We Shouldn’t Need a Gas Mask to Use A Computer or Blender!

Ever notice how when you buy a new appliance or electronic device, and take it out of the box, or plug it in, the smell makes you nauseous, dizzy, and gives you a headache? Or worse?

That smell is made up of some really toxic chemical fumes. Benzene, styrene, and toluene, among others… in everyday technology!


New research from the Exposure, Epidemiology & Risk Program, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, on how the pollutants in indoor environments affect people’s cognitive functioning (people who are still able to work in polluted offices, not the people who are already too disabled to work in polluted offices) discovered that

Green office environments linked with higher cognitive function scores

…”People who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores–in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy–than those who work in offices with typical levels, according to a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University.

“We have been ignoring the 90%. We spend 90% of our time indoors and 90% of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought,” said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and lead author of the study.

“These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.”

Researchers wanted to look at the impact of ventilation, chemicals, and carbon dioxide on workers’ cognitive function because, as buildings have become more energy efficient, they have also become more airtight, increasing the potential for poor indoor environmental quality.

Building-related illnesses and “sick building syndrome” were first reported in the 1980s as ventilation rates decreased. In response, there has been an emphasis on sustainable design–“green” buildings that are energy efficient and are also designed to enhance indoor environmental quality. The researchers designed this study to identify the specific attributes of green building design that influence cognitive function, an objective measure of productivity.

“The major significance of this finding lies in the fact that these are the critical decision making parameters that are linked to optimal and productive functioning. Losing components of these skills impacts how people handle their day to day lives.”

In other words, pollution prevents people from being smart!

appliance gas mask

Here are just some of the harmful emissions from computers:


What about blenders, juicers, mixers, toaster ovens, lamps, telephones, computers, cameras, washers, dryers, ….  Where are the appliances that are safe to use indoors???


Emission Study
Poor design practices – Gaseous emissions from complex products

“The experiments reveal that a wide range of volatile chemical compounds were emitted from those 19 products chosen at random. More than one hundred different compounds have been identified.

Some of the detected chemicals are of widespread use, e.g., mixtures of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic alcohols and ketones as solvents and phenols or phthalates as plastic additives while others were found in single products only. Many of the identified compounds are toxic. Moreover, several carcinogens, sensitizers and endocrine disruptors were also detected.

Analytical results of similar products made in different countries vary considerably. This indicates differences in product quality, production conditions and occupational health standards from one country to another.

This also indicates poor product design. The international development towards global sourcing, mainly in connection with economic concepts of lean production in Western countries, ignores environmental and health aspects of products. These products are primarily designed to be cost efficient and to meet some aesthetic requirements.

The indoor concentrations of single substances emitted from some of the products were calculated on the basis of special conditions. Recent scientific research has shown that even very low concentrations of chemical substances, especially due to their synergistic effects, can cause many severe health problems. An increasing number of people are suffering from one or more chronic conditions, including immune disorders like allergic reactions, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and even health effects caused by the disruption of the endocrine system.”

… see the link for more details…

I’ve been looking for info and can’t find any blenders, washers and dryers, etc available in Canada (or the US) that have any level of chemical reduction mandate such as what is required with ROHS, a certification from the EU.

Mandatory emissions regulations are non-existent here. If a company is voluntarily reducing toxics and emissions, it may be impossible to discover or verify.

The North American market seems to be all about cheap and toxic stuff, with very few manufacturers selling safer things here, even if they HAVE to in the EU, because they don’t have to make safe, quality products here!!!

Our current options (if we want access to technology) seems to be poor health and possible disability if one ends up developing MCS/ES from all these pollutants, and/or high electric, (heating, cooling, and ventilation) plus filtration bills.

We are told to ventilate to improve our indoor air quality, but what if that is too expensive, or not enough to prevent adverse health effects? What if the adverse health effects and cognitive declines occur from even small exposures to the toxic fume cocktails emitted from everyday appliances and technology, because so many things are contributing to indoor air pollution now, that even (attempted) 24 hour ventilation (such as an HRV) isn’t enough?

Even if one does have 24/7 ventilation in their home or office, ventilation costs us more money in perpetuity, and doesn’t help much when we live in areas with a lot of outdoor air pollution. Then we’d also need filtration (both HEPA and carbon), which also costs us more money and can still introduce new pollutants depending on the materials used, their effectiveness, and even what they were packaged in, in addition to shipping contamination, if the packaging isn’t sufficient to protect the contents!

Where do we go if we want non-toxic, VOC-free appliances and electronics (among other things) that won’t harm our health? And why are manufacturers allowed to make and sell us appliances and electronics that pollute our air and harm our health?

