Isn't it fun to get into a brand new car? It smells fresh, looks new, it's clean and untouched by water, kid's snacks, and long road trips. Did you know that those smells are actually Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and they are extremely bad for you and everyone around you? It's kind of funny that we like them so much considering we don't know what they are or whether they are good for us.
What are VOCs?
VOCs, volatile organic compounds, are called "organic" because of the carbon chain they are based upon. VOCs have be linked to some serious health issues. These compounds are nothing to joke about. Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Toluene are some of the most prevalent and dangerous VOCs. VOCs are most often associated with petroleum based products including, but not limited to, paints, sealants, and plastics. Most plastics are made from oil and consist of chains of carbon molecules along with mixed in additives. These additives are used to stabilize the plastic so it doesn't break down in UV or make the plastic more flexible or add some other characteristic not inherent to the polymer.
When absorbed in the body, an endocrine disruptor can decrease or increase normal hormone levels (left), mimic the body's natural hormones (middle), or alter the natural production of hormones (right). https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
Yes, you read that correctly, plastic. The production process causes VOC release levels to spike during the first few months after manufacture (or application in the case of paints and sealants), however release of these compounds continues because plastics are especially susceptible to UV light. The sun breaks down the plastic into VOCs, additives the leach out, and microplastics are formed when little bits break off. You can read about the microplastic problem on wikipedia here. We have yet to find out the full negative impact of microplastics, however we do know that many, if not all, plastics release endocrine disrupting compounds.
Plastic Disrupts People's Hormone Function
The most famous of these endocrine disruptors (also known as hormone disruptors) is BPA. It has been outlawed from baby products due to the conditions it causes, however it is still around in tons of other plastic items. Many plastics release other endocrine disruptors such as phthalates, which is an ingredient used to make plasitcs more flexible.
Even low doses of endocrine-disrupting chemicals may be unsafe. The body’s normal endocrine functioning involves very small changes in hormone levels, yet we know even these small changes can cause significant developmental and biological effects. - National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences
How Should I Love My Neighbor?
So, what is a Christian who loves their neighbor supposed to do? Knowing how harmful they are to us and others, my first thought is to stop using plastic, buying plastic, or at least GREATLY reducing my use of it. When painting or crafting, chose zero-VOC, water-based paints and glues. Use products made of stainless steel, untreated wood, and glass. When in the supermarket, love your neighbor by buying food in glass jars rather than plastic jars (glass is also easier to recycle than plastic). When buying a product such as furniture, look for a low or no-VOC certification such as GREENGUARD. Another way to reduce exposure is to buy used products such as rugs, furniture, flooring, and toys. They won't suffer the same post-manufacture spike of VOC release. Check your household cleaners. Often, they have very high levels of airborne chemicals included in the fragrances.
Want To Learn More?
If you are interested in learning more, check out CustomMade's article on off-gassing. Whatever you do, make sure to off-gas a new product in a well-ventilated and uninhabited location such as a garage when it is first unpackaged. As CustomMade says, "Sound scary? Unfortunately, we’re just getting started. More than 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into the environment in the last 50 years, and the majority of them haven’t been studied for their effects on people or animals. But that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from incorporating these chemicals into their production processes."