Common house hold pollutants YouTube Lecture Handouts for ICAR NET 2020

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Alternatives to Common Indoor Household Pollutants

What Are VOC?

  • Major indoor pollutants

  • Organic Compounds with high vapor pressure at room temperature

  • High vapor pressure from low boiling point – cause molecules to evaporate and enter air

  • Legally defined under various codes

  • Biologically generated from isoprene

  • Formaldehyde - from pressed wood products and furniture made from them, foam insulation, other textiles, and glues. Exposure to very high concentrations of formaldehyde may lead to death.

  • Coatings – paints - ethyl acetate, glycol ethers, and acetone

  • CFC & Chlorocarbons - cleaning products and refrigerants

  • Benzene – human carcinogen – evaporates and is heavier than air; exhaled cigarette smoke, is ten times higher in smokers than in nonsmokers

  • Methylene chloride - adhesive removers and aerosol spray paints

  • Perchloroethylene – dry cleaning

  • MTBE - leaking underground gasoline storage tanks

  • Sources for these pollutants include paint strippers and other solvents, wood preservatives, air fresheners, automotive products, and dry cleaned clothing.

  • Other household products that contain harmful chemicals are antifreeze, car cleaners and waxes, chemicals used in photo development, mice and rat poison, rug cleaners, nail polish, insect sprays, and wet cell batteries. Such household chemicals may pose serious health risks if not handled, stored, and disposed of properly.

  • Long term exposure to VOCs - People in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or feel unwell for no apparent reason – Sick Building Syndrome

Examples of volatile organic compounds are gasoline, benzene, formaldehyde, solvents such as toluene and xylene, styrene, and perchloroethylene (or tetrachloroethylene), the main solvent used in dry cleaning.

Image of 2005 Sources of Volatile Organic Compounds

Image of 2005 Sources of Volatile Organic Compounds

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Surfactant Detergents and Phosphate Detergents

Effect of Phosphates: The use of phosphate in detergents and possible replacements for phosphate.

  • About 5% of the total phosphate mined worldwide is used in detergents. The chemical form in which phosphate is used in detergents is predominantly pentasodium triphosphate (PSTP).

  • The most significant feature for the use of PSTP in detergents is its ability to form soluble and strong complexes with calcium and magnesium ions. This provides a strong synergism with regard to detergency when PSTP is used in combination with synthetic surfactants.

  • Other important features of PSTP are its ability to disperse dirt in the washing solution, its weak alkalinity, its crystalline form when dry (which enables production of crisp powders) and, last but not least, its toxicological acceptability.

  • The development of PSTP for use in detergents has a history of over 25 years. In certain areas of highly developed countries where effluents from major centres of population can reach stagnant surface waters a rapid increase of eutrophication of these surface waters is observed.

  • Phosphates are being recognized as one of the essential nutrients contributing to the eutrophication and detergents are one of the many sources of phosphate discharged to the environment.

  • This is now causing demands for reduction in or even banning of the use of phosphates in detergents. Major research projects and some practical approaches to meeting these demands are described.

  • The potential environmental impact of removing phosphate from detergents remains, however, doubtful, as it has been demonstrated in Sweden that phosphate removal by sewage treatment is the most effective measure to control phosphate discharges.

  • This makes the case of phosphates in detergents an example of how science and technology can become entangled with politics.

Effect of Surfactants (Or Combination with Phosphate)

  • Surfactants (also called surface active agents or wetting agents) are organic chemicals that reduce surface tension in water and other liquids. The most familiar use for surfactants are soaps, laundry detergents, dishwashing liquids and shampoos. Other important uses are in the many industrial applications for surfactants in lubricants, emulsion polymerisation, textile processing, mining flocculates, petroleum recovery, wastewater treatment and many other products and processes. Surfactants are also used as dispersants after oil spills.

  • There are hundreds of compounds that can be used as surfactants and are usually classified by their ionic behaviour in solutions: anionic, cationic, non-ionic or amphoteric (zwiterionic). Each surfactant class has its own specific properties.

