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We are what we breathe

21/09/2022 Yves Vinck

CO2 and VOCs are generally known as 2 factors that contaminate the air that we breathe. Now studies find that yet another substance, hazardous to our health, moves about airborne: toxic ‘forever chemicals’ or PFAS.

We are what we breathe
is the difference between CO2, VOC and PFAS?
CO2 or Carbon dioxide is a gas consisting of one part carbon and two parts oxygen. It is one of the most important gases on earth because plants use it in the process of photosynthesis. This process is largely responsible for producing and maintaining the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere and supplies most of the energy necessary for life on Earth. In small quantities, this natural greenhouse gas is harmless.

Indoors CO2 is most commonly produced by the air we exhale. We all know the feeling when we have been sitting in a cramped, crowded lecture hall or meeting room for too long. Many begin to feel sleepy or sluggish. This has to do with the fact that when we breathe air with a high CO2 concentration, the CO2 level in our blood also rises. This reduces the amount of oxygen reaching our brains. Good ventilation, based on the CO2 content in a room, ensures that too high a CO2 content is avoided in time. The Sentera CO2-sensors can be a reliable aid in this process.

VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are compounds emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids, including a variety of human-made chemicals used in the manufacture of paints, pharmaceuticals and refrigerants. These products can release organic compounds while using them and to some degree, when they are stored.

Inside a building, the VOC concentration can be up to 10 times higher than outside. Breathing VOCs can irritate eyes, nose and throat – can cause difficulty breathing and damage the central nervous system as well as other organs. Some VOCs can cause cancer. By measuring the VOC levels in a room, they can be removed by increasing ventilation and airflow.

PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a large family of thousands of synthetic chemicals that are widely used throughout society to make products water-, stain- or heat-resistant and found in thousands of everyday consumer products such as stain guards, carpeting and shoes. These toxic ‘forever chemicals’ all contain carbon-fluorine bonds, which are one of the strongest chemical bonds in organic chemistry. This means that they resist degradation when used and persist in the environment longer than any other man-made substance.

It was long thought that water and food were the main ways humans were exposed to PFAS. Recent studies however show the risk of breathing them in and found alarming levels of PFAS compounds contaminating the air inside homes, classrooms and stores.
When ingesting PFAS (by eating or drinking food or water that contain PFAS or breathing them in) the PFAS are absorbed and can accumulate in the body. High levels of PFAS in the body can cause adverse health effects like increased cholesterol levels, small decreases in infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption.

Many communities are concerned about how PFAS exposure may affect their risk of COVID-19 infection, which is an important question. High levels of PFAS may reduce antibody responses to vaccines and may reduce infectious disease resistance. Because COVID-19 is a new public health concern, there is still much we don’t know. More research is needed to understand how PFAS exposure may affect illness from COVID-19.

Studies on the potential health effects of PFAS are ongoing. Sentera is in close contact with the University of Ghent, also active in the research of PFAS, and can thus closely follow the latest techniques and findings.

If PFAS are as harmful to our health as feared, it is important to ban them from our daily living environment as much as possible. The only way to do that is to provide adequate ventilation. When there is sufficient ventilation, the CO2 and VOC concentrations also remain sufficiently low.

Being a specialist in designing HVAC solutions, Sentera Controls offers a number of relevant products for these situations. Our articles are modular and can be used stand-alone.
Our sensors visualize CO2 or TVOC levels via the green, yellow and red LEDs or through an audible alarm. To obtain a more detailed readout of the measured values, an optional display can be added. Data logging and remote monitoring is possible by adding an internet gateway. The entire installation can then be viewed, logged and controlled via SenteraWeb - the online HVAC portal.

Who is Sentera?
Sentera is one of the leading manufacturers of control solutions for HVAC and ventilation systems. Our mission is to make intelligent HVAC control solutions that are easy to use! We develop, manufacture and promote fan speed controllers, HVAC sensors, HVAC controllers and actuator powered dampers to control airflows and to monitor indoor air quality. Today, the Sentera group counts 8 companies and 150 employees based in 4 different locations. Headquarters and the central warehouse are located in Temse, Belgium. Sentera is a 100 % family owned group of companies. For more information, please contact Sentera!

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