In this post, we will discuss the importance of natural materials in public spaces -- from hospitals and medical centers to elementary schools and college classrooms. We are excited to introduce new Living Deep vendor Teknoflor -- an ethical flooring company offering home and public space design for houses, hotels, hospitals and more. They provide everything from chlorine-free flooring solutions for medical centers to environmentally friendly, antifungal and antibacterial vinyl for home interiors. Learn more about Teknoflor and the importance of using natural building materials for VOC-free homes and organic finishes for VOC-free public spaces below. Stay with us until the end of this post for five steps to creating a healthy, non toxic, low VOC, chemical free house.
Why Volatile Organic Compounds Matter in Private and Public Spaces
Pollution in general -- both indoors and outdoors -- contributes to the death of millions worldwide each year. In her 2019 article “The global distribution of air pollution” for The World Bank, Wendy Ven-dee Huang explains the intensity and growing severity of this issue. She writes that “according to the State of Global Air 2019 report, air pollution was the 5th highest mortality risk factor in 2017 globally.” Referencing guidelines from the WHO, Huang writes that “more than 90 percent of the world population was exposed to unhealthy air” when their study was conducted five years ago.
Government agencies and health advocates have long established consistent access to clean, healthy air as a basic human right, yet indoor air quality is often ignored. In their brief “Clean air – a basic human right,” the WHO notes that “all people have a fundamental right to breathe clean air.” Though the brief focuses on creating “completely smoke-free indoor environments,” eliminating all harmful VOCs from indoor spaces must be a priority for communities worldwide in order to protect human life. As a contributor to indoor air pollution, volatile organic compounds pose an enormous public health risk around the globe. Damage to the human body can be acute or permanent -- sometimes resulting in disease and/or death. The American Lung Association notes that “breathing VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, can cause difficulty breathing and nausea, and can damage the central nervous system as well as other organs.”
What Are VOCs and Where Are They Found in Indoor Spaces?
For those unfamiliar with VOCs, we explained the pollutants in our recent Living Deep post “Fast Furniture Continues to Drown Our Planet in Trash.” In the article, we define volatile organic compounds as those that -- when triggered -- can easily transition from solid to gaseous states at room temperature. When VOCs transition from their solid state, they off-gas and contact human skin, eyes and other organs. Effects of VOC off-gassing “range from mild skin reactions to cognitive issues and caners in extreme cases after prolonged or intensive exposure.” Though VOCs are found outdoors, they are more common in high concentrations indoors because they are trapped by air-tight walls and are emitted consistently by permanent fixtures like furniture and building materials. The EPA notes in their brief “Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality” that “concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors [and that] VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.”
According to the American Lung Association’s resource “Volatile Organic Compounds,” some VOCs are harmful by themselves, including some that cause cancer…[but] others can react with other gases and form other air pollutants after they are in the air.” Common sources of VOCs found in indoor spaces -- particularly within homes -- include building materials like non water-based paint, oil based "paint strippers, varnishes and finishes, foam caulks and sealants, spray adhesives, flooring, carpet [and] pressed wood products.” Others include home and personal care products like “cleaners and disinfectants, furniture, pesticides, air fresheners, cosmetics and deodorants, fuel oil and gasoline.” While solid wood rarely emits toxic chemicals, plastic windows elements, exterior siding and floor materials can off-gas. Certain activities may also emit VOCs like formaldehyde and benzene, such as smoking, cooking and using printers or copiers. In recent years, scientists, designers and homeowners alike have sought non toxic ways to limit the concentration of VOCs and create a chemical free house from room to room for all residents.
Are VOCs Really that Common Indoors?
In Public Schools
In their study “Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in Conventional and High Performance School Buildings in the U.S.,” Lexuan Zhong, Feng-Chiao Su and Stuart Batterman examined the frequency and intensity of VOC emissions in schools around the country. The three researchers note that VOC concentration has lessened in many public spaces over the last few decades as more people have taken community health more seriously and acknowledged the science behind it. However, though the study found that overall “VOC concentrations were mostly low and measured concentrations in this study...opportunities remain to improve the IAQ.”
Of the ninety-four target chemicals in this study, twenty-four were frequently found indoors, with “benzene, toluene, xylene, limonene and hexane most common.” When detected inside school buildings, these VOCs were largely emitted by “VOC paints, cleaning products, flooring materials and air fresheners.” When constructing new school buildings and retrofitting older ones, the researchers recommend finding ways to “limit emissions from building-related sources and products (e.g., building materials, cleaning products, pesticides, fragrances), and increasing ventilation rates.”
