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Posts tagged ‘indoor air pollution’

Air Quality & COVID-19

In the months following our collective action to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, the air quality improved around the globe. According to University of Utah research, particulate matter pollution in Salt Lake City was reduced 59% as of May 6.

The collective social distancing practices resulted in reducing our community’s overall emissions – and cleaning up Utah’s notoriously bad air. But the lockdowns were an impermanent (and unfortunate) solution: as more cities reopen, emissions – and COVID-19 cases – are again on the rise.

Although Salt Lake City is maintaining an “orange” status for our COVID-19 response, there has been an uptick in cases across Utah. In a city in which public health is harmed by poor air quality, any virus that affects the respiratory system is cause for concern. However, with the knowledge that stay at home orders temporarily reduced our local air pollution, we can learn more about possible ways of improving air quality in the future.

Let’s take a closer look at the ways air quality and COVID-19 interact – and some ways you can help protect the air and each other.

Photo of inversion in Salt Lake valley.
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What’s the Deal with VOCs?

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The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is proposing a new rule that would lower the volatile organic compound (VOC) content in dozens of common household products.

One of these products – hairspray – has been getting a lot of media attention over the past few weeks. But in the dozens of stories about the proposed rule, which was created to help reduce air pollution and improve air quality, we have noticed the absence of health information.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the following health effects tied to VOCs:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans

At present, not much is known about the short-term and long-term health effects of household VOC exposure. Breathing in low levels of VOCs may increase some people’s risk of health problems. Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. Common household culprits that release VOCs when used include:

  • Cosmeticsspraycan
  • Personal care products
  • Disinfectants
  • Laundry detergents
  • Air fresheners
  • Fabric softeners
  • Dryer sheets
  • Dish detergents
  • All-purpose cleaners
  • Soaps
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Lotions
  • Deodorants
  • Shampoos
  • Hair spray

DEQ’s proposed rule would limit the VOC content of these products – not prohibit them. Most¬†manufacturers¬†already offer lower VOC versions of their products to comply with similar rules in 16 other states and the District of Columbia. Learn more from DEQ.

Our two cents: If lower VOC products will reduce both indoor and outdoor air pollution – the health effects of which are not fully known – what is the downside?