In terms of the emissions, the main offenders fall within the broad group of carbon-containing chemicals referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which included known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, methylene chloride, toluene and xylene. These compounds ‘volatilise’, or transform to a vapour, at room temperature. From building frames, to timbers, wall linings, insulation, kitchen cabinetry (especially MDF and particle boards, and laminates), doors, flooring materials and drapes, we strive to select products with low VOC ratings or zero-emission (E0) ratings wherever possible. Similarly, products such as paints, coatings, sealants, groutings, adhesives and water-proofing agents contain high levels of VOCs and our choice is low-emission products.
The effects on health can include respiratory issues, irritations of the eyes and throat, headaches, dizziness, liver and kidney damage, and central nervous system damage. Further, a significant proportion of cancers are known to be caused by environmental toxins. And poor quality residential air can also exacerbate other illnesses. Particularly susceptible to adverse health effects are vulnerable people such as the elderly, infants, pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised. For children exposed to formaldehyde, an increased risk of asthma is probable, and allergic sensitisation to common allergens is proven.
The level of exposure to environmental health hazards in the home is, to a large extent, a choice. At YSH we believe the value of health cannot be over-rated, and we are proud of our choice to create and deliver healthy homes. We know that many construction materials contain compounds that are harmful, some even carcinogenic, to humans, and that these are emitted slowly over many years as the materials off-gas into the environment. And if that environment is a poorly ventilated enclosed space such as a house, occupants are continually exposed to those harmful emissions, with both short-term and long-term adverse health effects.