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VOC's


Posted by KevvyG on Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Last week we saw a flurry of articles written about the release of a study in the British Journal of Dermatology. The reason for publicity is that part of the research takes aim at an activity that pregnant women commonly engage in and its potential link to the development of asthma in the unborn child. I'm not talking about cravings, though that IS always a fun and revealing topic to delve into. At this point, my title gives it all away - swimming. So before we figuratively (and literally) jump overboard, let's take a look at this theory.

First, this was a difficult article to find. Despite so many news articles written about it, there was literally only one article that actually cited the original abstract. Typical of research pieces, the title was not something that made the association between it and the content evident to a layperson. Posted below, the research piece starts by mentioning the "hygiene theory". This is the theory that the rise in allergic disease in western societies is at least in part due to children not being exposed to a variety of microorganisms during key developmental periods. More simply put, the theory suggests that we're too clean. The proliferation of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers, the focus on everything in the home and office being clean, the Pregnancy, the Hygiene Hypothesis and Swimmingprolific use of antibiotics, and the reduction in the amount of time that children spend outdoors, exposed to germs and allergens, creates an environment where a developing immune system isn't properly trained. Subsequently, the immune system falsely recognizes allergens, microbes and other environmental elements as "bad actors" and when exposed to them, triggers an immune response to promptly boot them off stage.

This is only a theory and some of the most recent research has punched some holes into it. The current piece though expands on the hygiene theory and suggests that exposure to certain chemicals may play a role in the development of allergic disease. In this particular instance, researchers are focused on airborne chemicals. They have found that five specific maternal occupations are characterized by "high or persistent exposure to airborne chemicals." Additionally, they suggest that sustained exposure to chlorinated chemicals from swimming pools may also be related to the development of allergic disease.

VOCs, including chlorinated compounds like chloramines, have long been studied and show links to a variety of health problems. This study though, has caused a stir because of the mention of chlorine and swimming. Swimming is an often recommended activity for mothers to be since it is a great way to maintain a healthy weight, and unlike many other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming allows for better overall support of the body. The British National Health Service recommends swimming for pregnant women, and the U.S. National Institute of Health has sponsored studies that show swimming has no "adverse reproductive outcomes". Swimming in Lake MichiganHowever, the study we're currently focused on is one that looks less at swimming as an activity and more at the exposure to chemicals.

In not only the occupations highlighted but also swimming in chlorinated pools, researchers have suggested there is a association between VOCs and chlorine vapor and the development of atopic disease like asthma. So with that being said, are there alternatives to chlorinated swimming pools? While you can certainly wear a asthma mask to reduce exposure to pollutants (like the Honeycomb Carbon mask I recently picked up for a friend who is pregnant with her first child), a mask isn't really an ideal device to swim with.

A coworker of mine suggested saline or "salt water" pools. Personally, I've never swum or even heard of such a thing, but after some research as well as a call to a local apartment complex that has a saline pool and another to a retailer of such pools, I found one thing that appears to be true. Saline pools aren't as free of chlorine vapor as you might think. While they do use less chlorine, they still do use chlorine to sanitize the pools. They rely upon an advanced filtration system that uses the salt in the water to produce chlorine. And like traditional swimming pools, they do require a good deal of maintenance to ensure proper pH balance and chlorine levels are maintained to keep the water sanitary.

So what about the ocean, nature's original "salt water pool"? Love it. The ocean is great! Unfortunately, not all pregnant women have easy access to the ocean, not to mention some times of the year are simply too cold to go for a super brisk swim (all while pregnant nonetheless). Lakes and rivers might also be excellent alternatives, but Best Place to Swim?  Yup!again, access to these bodies of water may be limiting, as could be the weather. Still, in coastal areas or in places where weather permits, all three of these would be good alternatives to chlorinated swimming pools.

This study isn't definitive, and like other theories, a great deal of further research is needed to more clearly define the association, its consequences and suitable alternatives. I'm not suggesting you completely jump ship and avoid chlorinated swimming pools (bad pun #2). I generally do simply because I grew up swimming in lakes, rivers and "cricks" (what, up home, we define as bigger than a stream but smaller than a creek). Chlorinated pools are ubiquitous, particularly here in the U.S., and access to them is often free and convenient, but if this potential does give you cause for concern, consult with your obstetrician to find suitable exercise alternatives, or at a minimum, cut back on the frequency of swimming in them while pregnant.

Perhaps this all gives new meaning to one of my grandmother's favorite sayings, "Why don't you go jump in a lake?!" Thanks Grandma!

The original abstract of this research piece.

