Why Pregnant Women Need to Avoid VOCs
In my book, True Nutrition—European Secrets for American Women, I talk at length about the potential dangers posed by various classes of toxins that lurk in the average American home. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are one such class of common household toxins. VOCs are chemicals, such as styrene or ethylbenzene, that leach into the air from ordinary materials, such as paint, carpeting, bedding, and even new furniture.
While I’ve been sounding the alarm about the potential dangers of these and other chemicals for years, German researchers only recently issued a report which concluded that pregnant women who breathe these chemicals may be contaminating their unborn babies. And that could result in a significantly greater risk that baby will develop serious respiratory problems.
"We therefore do not recommend that laminate, carpet, or floor coverings be laid in the homes of pregnant women,” said Dr. Ulrich Franck, in a press release. “Although the concentrations of these volatile chemicals are lower if no adhesive is used when installing the flooring, even then the concentrations are still high enough to significantly increase the risk of infants suffering from respiratory complaints in their first few months.”
The researchers estimate that following this advice could prevent up to 20,000 cases of wheezing severe enough to require medical treatment. And that’s just in Germany. The risk is evidently even greater for children born to parents who already suffer from asthma, or some other respiratory or allergic illness.
If VOCs in the home have been linked to wheezing and other breathing problems in babies, it’s no stretch to suppose that these chemicals aren’t doing adults any favors, either. Indeed, even a cursory review of the medical literature reveals ample evidence that VOCs may cause respiratory problems for all ages. A French study, for example, showed that elderly people living in homes with higher levels of VOCs were at higher risk for breathlessness.
Bentayeb M, Billionnet C, et al. Higher prevalence of breathlessness in elderly exposed to indoor aldehydes and VOCs in a representative sample of French dwellings. Respir Med. 2013 Oct;107(10):1598-607. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2013.07.015. Epub 2013 Aug 3.
Ulrich Franck, Annegret Weller, Stefan W. Röder, Gunda Herberth, Kristin M. Junge, Tibor Kohajda, Martin von Bergen, Ulrike Rolle-Kampczyk, Ulrike Diez, Michael Borte, Irina Lehmann. Prenatal VOC exposure and redecoration are related to wheezing in early infancy. Environment International, 2014; 73: 393 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2014.08.013