In Hospitals and Medical Centers
Nurses, doctors, janitorial staff, administrative staff, visitors and patients are often exposed to VOCs in hospitals, medical offices and surgical centers. A recent study conducted in France by researchers Vincent Bessonneau, Luc Mosqueron, Adèle Berrubé, et. al. aimed to measure, record and analyze the VOC emissions within hospitals of the region. After extensive sampling, the researchers concluded that “although concentrations of all compounds measured were largely below occupational exposure limits, healthcare workers and patients may be exposed to a complex mixture of VOCs.” They noted that “in hospitals, the use of chemical products is the primary source of contamination as a high number of products, including cleaning and disinfectants products, alcohol-based products, pharmaceutical products and antiseptics, anesthetic gases, and laboratory products are used for different activities.”
Evidence Mounts as Breathing Disorders Amongst Hospital Workers Skyrocket
Though the concentration was below regulated levels, cumulative exposure to VOC emissions by hospital staff could be dangerous and affect their health over time. VOC exposure can also harm patients according to Fan Wang, Fei Liu, et. al. in their paper “Effects of immunological and hematological parameter in mice exposed to mixture of volatile organic compounds.” They write that “exposure to some kinds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) leads to immune system disorders” and can delay recovery from illness. A 2014 study entitled “Exposure to volatile organic compounds in healthcare settings” and conducted by researchers Ryan F LeBouf, M Abbas Virji, et. al. studied VOC exposure in hospital environments “where low-level VOCs were present in a high-level VOC background.” The researchers write that the presence of harmful VOCs detected within the study may be related to “the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and/or asthma reported in such occupations as nursing and MEP.” This paper notes that US healthcare workers do indeed “have a disproportionate amount of asthma,” which experts suggest may be related to “exposure to chemical” throughout their environments. Previous studies have found a connection between “WRA and exposure to groups of agents, such as...indoor air pollution, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and bioaerosols.”
With so many of us now working remotely from our living rooms and bedrooms, we are spending more time than ever at home. As such, ensuring our homes are safe, healthful spaces with quality air and low pollution is vital. Unfortunately, VOC emissions are incredibly common throughout home interiors, generated by everything from cooktops and candles to home fragrances and cleaning solutions. Even furniture and finishings -- from couches and armchairs to rugs and curtains -- can contain volatile organic compounds and contribute to indoor air pollution. Recent studies have chronicled common volatile organic compounds found in home interiors and recorded their concentrations. One such study is the 2014 paper “Levels and Sources of Volatile Organic Compounds in Homes of Children with Asthma,” published by Jo-Yu Chin, et. al.
The study recorded VOC levels and chemical detection within the interiors of 126 Detroit homes housing children with asthma. Chin notes in the paper that “most exposure to VOCs occurs indoors, a result of numerous indoor emission sources, low ventilation rates, and the length of time spent indoors. Researchers discovered that “while concentrations in the Detroit homes were lower than levels found in other North American studies, many homes had elevated VOC levels, including compounds that are known health hazards.” At least half of the homes analyzed had detectable concentrations of twenty-six VOCs. Given that these Detroit homes had lower VOC levels than US homes examined in other studies, emissions likely remain high in indoor spaces across the country.
How Teknoflor Helps Limit VOCs through Natural Materials
Introducing Innovative Flooring Brand -- and Living Deep Vendor -- Teknoflor
Teknoflor is a member of the HMTX Industries family -- which is a global new materials flooring company and a leader in LVT manufacturing. HTMX also includes Metroflor -- their residential brand -- and Aspecta -- their high-end global contract brand for architects and designers. Living Deep recently welcomed Teknoflor to our family of vendors, encouraged by their commitment to healthful design across public and private interiors. Teknoflor contributes flooring that is virtually VOC-free, environmentally friendly and incredibly attractive for each of their clients -- whether those clients are healthcare centers or homeowners.
Teknoflor Helps Create Safe, Sustainable Indoor Spaces
Teknoflor’s products are safe, stunning and supportive of human health, making them ideal for both public and private spaces of all kinds. For instance, Teknoflor’s LT Plank Collection -- available through the Living Deep marketplace -- is practically emission free with zero finishes, strippers or waxes. Made with ENOMER and Floorscore Certified, it complies with REACH requirements for Substances of Very High Concern. For those unfamiliar with ENOMER products, the flooring material is a blend of pure polymers and natural minerals that -- according to Upofloor -- “provides excellent performance characteristics, without compromising care for the environment or human beings.” Other products -- like their Teknoflor Nature's Tile and their Teknoflor Naturescapes HPD -- offer alternatives to VOC-heavy vinyl and plastic sheeting. Both are made from “a bio-polyurethane based, chlorine-free pland with natural minerals like chalk and castor oil” that has previously never been used in luxury interior goods.
