Building materials affect the health of the environments we live in: formaldehyde, toluene or styrene are just some of the polluting chemicals that live undisturbed in our homes! The solution? Just a few precautions

Last week we discovered broadly what “indoor pollution” means. Today we will deal with the topic in a more specific way by analysing a specific aspect of this problem, that is its chemical component, which includes a series of contaminants.

We all know that mould and dust are present in the house, pollutants that are fortunately visible whose smell we also perfectly perceive: if a smell hits you in the face we have the possibility of identifying its source, isolating it and eliminating it (or at least move away from it).

But what happens when the pollutants involved are normally invisible and odourless? What does it mean then, in terms of environmental concentrations, to perceive a perfume or to endure a stench?

We begin to understand immediately that if we come to smell something in the air, the environmental presence of what we smell is already very strong and probably beyond the exposure limits.

We have to always keep in mind that when we talk about chemical pollution we have to deal with very low quantities and concentrations: the instruments used to detect the harmful compounds present in our homes must only isolate a few micrograms of substance for each cubic meter of air (μg/m3).

The whole issue of indoor chemical pollution is measured in μg/m3 and a large part of this problem is dealt with by cataloguing a dozen bad substances (very harmful to humans) that should not exist in our homes.

The tendency to concretely evaluate the concentration of the following substances within living environments is now consolidated in all European legislation:

o, m, p-xylene(001330-20-7)

These substances are taken as a reference by Europe for the evaluation of the performance characteristics of building materials: the GPP (Green Public Procurement) and in this case its Italian transposition, or the PAN GPP (National Action Plan for Green Public Procurement), identify the maximum emissions permitted to a construction product for each substance given on this list.

GPP itself regulates the emissions of five other substances, usually less common, and imposes a maximum limit for total product emissions, the so-called TVOC (Total Volatile Organic Compounds).

We begin to understand that a regulatory system is consolidating around us which is capable of protecting us from the potential chemical dangers that can be hidden in our homes and the materials with which they are built.

It is clear, however, that the most important role for the protection and safeguard of our health is still up to us: the pollution of domestic environments is in fact strongly influenced by all our choices and habits.

Opening the windows for the aeration of the rooms, using certified cleaning products, avoiding cigarette smoke and using devices for cleaning and purifying the air are in fact excellent daily prevention practices that fall exclusively under our responsibility.

Architect Leopoldo Busa
Expert in indoor air quality