Dangerous Home Chemicals and Pregnancy | The Effect of VOCs on the Unborn Baby

June 17, 2014

In general, VOCs can leave lasting harmful effects on people.  One demographic that should always steer clear of the air perpetrators are pregnant women.  Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that are emitted as gases from solids or liquids and easily evaporated into the air at room temperature. Concentrations of these chemicals can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. Thousands of products, many that we use every day, or are exposed to every day, emit VOCs into the air while they are being used, and, to some degree, even when they are stored. Even slightly elevated levels of these airborne chemicals could produce health concerns for pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those who suffer from allergies and asthma.

Are VOCs dangerous for pregnant women?

Most pregnant women are already well informed of the more obvious chemical dangers such as exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, pesticides, and even some household cleaning products. However, there are potentially hundreds of other chemical exposure risks in the home that often go undetected, or aren’t usually considered problematic because of their common nature.

VOCs can be toxic at high concentrations or to those that are sensitive to them.  They are introduced to our bodies through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion. As with all toxins our bodies have defenses to combat this exposure and to expel them from the body.  Those with weakened or immature defense systems are at an increased risk of adverse health effects from VOC exposure.  In the same way a pregnant woman can expose the fetus to tobacco smoke, alcohol, and medicine; a pregnant woman can also transfer VOC exposure to the fetus.  Recent medical research studies show that exposure to chemicals during pregnancy can have adverse health effects on unborn babies, including low birth weight, birth defects, and premature births.  Other studies suggest that maternal exposure to air pollutants before and during pregnancy can alter the immune system of the infant thus increasing the risk of developing health conditions later in life, including asthma and allergies.

In addition to potential chemical exposures through the mother, infants are often exposed to high concentrations relative to their body weight after birth by renovations to the nursery, including painting, new furniture, new mattress, and antiseptic products (like baby wipes).

VOCs in your house that may be dangerous to your pregnancy:

  1. Paint (including low- and no-VOC paint)
  2. Solvents
  3. Cleaning Products
  4. Fragrance Products
  5. New furniture (formaldehyde from pressed wood products and adhesives)
  6. New fabrics (clothes, linens, curtains, etc.)
  7. Building Materials
  8. Hair Care and Cosmetic products

While pregnant women and unborn children are at increased risk for volatile chemicals to affect their health, it is important that all those living in the home are also breathing clean air. If you have recently moved, done construction on your house or would like to get a better idea of some of the unseen hazards that may be affecting your family, consider performing a VOC and Formaldehyde test.