Someday if my brain isn’t being so cognitively impaired by these kinds of pollutants, I may be able to break the following links down some more. Hopefully there will be more interest here in North America, so that people start demanding safe products and materials, products that are safe right out of the box, and don’t require days, weeks, or months to off-gas the toxic fumes (and some cannot ever be off-gassed)!


Here are a few links of interest


Restriction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS) (EU)

Ecolabels, Quality Labels, and VOC emissions (EU)

World market leader in VOC emissions testing (EU)


Development of Low VOC-Emission Products and Analyses (pdf)

Residential Indoor Air Quality Guidelines (Health Canada)

Low-Emitting Materials Third Party Certification table

Chemical Emissions Testing for Electronic Equipment (US)

UL Services: GREENGUARD Certification (US)



We all need to be complaining to the manufacturers if we open up boxes and get dizzy, nauseous, or a pounding headache.  When we have to have someone run things somewhere else for a week, month, or a year before we can use them safely, if at all, then something is seriously wrong! They need to hear how unacceptable it is to poison us all for profits while we pay all the costs! Safe technology should be the norm!


Where Are the VOC-Free Appliances and Electronics?

15 responses to “We Shouldn’t Need a Gas Mask to Use A Computer or Blender!

  1. I can see two basic things working against us as the consumers, greed on the behalf of the companies that make these products and use the cheaper, recycled, toxic laden refuse of old products to make their new products, and the consumer, whose purchasing power has dwindled year after year until most of us are forced to buy the cheapest products, reinforcing the companies desire to produce more cheap products.

    You make a good point that we, the consumers, need to become a force in the decision making and policies of the companies through our purchasing decisions, but I can also see that this is a hard uphill battle fighting against our growing wage disparity between the haves and the have nothing more than the shirt on my backs.

    I can see a growing need for this to become a political battle, throwing law and science against the apathy of the companies and either legislating them or shaming them into changing their manufacturing practices.

    Maybe we’ll still be here to see change when it finally comes. Personally, I’m not about to give up trying.

    • You raised some excellent points… and about the haves and have nots…

      I have been thinking of this recent article, and how it ties in to why so many of us are chronically ill and dying young… and can’t access what we need to be healthy…

      Think about this:

      When 80 people own 50% of the world’s assets, then the other 7.3 billion people have to share the other 50%…

      That is, 7.3 BILLION people share 1/2 of the pie, while 80 people share the other half…

      but that’s not all…

      “Since the release of the Oxfam report in January, Credit Suisse released a new report validating the concern for the acceleration of global income disparity as the richest ten percent of people now hold 87.7 percent of all wealth.”

      Meaning 90% of the population have to share 12% of the global pie…


  2. Thanks for the article, as I have been feeling alone lately in my frustration with the offgasing on practically all new products. Just bought a new computer in early January, and I still can´t use it without feeling sick within a few minutes. I´ve been running it in another room now for a couple weeks with ventilation to see if the smell disapates but no luck so far. However yesterday I wrote to the company I bought it from in the UK, and to my surprise they seemed sympthatic and suggested I return it so they can investigate the problem, even though my return period of 14 days is over. We shall see. I will check into some of the references you have included – I live in Europe, so I´m interested to hear that VOC emissions are more regulated here than in North America -time for me to investigate. On the other hand, it seems to me that the percentage of people with MCS is much higher in North America than in Europe (I´m Canadian by the way) and I´ve been wondering lately exactly why that is, though I do have a few theories. If you´ve seen any research on that I would love to see it.

    • My “new” (from November) computer has not off-gassed enough for me to use it yet, but I am only able to run it an hour or 2 a week with the windows open and a fan on, as I don’t have air tight room separation, proper ventilation, or filtration here to run it when the windows are not open (and it’s winter).

      That’s great that the company will look into it, hopefully do some chamber testing for VOCs. We really need that to be happening…

      As for more MCS here than there, it seems to me that because the EU is a much smaller space, they learned to protect it, to value history, to not tear everything down and replace it with cheap and toxic materials, and to enact stronger precautionary laws than what has happened here. Of course now the US chemical industry is so big and powerful that they have been sabotaging EU regulations (REACH and recently on EDCs), as well as regarding wireless…

      I haven’t seen prevalence stats for the EU, so don’t really know. There are some groups and orgs there but I haven’t been much in touch as my health hasn’t been up to it.

      The report “Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution” by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), that was released this week, does mention indoor air pollution from products has become a concern, and that some people are more sensitive to pollution than others, so I think more people ARE affected now, but the dots have not been connected.

  3. You’d think that if they discover something harmful, they’d make things safer, but no… 17 years later, emissions from computers and appliances are more toxic than ever before!

    “Triphenyl phosphate – a chemical compound widely used as a flame retardant in the plastic of video monitors and other products – is known to cause allergic reactions in some people. The reactions can range from itching and nasal congestion to headaches.