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, February 25, 2013
While I generally shun most of same things men in my family have long considered habits of the opposite sex, there is one thing in particular where I break that mold. I have two furry caterpillars that are constantly on a slow march towards each other - my eyebrows. No amount of pulling seems to deter them, and while I admire her work, there can and should only be one person that people think of when they hear "unibrow" - Frida Kahlo. So one of this weekends tasks was to find a place to have them waxed into submission. Going from the suggestion of my roommate, I went to a nail salon just a short drive from the house.

I don't have much experience to work from, but the salon seemed trendy, clean, a lot of white and modern furniture. Another thing that did not escape my attention was the smell. The minute I opened the door it was like being slapped in the face with a bottle of nail polish. After talking to front desk, I sat down in an overstuffed chair, and noted that I was the only male there. (I suppose that was to be expected though.)

As the minutes ticked by, I looked over the large room. It had high ceilings, similar to what you would see in renovated industrial spaces. While I did spot one employee wearing a surgical mask, I couldn't help but wonder why. They offer absolutely no protection against the fumes and at best really only block escaping saliva as she spoke. Aside from that single mask, there was nothing that I could see, that was filtering the air in their. And with no open windows or doors, I could see how even this large space could hold such an overpowering smell.

Nail Salons and Toxic VaporsNail polish has a long history of being laden with toxic chemicals, and even though laws limit or ban the amounts of things like toulene, DBP and formaldehyde (toxic trio of nail polish) that can be found in polish, many products labeled a "toulene-free" or "three-free" still contain these substances. These types of chemicals can have far reaching health consequences, as some are carcinogens and others are linked to everything from respiratory and skin irritation to developmental and reproductive problems .

I am guessing that this type of thick, heavy polish odor is fairly common since the other patrons and employees seemed completely unfazed. Since I was already feeling out of place, the overpowering smell did little to make me want to continue to wait. After another ten minutes passed, and I was still quietly waiting, I had decided my fuzzy caterpillars were going to live to see another day. I said goodbye to the folks at the front desk and "hello" to my tweezers.

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, May 24, 2012
With Technical Bulletin 117 in 1975, California became the first state to pass legislation that required flame retardants to be a part of the sofas. From there, the law spread to encompass nearly all home furnishings that included foam, like mattresses, love seats, chair, and even tents. The provision outlines that home furnishing and items such as these must be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds. As the years have passed and research has shed light on the chemical flame retardants used and their impact on health, what once seemed like a universal positive now casts a different shadow.

Multiple times bills have been drafted in the California legislature - each seeking to repeal the 1975 provision. Each time the bill has failed, arguably due to heavy lobbying efforts by the chemical industry. But why has California changed course? Why is there now a push to remove the flame retardants that were once thought to protect against house fires? To answer these questions, we need to look back at the original law, why it came about and what research since that time has shown us.

Consumer safety is at the heart of fire retardant use mandate. Testimony of accounts where home furnishings were accidentally set ablaze was one original driving factor. Yet contrary to this push, the law requires that for most products, only the foam must be fire retardant. So for many home furnishings, the exterior fabric, the logical point where a fire could possibly start often requires no special coatings or treatments, and items like mattresses, require a prescription from a doctor before a mattress without flame retardants can be sold or constructed. And to play devil’s advocate, how many times have you seen a house fire where the mattress or couch was all that remained?

Research into the health effects of the chemical flame retardants used has shown that exposure to many of the chemicals used have serious health consequences, including birth defects and increased rates of cancer. Chlorinated flame retardants are common, and substances that were originally grandfathered in, like many brominated fire retardants, have since been scrapped but testing of replacement chemicals and their long term health effects is slow in coming.

Statistics show that there has been a reduction in the number of fires that have started in homes, but physicians groups and others point to an overall decrease in smoking, the use of fire-safe cigarettes (FSC) and increased use of sprinklers and smoke detectors as the cause - not chemical flame retardants. To this point, one could still argue, as many politicians and lobbyists do, that the research behind the decrease the number of fires isn’t conclusive on this point.

For those who suffer from MCS or sick-building syndrome, the nearly 2 pounds of chemical flame retardants that can be found in modern home furnishings can be a continual source of aggravation and recurring reactions. As the public becomes more aware of what is in the products we have in our home, you see a push by many industries to lower the chemical content - take VOC's in paint as a recent example.

The latest iteration of the bill to provide choice when it comes to home furnishings with flame retardants has the support of doctors, firefighters and consumer safety advocates. Because California represents the fifth largest economy in the world, a change in the California law would likely cause a change in production of home furnishings across the Canada and the US. As of now, there is no choice, but should a repeal or amendment pass, which would you choose?

Author:

Tags: MCS, VOC's
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