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Have you ever found it difficult to breathe in a room after purchasing new furniture or applying a fresh coat of paint? And have you ever been forced to avoid spaces as a result of those overwhelming smells? Do you wonder what is in those nasty fumes you are breathing? The gases emitted by furniture, paint, and countless other products are called VOC’s or volatile organic compounds. These are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure which causes molecules to evaporate and enter the air. They can even be odorless so we may not be aware of them. VOC’s have been linked to asthma, certain cancers, and many other serious health issues. Exposure to these chemicals in schools is of particular concern since children are more susceptible to their harmful effects due to their developing immune systems.

The good news is that there are many ways to significantly minimize exposure to these toxic gases. Consider taking some of the following steps to help ensure your classroom is a safe and healthy place for you and your students to spend your days:

  • Advocate for the use of low or no VOC paints and floor coverings.
  • Choose furniture made of solid wood rather than plastics. Not only is wood furniture devoid of the VOC’s found in plastics, but it is also more durable and more beautiful. Make sure that your wood furniture is sealed and stained with eco-friendly, water based products that won’t off-gas.
  • Purchase safer classroom materials such as water based paints, washable and odorless markers, and phthalate free binders.
  • Avoid air fresheners and other scented products, as all of these products contain a high concentration of VOC’s.
  • Ensure your classroom has sufficient air circulation. VOC levels are much greater indoors and proper air flow helps clear them out.
  • Use green cleaners rather than traditional cleaners to avoid the wide array of toxic chemicals from standard products that can off-gas into your classroom air.
  • Consider adding plants to your classroom decor. Not only do they beauty and calm to your classroom, they can also naturally remove toxicants and absorb air pollutants.
  • Avoid any products made with formaldehyde based glues. Instead seek ones that use soy-based glues.
  • Choose manipulatives and toys made with wood, soy based glues, and plant based dyes to avoid the numerous toxins found in traditionally made toys.

You and your students will breathe easier if you take even just a few of these steps to reduce the toxins in your classroom air. A breathable classroom is a healthy classroom!

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