VOCs (or Volatile Organic Compounds) can have a huge impact on indoor air quality. For some, this could also have a negative effect on people’s health and well-being. Because we spend so much time indoors, it is important to understand how these gases can affect our health.
What is a VOC?
VOCs are chemicals that are emitted as gases from various solids and liquids. These can be found in all living things and everyday items you use inside your home. Examples of these sources are furniture, hardwood and laminate floors, cabinets, HVAC systems, and carpets all contain VOCs. According to the EPA, the sources of VOCs can also come from products like:
- paints, paint strippers and other solvents
- wood preservatives
- aerosol sprays
- cleansers and disinfectants
- moth repellents and air fresheners
- stored fuels and automotive products
- hobby supplies
- dry-cleaned clothing
- office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper
Elevated levels often occur in newly constructed buildings. Likewise, this can also happen after major remodeling projects.
Health issues of VOCs and Indoor Air Quality
The EPA reports that the potential health issues include:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Visual disorders and memory impairment
The ability of VOCs to cause health effects varies greatly. Some effects are highly toxic and others are simply unknown. It is not unusual for some of our clients to experience symptoms shortly after moving into a newly constructed house. The same can also happen after completing a major remodeling project.
Testing, VOCs, and Indoor Air Quality
If you are concerned that the VOCs of a home or business may be elevated, it is an excellent idea to contact trained professionals. They can help in finding the source of these compounds and develop a strategy to eliminate them. Indoor Science can provide instantaneous TVOC (total volatile organic compound) readings on your property to help with this matter. We also offer laboratory-based testing for formaldehyde and VOCs.
What can be done to reduce VOC exposure
Again, the EPA is a valuable resource and offers these recommendations:
- Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs.
- Meet or exceed any label precautions.
- Do not store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials.
- Formaldehyde, one of the best known VOCs, is one of the few indoor air pollutants that can be readily measured.
- Identify, and if possible, remove the source.
- If not possible to remove, reduce exposure by using a sealant on all exposed surfaces of paneling and other furnishings.
- Use integrated pest management techniques to reduce the need for pesticides.
- Use household products according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- Make sure you provide plenty of fresh air when using these products.
- Throw away unused or little-used containers safely; buy in quantities that you will use soon.
- Keep out of reach of children and pets.
- Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.
- Follow label instructions carefully
When working with the possibility of VOCs in new construction, one of the best strategies is to not bring them indoors in the first place. Find materials that emit “low” to “no” VOCs in stains, paints, and other “green” materials.
Remember that VOC levels in new construction and most materials will dissipate over time. That being said, a person with a high level of sensitivities can be greatly affected by the off-gassing of many products in addition to building materials. Reducing these possibly dangerous gases from your work or home will go a great distance in improving your indoor air quality and health.