  • There are many sources of surfactants that are discharged into natural waters. Industrial sources include textile, surfactants and detergent formulation. Surfactants are also used in laundries and households and are therefore found in discharges from sewage treatment works. They also have agricultural applications in pesticides, dilutants and dispersants (McNeely et al 1979).

  • Surfactants are compounds composed of both hydrophilic and hydrophobic or lipophobic groups. In view of their dual hydrophilic and hydrophobic nature, surfactants tend to concentrate at the interfaces of aqueous mixtures; the hydrophilic part of the surfactant orients itself towards the aqueous phase and the hydrophobic parts orient itself away from the aqueous phase into the second phase.

  • The hydrophobic part of a surfactant molecule is generally derived from a hydrocarbon containing 8 to 20 carbon atoms (e.g. fatty acids, paraffins, olefins, alkylbenzenes). The hydrophilic portion may either ionise in aqueous solutions (cationic, anionic) or remain un-ionise (non-ionic). Surfactants and surfactant mixtures may also be amphoteric or zwitterionic (CCME 1992).

  • The table below gives some examples of major commercial and industrial surfactants.

  • Nonylphenol and its ethoxylates (NPEs) are one of the types of surfactants causing concern.

  • The primary source of nonylphenolic compounds in the aquatic environment is due to the incomplete degradation of NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate) surfactants during sewage treatment, and therefore it is unlikely to be present in the aquatic environment in the absence of other NPE degradation by-products (such as nonylphenol mono- and diethoylates (NP1EO and NP2EO) and nonylphenoxy carboxylic acids (NPEC).

Some Examples of Major Commercial and Industrial Surfactants (From CCME 1992)

Table of Some examples of major commercial and industrial surfactants


Commercial and domestic examples

Major industrial examples


Sodium linear alkylbenzene sulphonate (LABS); sodium lauryl sulphate; sodium lauryl ether sulphates

Petroleum sulphonates; linosulphonates; naphthalene sulphonates, branched alkylbenzene sulphonates; linear alkylbenzene sulphonates; alcohol sulphates


Stearalkonium chloride; benzalkonium chloride

quaternary ammonium compounds; amine compounds


Dodecyl dimethylamine oxide; coco diethanol-amide alcohol ethoxylates; linear primary alcohol polyethoxylate

alkylphenol ethoxylates; alcohol ethoxylates; EO/PO polyol block polymers; polyethylene glycol esters; fatty acid alkanolamides


Cocoamphocarboxyglycinate; cocamidopropylbetaine

Betaines; imidazolines

Recorded Levels in the Marine Environment

  • Concentrations of nonylphenol in surface waters vary widely but locally high concentrations (sometimes in excess of 100 /l) have been reported, especially in areas receiving industrial and sewage discharges.

  • Higher concentrations (several mg kg-1) have been detected in sediments, although much of this is unlikely to be bioavailable (Whitehouse et al 1998a).

Fate and Behaviour in the Marine Environment

  • In view of their hydrophilic nature, surfactants tend to be water soluble to some degree. Depending on the specific chemicals, solubility varies from very soluble (e.g. some anionic surfactants) to insoluble (e.g. some cationic surfactants) (Lewis and Wee 1983) .

  • Anionic surfactant are not appreciably sorbed by inorganic solids.

  • On the other hand, cationic surfactants are strongly sorbed by solids, particularly clays. Significant sorption of anionic and non-ionic surfactants has been observed in activated sludge and organic river sediments. Depending on the nature of their hydrophobic moieties, non-ionic surfactants may be sorbed onto surfaces. Some surfactants have been found to alter the sorption to surfaces of coexisting chemical species, such as metals (CCME 1992).

  • In general, surfactants in modern day use are considered to be biodegradable under conditions of efficient sewage treatment.

  • The rates of degradation depend partially on the chemical structure. Surfactants containing linear hydrophobes are generally more biodegraded than those containing branched hydrophobes. Nonylphenol and some of its ethoxylates are not readily degraded during sewage treatment (CCME 1992).

