Breath of Fresh Air (unedited)

by Melissa Wittig.

Upholstered furniture such as lounge chairs, plastic coated blinds, bedding such as sheets, pillows, blankets, mattresses, etc, are potential sources of VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions within the home. A common VOC found in indoor air is Formeldehyde. Formeldehyde like other indoor chemical contaminants can enter the body by inhalation of obvious and odorless fumes. In general, indoor air environments have higher concentrations than outdoor air due to the culminating emissions from indoor building materials and consumer products such as soft furnishings and furniture.

“Textiles imported from China may be exposing people to toxic levels of carcinogenic chemicals. Yet the importations are going unchecked because Australia is one of the few developed countries with no mandated upper limit for substances such as formaldehyde.”

“Formeldehyde is used by Chinese manufacturers to soften coarse synthetic fibres for bedding, children’s clothing and plush toys: as anti creasing and anti-shrinking agent, or to improve colour fastness.”

“Its link to cancer including leukaemia and lung cancer has resulted in strict limitations to the chemical use in textiles in dozens of countries.”

Sydney Morning Herald May 21, 2007. Author Kelly Burke Consumer Affairs Reporter.

As documented by the State of knowledge report by Environment Australia, 2001 (ISBN 0 6425 4739 4)

“Exposure to formaldehyde irritates the eyes, nose and throat, and can cause skin and lung allergies. Higher levels can cause throat spasms and a build up of fluid in the lungs, leading to death. Contact can cause severe eye and skin burns, leading to permanent damage. These may appear hours after exposure, even if no pain is felt. Formaldehyde can cause an asthma-like allergy. Future exposures can cause asthma with symptoms of cough and shortness of breath. Formaldehyde is classified by NOHSC (National Occupational Health and Safety Commission) as a category 2 carcinogen (substance that should be regarded as if it is carcinogenic to humans).”

The concern is that we are sleeping and living in homes with many products that have been processed with formaldehyde and offgass toxins.

Another aspect for consideration when buying textile products is that the cultivation of cotton is known for its intense application of chemical pesticides during the growth of cotton crops and during the textile manufacturing process. Most chemicals that are applied during the growth process and the production process are permanently in the fabrics and there is growing evidence that these chemicals are affecting human health eg harmful heavy metals, fire retardants, dyes, etc. Have you ever wondered why clothing has a wash before wear instruction on the tag?

We all have close skin contact with our clothing, bedding and lounge textile products. Our skin is our largest organ, what goes onto the skin will also go through the skin. The cumulative effects of these chemical exposures may express themselves in a number of ways, from poor quality of sleep, allergies or even more serious concerns such as respiratory distress. Long-term exposure to some indoor VOCs is linked to cancer and a number of adverse neurological, reproductive and developmental effects.

Extract taken from The Department of Health & Ageing Report, Indoor Air quality – A Report on Health Impacts & Management Options, June 2000 ISBN: 0 642 44667 9 Author: Queensland Department of Public Works, Built Environment Research Unit, Building Division

Finishes applied to textiles often remain on the fiber surface making them highly susceptible to releasing any latent VOCs present. Textiles are used widely in the indoor environment in floor coverings, curtains and partitioning. Tests indicate that proper curing is essential to minimize emissions (Martin et al., 1998). Preparations used to fix textiles within buildings, such as carpet adhesives, adds to the VOC load within the building.

Formaldehyde is known to be a common problem associated with the use of reconstituted wood products such as chipboard and ply (Brown, 1997). The source of the formaldehyde is related to the adhesives used in the products. Such products are widely used in construction of furniture and flooring in Australian buildings. The matter is controlled, to some degree, by industry self-regulation through the Australian Wood Panel Association. There is however, a quantity of imported product that is not subject to this self-regulation.

If Indoor Air Quality is such a health concern why are consumers not hearing more about it from the Government ?


Extract taken from The Department of Health & Ageing Report, Indoor Air Quality -A Report on Health Impacts & Management Options, June 2000.

Overseas research suggests that direct and indirect health costs are a substantial burden on the community. A strong case can be made that a subset of this burden is caused by the poor quality of some indoor environments. The volume and intensity of Australian research lags behind Europe and the United States. While some of the overseas research can find direct application in Australia, there remains a need for home-grown research, particularly with respect cost/benefit analysis. The opportunity to influence public health, particularly with respect to Indoor Air Quality, will remain limited if health professionals are confined to treating disorders after they arise. Maximum gain in the reduction of disorders caused by Indoor Air Quality will likely be achieved when health professionals are given a presence within the disciplines currently responsible for the creation of poor internal environments. Currently, there remains no systematic approach to Indoor Air Quality in Australia.

For further detailed information refer to the report available online or contact The Department of Health & Ageing publications department on 1800 020 103.

There is so much information available from Government Departments, National and International Departments acknowledging indoor air quality as a major public health concern, acknowledging that VOCs are linked with health conditions, acknowledging that chemicals used to process materials for products we are exposed to daily are toxic and detrimental to human health and the healthy development of our children.

Credible documentation from Authorities does exist that these issues are real, unfortunately it is a buyer beware country. All we can do is try to stay informed and make informed decisions about the things we bring into our homes. Look for low VOC product and ask suppliers about the manufacturing process of items before purchasing. Certified Organic textiles are a good way to ensure that you are receiving chemical free textiles given that an independent body is checking the product process and you are not relying on a sales person to provide you with accurate information.