotaging EU regulations (REACH and recently on EDCs), as well as regarding wireless…

      I haven’t seen prevalence stats for the EU, so don’t really know. There are some groups and orgs there but I haven’t been much in touch as my health hasn’t been up to it.

      The report “Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution” by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), that was released this week, does mention indoor air pollution from products has become a concern, and that some people are more sensitive to pollution than others, so I think more people ARE affected now, but the dots have not been connected.

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