    The monitor emits the compound when its temperature rises during normal operations, said Conny Ostman, lead author of the study, from Stockholm University in Sweden. It is unknown how much exposure can cause an allergic reaction, he added. What is known is that new computers emit more of the compound than older ones.

    The emissions levels dropped sharply after eight days of continuous operation, the researchers found, but remained 10 times higher than the background level even after 183 days – roughly the equivalent of approximately two years of working use.

    Computers are a significant source of allergenic emissions in small indoor environments like offices, Ostman said. Even with adequate ventilation, the compound may be a potential health hazard for computer users, he continued.”


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  5. Healthier Indoor Air: Reducing harmful emissions from building materials and consumer products

    (November 2017)

    What could be more fundamental than the air we breathe?

    As it is invisible and a part of everyday life, people can sometimes take the quality of air for granted. Indoor air in Canadian buildings may contain hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—a diverse group of chemicals emitted as a gas at room temperature that often reach higher concentrations than outdoors.

    The known or suspected health effects of VOCs vary from one chemical to another, with adverse effects potentially including eye, nose, and throat irritation and respiratory symptoms. At higher concentrations, another potential long-term effect for certain VOCs may be cancer.

    Considering Canadians spend approximately 90 per cent of their time indoors, indoor air quality (IAQ) may significantly affect human health and well-being, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Since off-gassing from building materials and consumer products is considered the main contributor of most VOCs, labelling construction materials and products as ‘low-VOC-emitting’ is a very promising approach to this issue.

    Creating effective and targeted IAQ standards requires the consideration of two main elements: the use of widely accepted standardized testing methods and the availability of health-based reference values for acceptable emissions and exposure levels.

    To be fair and consistent to all manufacturers, emission results need to reproducible from lab to lab. This is only possible through standardized testing and test protocols, requiring specific quality assurance provisions.


  6. Regarding furniture VOC emissions

    Research Article
    Emission Rates of Volatile Organic Compounds Released from Newly Produced Household Furniture Products Using a Large-Scale Chamber Testing Method

    …”In compliance with this finding, many authors have routinely found toluene as the predominant component of the VOCs released from furniture, based on both small- [18, 20, 22, 23] and large-scale chamber tests (environmental chamber) [24]. Note that a serious health concern has been raised with respect to toluene (e.g., birth defects) depending on its intake amount, exposure duration, genetic susceptibility, age, and so forth. For the reader’s reference, the maximum concentration of toluene determined from three furniture types (i.e., desk chair, dining table, and sofa) in fact exceeded a strict guideline value of 80 ppb (~307 μg/m3 in standard conditions (25°C and 1 atm pressure)) set as the minimum risk level of chronic duration [25]. If these data are evaluated in terms of the abundance of VOC types, dining table was recorded with the highest number (38 compounds).

    In contrast, the cabinet showed the least one (20 compounds), although it recorded the highest level of benzene (2.45 ± 1.28) among 5 types of furniture. Benzene is well known as a human carcinogen [26].

    In this study, we intended to investigate the emission rates of VOCs from diverse furniture products. Among the VOCs detected, toluene and α-pinene from a sofa sample recorded the largest mean equilibrium concentrations (353 and 189 μg/m3, resp.). Reference [33] used the toluene and α-pinene to evaluate VOC emission rates from a number of potential sources, including wool carpet, nylon carpet, and cotton curtain. These authors conducted two types of experiments to induce both adsorption (in which toluene and α-pinene were introduced into the chamber) and desorption (in which only clean air was brought in). The results of this study indicated that the adsorption of α-pinene was higher than that of toluene for all testing materials, while the desorption of these 2 chemicals was not greatly influenced by the materials. In addition to toluene and α-pinene, other major VOCs found indoor (e.g., from solvent-based alkyd paint used indoor) commonly include carbonyl compounds (i.e., acetone, hexanal, pentanal, heptanal, nonanal, octanol, decanal, etc.) [20].

    The primary VOC components (i.e., formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, styrene, and xylene) emitted from PP flooring, wallpaper assemblies, and plywood assemblies (residential house units) were, however, reduced considerably after a bake-out procedure [23].

    In our experiment, as the ending period (14 days) approached, the target furniture products generally showed a several-fold reduction in emission magnitude (Figure 5). VOC levels from our PB furniture products were not high with equilibrium emission rates of 0.78 (bedside table) and 0.39 mg/unit/h (cabinet). In contrast, [22] found that the PB specimens emitted greater amounts of VOC that are comparable to engineered flooring. In addition, dining table and sofa made of foam and PU were found to exhibit greatly enhanced VOC levels relative to the others.”


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  8. The chemical cocktails lurking in your office paints, adhesives, computers, printers… and more

    …”“VOCs include a variety of chemicals that can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and skin problems,” Duong says.

