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  1. #1

    Member Since
    Nov 01, 2006
    Computers allegedly emit toxic VOC's
    A Little history:
    In May 2008, I lost my voice while photographing a wedding. I was without any voice at all for five weeks. Shooting a wedding with no voice is an adventure in itself.

    The doctors assumed it was just a virus, and some of my voice slowly returned but I never regained 100% of my voice. Beyond this I had no idea of the illness that was coming upon me.

    During the following weeks my voice would come and go without any apparent reason that could be identified. Doctors could only tell me that something was inflaming my vocal cords but the cause could be almost anything.

    Around September 1, I started noticing a smoky smell in my office. It smelled like burning wood or plastic. I have a home office and studio that are in the downstairs of a split foyer. The smell seemed just as bad upstairs and sometime I noticed it outside. My wife could never smell it but at times it was so strong it made me sick to my stomach.

    At the time my office included two CRT monitors, an Imac, a Powermac G4 and G5, LCD monitor, three printers, three UPS units, laptop computer and misc. USB hubs, modems and other assorted pieces of technology. Another Dell computer system was in my upstairs office and a large wide screen LCD TV and digital cable box. Most of these devices have in my office for 5 to 10 years. Two of the computers stay on nearly 24 hours a day.

    I started doing a lot of research on the internet and read about Phantosmias (phantom smells) and thought for awhile that I was suffering from this condition, but as the weeks passed the smell started to cause sinus burning and eventually grew worse followed by other symptoms below:

    Chest burning and pressure
    Throat burning and Tightness
    Nasal burning
    Eye burning
    Sinus headaches
    General fogginess
    Trouble swallowing
    Lung spasming
    Sore throat
    Voice loss
    Metal taste in the mouth.

    My doctor referred me to an Allergist, but he determined I did not have any allergies. He suspected that I might be reacting to something in my home.

    My next step was to have installed an $1800 PureAir purification system, but it seemed to give no relief.

    About this time, around October, I started reading about VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and the possibility of the computers being the sources.

    Working with the company that installed the purifier, they agreed to have an outside lab test the air quality of our office and upstairs. They tested for chemical pollutants including VOCs, allergens and various other environmental conditions in our home.

    One testing unit was placed downstairs in the office and the other one placed upstairs in the main living room.

    According to their recommendations, normal VOCs for an average home should be no more than 500 ug/m3 on any given day. Anything above that is considered hazardous to your health.

    Upon completion of a six-day test, our downstairs office showed over 4000 ug/m3 every day. The upstairs averaged 3000-4000 ug/m3 every day during the test. According to PureAir, this was considerably more pollutants than their system was designed to handle.

    Using my nose and smelling every piece of technology in the home I identified the following sources of VOC emitters that seemed to be causing my reaction:

    CRT monitors
    Flat screen monitors
    UPS battery backups
    Wireless and wired Internet devices
    External drives,
    USB hubs
    Wide screen and CRT TVS
    Digital cable box

    Other non-office related sources are:
    Vehicle emissions (we live within 50 yards of a major interstate highway)
    Air fresheners
    Hair blowers, fans and other devices with electric motors
    And anything else that contained hot circuitry.

    There are many others, but these seem to be the ones that affect me.

    By having these devices all running all day every day for the past 10 years I was slowly poisoning myself without knowing it.

    I don't know how long I will suffer from this or if there is a cure. I am seeing a specialist for this condition at John Hopkins in Baltimore in January, but the most I can do now is manage my environment. Managing my environment meant eliminating technology in my home. I have eliminated about 50% of the technology so far and reduced myself to one computer system encased in a ventilated box that vents the VOCs outdoors. I have included a photo of what I built. For it to work best both the intake and outtakes should be vented outdoors. If you want to build one yourself, be sure to use “Green” or environmentally safe materials. Also don’t use galvanized metal or aluminum tape like I did. The galvanizing is coated with an anti rust oil that emits a high amount of VOCs and so does the aluminum tape. I eventually had to remove the tape and replace it with screws and “Green” caulking.

    Air purifiers with carbon filtering (charcoal) can help eliminate a lot, but make sure they are designed to accommodate the number of square feet you are trying to filter, and be you are able to tolerate the charcoal smell (to me is as bad as the smoke smell). If you purchase a portable air purifier, make sure it is returnable if it does not suite your needs. Some come with electronic fans that emit the same VOCs that they are designed to filter out

    I know my sensitivity is growing worse and I cannot tolerate places like coffee shops and small offices with lots of computers running, or homes with air fresheners or candles burning. I have run into little understand from others. It’s hard to make others aware of the potential danger unless they are directly affected by it themselves.

