With an estimated 25 million people in the U.S. now affected by asthma, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has designated May National Asthma Awareness Month to increase understanding of the factors impacting the nation’s fastest-growing chronic disease.
According to the CDC’s most recent report (2015), asthma affected 8.4 percent of children under the age of 18. While known asthma triggers for all age groups include smoke, mold, dust and outdoor allergens, increasingly scientists are investigating the role played by chemical toxicity in severe breathing problems and increased asthma flare-ups. UL Environment’s Commercial Director Doug Lockard experienced this on a very personal level.
“When we adopted my daughter Jessica, she was a very healthy child for the first three years of her life,” explains Lockard. “It wasn’t until we moved into a newly constructed house that she started exhibiting signs of severe asthma – triggered by the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that were emitted from household materials, such as the carpet and hardwood floors, paint, new furniture and vent-free fireplace.”
Lockard, a longtime UL employee, made it his mission to become involved with UL Environment and educate himself about the toxicity of chemicals, including how to manage them in a controlled environment, how to better understand them and how to develop products that reduce symptoms in asthmatics like his daughter.
“We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors at home, work or school and are highly affected by chemical emissions from construction materials, interior surfaces and household products,” notes Lockard. “These materials are a major source of indoor air contaminants, because thousands of chemicals, often in the form of VOCs, are emitted from these products.”
One way to tackle this challenge is controlling exposure to known pollutants which helps reduce the risk of an asthma event.
While there currently are no federal or state regulations for indoor air quality levels, Lockard and the UL Environment team focus their efforts on promoting UL GREENGUARD Certification, a stringent certification program that tests products for chemical emissions. Manufacturers whose products achieve UL GREENGUARD Certification are certified to be lower emitting than non-certified products.
While Jessica’s asthma has no cure, Lockard cites SPOT, UL’s database of thousands of low-emitting products, as his go-to resource to find products that are good for his home’s air and his daughter.
Moreover, Lockard offers these tips to help reduce asthma triggers:
- Open all windows in the home for 3-4 hours every week.
- Use low-VOC, environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals throughout the home.
- Only use low VOC emitting paint when painting in and outside of your home, such as UL GREENGUARD Certified paints (VOC content free can still emit VOCs).
- Ensure the building is mold-free, kept clean of dust, smoke-free and has proper ventilation.
- Buy building materials and furniture that are UL GREENGUARD Certified.