smell assault

They put the signs up just a day before they committed the heinous act. The signs said they were to begin painting the common areas, including hallways and apartment doors in our building. It was too late. I couldn’t put in my two cents even if I wanted to. Well, maybe they know better, I thought. Maybe by now everyone knows that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that emanate from substances like paint were, as the name suggests, a toxic assault on the health of those who inhale it. I was giving them the benefit of the doubt — maybe they chose low-VOC or no-VOC paints like Aura or Mythic.

No such luck. I could smell it as soon as they began. It doesn’t take much. VOCs like those in paint really smell toxic.

I was surprised to see the painters weren’t even wearing masks, and they’re breathing in the stuff all day. I wonder if they know that the off-gassing of VOCs causes dizziness, aggravates asthma and could lead to kidney and liver damage and possibly even cancer. We at least had a door separating us from the sullied air. And even still we could smell it, so we lit some beeswax candles in our apartment to neutralize the odor.

Paint isn’t the only household product to contain VOCs. Here are some ways to avoid these harmful chems in your home:

  • Choose furniture that’s formaldehyde-free and doesn’t use petrochemical-based adhesives (eg, Vivavi, Totally Organic)
  • Opt for carpeting that’s made from natural materials (ie, wool or seagrass)
  • Use laundry detergent, fabric softener, and other cleaning products that are petrochemical-free (like Seventh Generation)
  • Try natural air fresheners made from essential oils and beeswax candles without synthetic fragrance
  • Choose beauty products without harsh chemicals, like nail polish that’s formaldehyde-, toluene-, and DBP-free

There are also house plants that filter out VOCs, like the peace lily and lady palm. Here’s a list of the top 10 purifying houseplants.


Ah, I’m breathing easier already.

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