Few people are aware of the strength and variety of toxins we breathe in daily while indoors - at home, work or in shops. Indoor air can be three times as polluted as that outdoors.

Some sources of these pollutants include furniture, aerosols, air fresheners, cleaning products, varnishes, wood preservatives, carpets and paints.

The main culprits are a range of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs comprise hundreds of natural and man-made, carbon-based agents. They react quickly with other carbon-based compounds, and evaporate easily, making them ideal solvents. VOCs can be found in cleaning products, disinfectants, pesticides, paints and other home decoration products.

In addition to the harm these agents cause to our body, VOCs also degrade the environment, polluting waterways and disposal systems and contributing to low-level atmospheric pollution, global warming and sick building syndrome.

There is much that well-informed consumers and specialists in the building trade can do to minimise exposure to these toxins. Quick hits include changing the cleaning products used in the house to a more-natural alternatives and stopping, or reducing, the amount of air fresheners used. Yet, given the slow release of these compounds, there are longer-term considerations that apply when repairing, building, renovating and redecorating interiors. These include the choice of real wood versus laminate floors and the coatings applied to them, the extent to which fibreboard is used instead of solid wood and the choice of carpets, underlay and glues used to fix grippers and edges.

There is also an important choice in terms of which paints to use, both for walls and woodwork. Paints and finishes (e.g. varnishes) are major indoor air polluters. This is because most of them contain toxic VOCs which can continue to be released into the air years after the paint is dry. When choosing a paint, people look at quality, price and choice of colours but do not always think about the chemical composition within the tin and the impact this will have on the air quality in their home or office.

THE BENEFITS

Health | Fewer toxins means fewer allergies and chemical sensitivities, especially for small children. European regulations ensure they are suitable for use on toys and nursery furniture.

Environment | Fewer contaminants in landfill and groundwater systems, as well as fewer ozone-depleting compounds.

Effective | Good coverage and depth of coverage.

Easy to use | Brushes, rollers and hands can be cleaned with soapy water.

Less smelly | Low odours during application and none after curing time. Rooms can be occupied sooner after painting.
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