As someone dedicated to organic living, it’s likely you’ve eliminated commercial air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, mothballs and other nonorganic deodorizing products from your home. If not, be advised that the  National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has found that exposure to the volatile organic compound (VOC) 1,4 dichlorobenzene (1,4 DCB) may reduce your lung function.

“Even a small reduction in lung function may indicate some harm to the lungs,” says NIEHS researcher Stephanie London, MD. “The best way to protect yourself—especially children who may have asthma or other respiratory illnesses—is to reduce the use of products and materials that contain these compounds.”

VOCs are a diverse set of compounds emitted as gases from thousands of commonly used products, including tobacco smoke, pesticides, paints and cleaning products. They’re also released through automotive exhaust. 1,4 DCB is a white solid compound with a distinctive aroma, similar to mothballs. It is primarily used as an environmental deodorant in products like room deodorizers, urinal and toilet bowl blocks, and as an insecticide fumigant for moth control.

“Because people spend so much time indoors, where these products are used, it’s important that we understand the effects that even low levels might have on the respiratory system,” says NIEHS researcher Leslie Elliott, PhD. “There has been very little research on the health effects of this particular compound in non-occupational settings.”

“This research suggests that 1,4 DCB may exacerbate respiratory diseases,” adds NIEHS Director David A. Schwartz, MD. “As part of the new disease-focused approach at NIEHS, researchers will use this information to better understand the pathogenesis of respiratory diseases.”