In their page detailing the company’s commitment to sustainability, Teknoflor notes expresses their pride to “be an industry leader in manufacturing and selling products that promote human health.” Their products also “protect the environment and conserve resources” by sourcing all materials ethically and honoring both nature and technology in their design. Teknoflor is dedicated to “playing a responsible and active role in sustainability and transparency, both in today’s world and for generations to come.” Teknoflor is also committed to transparency, evident in their involvement with The International Future Institute and it’s Living Product Challenge, Mindful Materials, Health Product Declarations and more. This innovative flooring company embodies the ethos of Living Deep founder Jason McLennan, who noted in an interview with Coldspring that “we need engineers, manufacturers, contractors and installers – everyone in the supply chain on board [as] true sustainability requires a transformation of the entire supply chain.”
5 Steps to Creating a VOC-Free Home
#1 Advocate for Chemical-Free Building Materials When Constructing Your House
Whether renovating your home or custom building from the ground up, homeowners should advocate for chemical-free building materials when making changes to their homes. While toxic materials were once the only options for insulation, framing and flooring, today’s builders and designers offer a number of safe materials at reasonable prices. Amanda Sims offers a few VOC-free, low-emissions options in her article “12 Chemical-Free Building Materials to Use When You Reno” for Architectural Digest. To avoid your home developing “sick-building syndrome [from] certain materials,” opt for exterior products like ExtremeGreen Board and insulation like American RockWool. For finishes, Sims recommends homeowners consider non-toxic synthetic paints like those by ECOS. ECOS paints, stains and varnishes are VOC-free and odorless, “uniquely formulated without the harsh chemicals found in conventional stains & varnishes that often cause headaches, nausea, and worse.”
#2 Improve Indoor Air Quality by Increasing Ventilation
Reduce the concentration of VOCs released by cooking, office work and arts and crafts by increasing ventilation in your home. In her article “10 Ways to Create a Non-Toxic Home” for Mindful Family Medicine, Debbie Steinbock HHC notes that “there are many ways to improve the air quality within your home.” On warm, sunny days, Steinbock recommends opening your windows to “allow the air within your home to circulate.” On cooler days, Steinbock suggests homeowners “invest in a good air purifier” like those by Molekule.
#3 Avoid Carpeting in Favor of Wood and Low VOC Flooring
Though soft and warm underfoot, carpeting carries a number of health concerns that other flooring products -- such as those made from natural wood -- do not. In their paper “Do Carpets Impair Indoor Air Quality and Cause Adverse Health Outcomes: A Review” in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Rune Becher and her fellow researchers examined the impact of carpeting on human health. They found that “the use of carpets is linked to increased levels of indoor dusts, allergens, and microorganisms, and associated with increased risk of a number of health outcomes including mild cognitive effects, irritative symptoms, and asthma.” As such -- the researchers note -- “caution should...be exercised when using carpeted floors in homes, schools, kindergartens and offices unless special needs make carpets preferable.” Instead, homeowners should opt for eco-friendly, low emissions flooring like that created by Teknoflor.
#4 Buy Vintage, Antique and Artisan-Made Furniture
Shopping for pre-loved or artisan-made furniture reduces the likelihood of off-gassing. These types of furniture are typically made from higher-quality materials lacking artificial adhesives and synthetic wood products. In her article “What You Need to Know About Off-Gassing” for Architectural Digest, Audrey Gray explains the insidiousness of off-gassing in poorly-made furniture. She quotes the executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council Susan Inglis in her article. Gray writes that “harmful chemicals [in some furniture] are persistent and linked directly to health problems, and we can keep using them forever!” Gray notes that antique and vintage items -- aside from those made of plastics like vinyl -- as well as eco-friendly, responsibly-made furniture are the best choices when it comes to avoiding the effects of VOC off gassing. To this end, “one of the best arguments for incorporating vintage pieces in design...is that they are far safer from an off-gassing perspective.”
#5 Search for Green Certifications When Shopping for Home Goods
Before purchasing furniture, finishings, decor items and other home goods, homeowners would be best served by searching for green certifications on each product. In the My Chemical-Free House article “Making Sense of Green Certifications – GreenGuard, Floorscore and more,” Corinne Segura outlines “the most common certifications for VOC levels and what they really tell us about the offgassing and toxicity of the products.” She suggests homeowners look out for the GreenGuard Gold Certification for cabinets and flooring, the Floorscore Certification for flooring and building materials and the Green Label Plus for carpeting and upholstery.