    “Higher concentrations may cause irritation of the lungs, as well as damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system. Long-term exposure may also cause damage to the liver, kidneys or central nervous system.”

    Some are also suspected of causing cancer, and some have been shown to do so.

    The good news is that many of these chemical risks can in fact be avoided – if that decision is made early in the design process, according to founding owner of BP Architects Bridget Puszka.

    Her practice specialises in energy-efficient and low-allergy homes, and has designed and delivered homes for sensitive clients including asthmatics and people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. MCS is a challenging condition to live with for people who have it, and there is still some medical debate over whether it is a genuine medical condition.” …

    (some debate, meanwhile, they’re doing everything they can to avoid developing MCS)

    “Best practice means that the building that is delivered, even though the occupant might not be sensitive, they are getting a healthy building.

    “Why wouldn’t you want that?”


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  11. Abstract

    A total of 1159 common household products were analysed for 31 volatile organic compounds as potential sources of indoor air pollution. The products were distributed among 65 product categories within 8 category classes: automotive products (14.4% of the products); household cleaners/polishes (9.6%); paint-related products (39.9%); fabric and leather treatments (7.9%); cleaners for electronic equipment (6.0%); oils, greases and lubricants (9.6%); adhesive-related products (6.6%); and miscellaneous products (6.1%).

    The study was conducted in two parts. In the first part, or the original study, the products were reanalysed for methylene chloride and five other chlorocarbons using purge-and-trap gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), and a data base containing the analytical results was developed. Because full mass spectra were taken, the original set of GC/MS data also contained information regarding other volatile chemicals in the products. However, this additional data was not reported at that time.

    In the second part of the study, the GC/MS data were reanalysed to determine the presence and concentrations of an additional 25 volatile chemicals.

    The 31 chemicals included in both parts of this study were: carbon tetrachloride; methylene chloride; tetrachloroethylene; 1,1,1-trichloroethane; trichlorethylene; 1,1,2-tricholorotrifluoroethane; acetone; benzene; 2-butanone; chlorobenzene; chloroform; cyclohexane; 1,2-dichloroethane; 1,4-dioxane; ethylbenzene; n-hexane; d-limonene; methylcyclohexane; methylcyclopentane; methyl isobutyl ketone; n-nonane; n-octane; α-pinene; propylene oxide; styrene; 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane; tetrahydrofuran; toluene; m-mxylene; o-xylene; and p-xylene.

    Of the 31 chemicals, toluene, the xylenes and methylene chloride were found to occur most frequently—in over 40% of the products tested.

    Chemicals that were typically found in relatively high concentrations in the samples (i.e. greater than 20% w/w) included acetone, 2-butanone, hexane, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, 1,1,2-trichlorotrifluoroethane and the xylenes.

    Chlorobenzene, d-limonene, 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane, n-nonane and styrene were not found in any of the products at or above the 0.1% level. In all, 935 of the products contained one or more of the target solvents at levels greater than 0.1%.

    The resulting data base contains information regarding the 1159 products, such as origin, cost, container type, lot number, etc., as well as quantitative information for each of the 31 chemicals. The frequency of occurrence and average concentrations for the target chemicals are summarized for each of the product classes.

    A survey of household products for volatile organic compounds
    Atmospheric Environment. Part A. General Topics
    Volume 26, Issue 6, April 1992, Pages 1063-1070


  12. Changes in indoor pollutants since the 1950s


    Over the past half-century there have been major changes in building materials and consumer products used indoors.

    Composite-wood, synthetic carpets, polymeric flooring, foam cushioning, plastic items and scented cleaning agents have become ubiquitous. The same is true for mechanical and electrical appliances such as washer/dryers, TVs and computers.

    These materials and products emit an array of chemicals including solvents, unreacted monomers, and additives.

    The consequent changes in emission profiles for indoor pollutants have been accompanied by modifications in building operations.

    Residences and non-residences are less ventilated than they were decades ago. Air-conditioned buildings are more numerous, especially in certain parts of the world. Most of these recirculate a high fraction of their air.

    The personal habits of building occupants, including the fraction who smoke indoors, have also changed.

    Taken together, these changes have altered the kind and concentrations of chemicals that occupants are exposed to in their homes, workplaces and schools.

    Since the 1950s, levels of certain indoor pollutants (e.g., formaldehyde, aromatic and chlorinated solvents, chlorinated pesticides, PCBs) have increased and then decreased. Levels of other indoor pollutants have increased and remain high (e.g., phthalate esters, brominated flame-retardants, nonionic surfactants and their degradation products).

    Many of the chemicals presently found in indoor environments, as well as in the blood and urine of occupants, were not present 50 years ago.

    Given the public’s exposure to such species, there would be exceptional value in monitoring networks that provided cross-sectional and longitudinal information regarding pollutants found in representative buildings.



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