  • Because of the hundreds of compounds that can be used as surfactants and because the toxicity (and potential to be present in sediment) and bioaccumulation potential will vary according to the type of surfactant, an assessment is not possible here.

Indoor Air Pollutants from Other Household Activities

  • From time to time, homeowners complete a variety of remodeling projects to improve the aesthetic look of their house. These include new flooring, basement remodeling, hanging new cabinets, removing asbestos sheets, scraping off old paint (which might contain lead), and the removal or application of wallpaper.

  • Such activities could be a significant source of indoor air pollutants during and after the project. Asbestos, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene, chloroform, trichloroethane and other organic solvents, and lead dust are the main pollutants released during remodeling. Homes built before 1970s may pose additional environmental problems because of the use of lead- and asbestos-containing materials.

Household Products and Their Potential Health Effects

Table of Household products and their potential health effects

Product Type

Harmful Ingredients

Potential Health Hazards

Air fresheners & deodorizers

Formaldehyde: Naturally occurring organic compound. Formula

Skeletal fomula of formaldehyde with explicit hydrogens adde …

Formaldehyde with Explicit Hydrogens Added

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Toxic in nature; carcinogen; irritates eyes, nose, throat and skin; nervous, digestive, respiratory system damage


Sodium hypochlorite: Chemical compound. Formula

Structure of NaOCl

Structure of NaOCl

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Corrosive; irritates and burns skin and eyes; nervous, respiratory, digestive system damage


Phenols: Or phenolics, are a class of chemical compounds with hydroxyl group .

Structure of Phenols

Structure of Phenols

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Ignitable; very toxic in nature; respiratory and circulatory system damage

Disinfectants/Floor Cleaning / Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Ammonia: Ammonia or azane is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen. Formula.

Structure of Ammonia

Structure of Ammonia

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Toxic in nature; vapor irritates skin, eyes and respiratory tract

Drain cleaner/Oven Cleaner

Sodium/potassium hydroxide (lye): Inorganic compound and commonly called caustic potash. Formula:

Image of Crystal structure of KOH

Image of Crystal Structure of KOH

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Corrosive; burns skin and eyes; toxic in nature; nervous, digestive and urinary system damage

Flea powder

Carbaryl: Chemical in the carbamate family used chiefly as an insecticide.


Structure of Carbaryl

Structure of Carbaryl

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Very toxic in nature; irritates skin; causes nervous, respiratory and circulatory system damage

Flea powder

Dichlorophene: Anticestodal agent, fungicide, germicide, and antimicrobial agent.


Structure of Dichlorophene

Structure of Dichlorophene

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Toxic in nature; irritates skin; causes nervous and digestive system damage

Flea powder

Chlordane: pesticide mixture resulting from synthesis.


Toxic; irritates eyes and skin; respiratory, digestive and urinary system damage

Floor cleaner/wax/window cleaner

Diethylene glycol: organic compound. Colorless, odorless, poisonous, and hygroscopic liquid with a sweetish taste.


Skeletal formula of diethylene glycol

Structure of Diethylene Glycol

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Toxic in nature; causes nervous, digestive and urinary system damage

Floor cleaner/wax

Petroleum solvents: Special liquid hydrocarbon fractions obtained from petroleum

Petroleum solvents (benzene, toluene, and xylene) exhibit low toxicity and are explosive.

Highly ignitable; carcinogenic; irritate skin, eyes, throat, nose and lungs

Furniture polish

Petroleum distillates or mineral spirits: Petroleum distillates are all distillations of petroleum.

Highly ignitable; toxic in nature; carcinogen; irritate skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs

Paint thinner

Chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons:

Toxic in nature; cause digestive and urinary system damage

Paint thinner

Esters: Organic compound made by replacing the hydrogen of an acid.

Structure of Esters

Structure of Esters

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Toxic in nature; irritate eyes, nose and throat

Paint thinner

Alcohols: Organic compound.

Primary alcohol ethanol (ethyl alcohol).