    Vehicle emissions are another source for me and I react when the windows are closed and the heat is on in a vehicle. Both heaters in my vehicles pull the air from the engine compartment. I suspect that is where the VOC source is. Setting the heater to recycle the air does help. Opening the window give best relief if you can stand the cold.

    Ventilation of your environment is the best solution, but the price of the systems and increased energy cost due to loss of heat can make them very expensive.

    I also use a respirator that you can buy at the local safety store. If you purchase one, be sure to ask for chemical and smoke blocking filters. The filters are pricey, but I have found that when the charcoal gets used up in a few days, you can cut the filter container open and replace the charcoal with charcoal pads purchased from a high quality source like Good Filters on-line. I found that charcoal filters from local Home Depot or Lowes tend to be lower quality and are more like to emit a charcoal odor.

    The whole ordeal has really changed the environment I live in. Though I still suffer daily from hoarseness and metal taste in the mouth, the levels are tolerable if I limit the use of my electronic devices.. Now when I shop for anything for our home, I have to look at VOC ratings and only environmentally safe products.

    My official diagnosis so far is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or Sick Office.

    If anyone wants to read more, there are several articles on the web about this that can be found at the following links. I only share this so that others can avoid what I have been going through.

    Despite my condition, I am so very thankful that most of my wedding and other on-location photography work does not expose me to toxic environments. I am also thankful that my condition is manageable.


    Volatile Organic Compunds (VOCs) in Your Home: Environmental Health in Minnesota

    Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome - September 1, 1998 - American Academy of Family Physicians

    [ Computer Take Back Campaign ]

  2. #2

    Dysfunction's Avatar
    Member Since
    Mar 17, 2008
    Tucson, AZ
    Way... way too many specs to list.
    any plastic will off gas VOC's, so will most plywoods, wood finishing products, some metals under some circumstances etc
    This machine kills fascists
    Got # ? phear the command line!

  3. #3

    xj6jaguar1985's Avatar
    Member Since
    Jul 06, 2008
    In a van down the river.
    933 Mhz Powermac Quicksilver,1.5GB RAM, OSX 10.5, Tangerine 300MHz Clamshell, OS 9.2
    *Smokes cigarette*

    Man...That's a bummer..

    But seriously, I feel your pain man...I have severe IBS which went undiagnosed for 2 years because doctors know absolutely NOTHING about IBS and would rather just hand me pills. It's frustrating, but hang in there and have hope! You're alive and that's all that matters!

    Come to think of it...Maybe that's why I always feel sick at work??????
    We use old computer monitors for our work...Hmmmm......
    Yes my name is Jaguar.
    No, it is not a joke.
    I don't find your "I'm a cheetah." joke funny.

  4. #4

    Sobe's Avatar
    Member Since
    Aug 24, 2005
    17" 2.8ghz Macbook Pro, 32GB iPhone 4
    I don't support candidates that will say anything to be elected, and avoid answering questions like the plague.

  5. #5

    baggss's Avatar
    Member Since
    Oct 10, 2004
    3.4 Ghz i7 27 in iMac (2012), 3.4 Ghz i7 MacBook Pro (2015), iPad Pro (2014), iPhone 6+
    Quote Originally Posted by Dysfunction View Post
    any plastic will off gas VOC's, so will most plywoods, wood finishing products, some metals under some circumstances etc
    There was an article on /. a while back about Automobiles having the same issues. In the end, the modern world will kill you, especially if you are unfortunate enough to be susceptible to these things.

  6. #6

    Dysfunction's Avatar
    Member Since
    Mar 17, 2008
    Tucson, AZ
    Way... way too many specs to list.
    Quote Originally Posted by baggss View Post
    There was an article on /. a while back about Automobiles having the same issues. In the end, the modern world will kill you, especially if you are unfortunate enough to be susceptible to these things.
    yes, anything that's been glued, made of plastic or is finished with almost any barrier finish.. will offgas.
    This machine kills fascists
    Got # ? phear the command line!

  7. #7

    terrible1one3's Avatar
    Member Since
    Oct 05, 2008
    Raleigh, NC
    Alumibook 2.4, 4GB | 1TB Time Capsule | 30GB Video iPod
    Good information!

    I recently was a huge computer geek with like 5 or 6 computers, a server, some networking equipment, tons of everything.

    The nice thing about discovering mac is it allows you to consolidate you IT library. I went from all of that junk, to one gaming machine, one LCD, my macbook, and a tera-byte time capsule. Got rid of a bunch of unused stuff and even my power bill is down a bit.

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