Used as a drug

Main alcohol present in alcoholic beverages.

Ignitable; cause nervous system damage; irritate eyes, nose and throat

Paint thinner

Chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons: Group of compounds comprising polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons with two or more aromatic rings and one or more chlorine atoms attached to the ring system.

Ignitable; toxic in nature; digestive system damage

Paint thinner

Ketones: Organic compound.

R and R’ can be a variety of carbon-containing substituents.


Structure of Ketones

Structure of Ketones

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Ignitable; toxic in nature; respiratory system damage


Aromatic hydrocarbon thinners

Ignitable; toxic in nature; carcinogenic; irritates skin, eyes, nose and throat; respiratory system damage

Paint thinner

Mineral spirits: Used as a key ingredient in paint and varnish products used to coat metal surfaces to prevent corrosion

Highly ignitable; toxic in nature; irritates skin, eyes, nose and throat; respiratory system damage

Pool sanitizers

Calcium hypochlorite:

Inorganic compound.

Mixture with lime and calcium chloride.


Corrosive; irritates skin, eyes, and throat; if ingested cause severe burns to the digestive tract

Pool sanitizers

Ethylene (algaecides): Ethylene is a hydrocarbon.

Formula or

It is the simplest alkene.

Structure of Ethylene

Structure of Ethylene

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Irritation of eyes, mucous membrane and skin; effects reproductive system; probable human carcinogen

Toilet bowl cleaner

Sodium acid sulfate or oxalate or hypochloric acid

Corrosive; toxic in nature; burns skin; causes digestive and respiratory system damage

Chlorinated phenols: A chlorophenol is any organochloride of phenol that contains one or more covalently bonded chlorine atoms.

Ignitable; very toxic in nature; cause respiratory and circulatory system damage

Alternatives to Common Household Products

Table of Alternatives to common household products



Air refresher

Open windows to ventilate. To scent air, use herbal bouquets, pure vanilla on a cotton ball, or simmer cinnamon and cloves.

All-purpose cleaner

Mix cup baking soda, cup ammonia and cup vinegar in a gallon of hot water. Doubling all the ingredients except the water can make stronger solution.

Brass polish

Use paste made from equal parts vinegar, salt and flour. Be sure to rinse completely afterward to prevent corrosion.

Carpet/rug cleaner

Sprinkle cornstarch/baking soda on carpets and vacuum.

Dishwashing liquid

Wash dishes with hand using a liquid soap or a mild detergent.

Drain opener

Add 1 tablespoon baking soda into drain and then slowly pour cup white vinegar to loosen clogs. Use a plunger to get rid of the loosened clog. Prevent clogs by pouring boiling water down drains once a week, using drain strainers, and not pouring grease down drains.

Fabric softener

Use to cup of baking soda during rinse cycle.


Use compost and organic fertilizers.

Floor cleaner

Mix 1 cup vinegar in 2 gallons of water. For unfinished wood floors, add 1 cup linseed oil. To remove wax buildup, scrub in club soda, let soak and wipe clean.

Floor polish

Polish floors with club soda.

Furniture polish

Mix 1 teaspoon lemon oil and 1 pint mineral oil. Also, use damp rag.


Wipe houseplant leaves with soapy water.

Laundry bleach

Use borax on all clothes or ½ cup white vinegar in rinse water to brighten dark clothing. Nonchlorinated bleach also works well.

Methylene chloride paint stripper

Use nontoxic products.


Place cedar chips or blocks in closets and drawers.

Oil-based paint, thinner

Use water-based products.

Oven cleaner

Wash the oven with a mixture of warm water and baking soda. Soften burned-on spills by placing a small pan of ammonia in the oven overnight. Sprinkle salt onto fresh grease spills and then wipe clean.


Use physical and biological controls.

Silver cleaner

Add 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and a 2” x 2” piece of aluminum foil to a small pan of warm water. Soak silverware overnight.

Toilet cleaner

Use baking soda, a mild detergent, and a toilet brush.

Window cleaner

Mix cup ammonia with 1 quart water.