What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a large group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. While most people can smell high levels of some VOCs, other VOCs have no odor. Odor does not indicate the level of risk from inhalation of this group of chemicals. There are thousands of different VOCs produced and used in our daily lives.

How do VOCs affect the indoor environment?

Studies have shown that the level of VOCs indoors is generally higher than the level of VOC’s outdoors. VOC concentrations in indoor air depend on many factor

Where do VOCs come from?

Many products we have in our homes release or off-gas VOCs. We use the example of a new car smell. This is a type of VOC released by the materials in the car. Some common examples of sources of VOCs indoors are:

  • Building Materials
  • Carpets and adhesives
  • Composite wood products
  • Paints
  • Sealing caulks
  • Solvents
  • Upholstery fabrics
  • Varnishes
  • Vinyl Floors
  • Air fresheners
  • Cleaning and disinfecting chemicals
  • Cosmetics
  • Fuel oil, gasoline
  • Vehicle exhaust running a car in an attached garage
  • Cooking
  • Dry cleaning
  • Non-electric space heaters
  • Photocopiers
  • Smoking
  • Stored paints and chemicals

What are the health effects of VOC exposure?

The risk of health effects from inhaling any chemical depends on how much is in the air, how long and how often a person breathes it in. Scientists look at short-term (acute) exposures as hours to days or long-term (chronic) exposures as years to even lifetime.

Breathing low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems. Several studies suggest that exposure to VOCs may make symptoms worse in people who have asthma or are particularly sensitive to chemicals. These are much different exposures than occupational exposures to VOCs.

What are common VOCs?

  • Acetone
  • Benzene
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methylene chloride
  • Perchloroethylene
  • Toluene
  • Xylene
  • 1,3-butadiene

What are symptoms of VOC exposure?

  • Sensitive to odors
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea / Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Worsening of asthma symptoms
  • Cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central Nervous System damage

Are some people at greater risk from VOC exposure than others?

Persons with respiratory problems such as asthma, young children, elderly, and persons with heightened sensitivity to chemicals may be more susceptible to irritation and illness from VOCs.

What levels of VOCs are safe?

The best health protection measure is to limit your exposure to products and materials that contain VOCs when possible. If you think you may be having health problems caused by VOCs, try reducing levels in your home. If symptoms persist, consult with your doctor to rule out other serious health conditions that may have similar symptoms.

What can I do about VOCs that are in my home?

Although home screening kits are available to measure total volatile organic compound (TVOC) levels they are of limited use and won’t correct a VOC problem. Instead, the first step is to have an inspection of your home conducted by DMV Mold to identify the common sources of VOCs. Once we complete the investigation, testing should be conducted to identify the exact compounds in the air.

How do I reduce the levels of VOCs in my home or business?

The most effective action is to remove the product that gives off VOCs. Most products containing VOCs will off-gas within a short period of time, although some will continue to give off VOCs for a longer period of time depending on the environment and product.

Some steps you can take to reduce your exposure to VOCs in the home are:

1. Source control: Remove or reduce the number of products in your home that give off VOCs. Only purchase amounts of chemicals that you know you will use and carefully follow directions on product labels. Remove unused chemicals from the home because stored chemicals in closed containers can sometimes ‘leak’ and release VOCs into indoor air. For new items consider purchasing: Floor models that have been allowed to off-gas in the store Solid wood items with low emitting finishes New products that contain low or no VOCs (environmentally preferable products)

2. Ventilation and climate control can be used to reduce exposure to VOCs. Increase ventilation by opening doors and windows, use fans, maximize air brought in from outside Keep both the temperature and relative humidity as low as possible or comfortable. Chemicals will off-gas more under warmer conditions with high humidity If you have a choice, perform renovations when home is unoccupied or during seasons that will allow for additional ventilation

What are symptoms of VOC exposure?

  • Sensitive to odors
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea / Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Worsening of asthma symptoms
  • Cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central Nervous System damage

How do I reduce the levels of VOCs in my home or business?

The most effective action is to remove the product that gives off VOCs. Most products containing VOCs will off-gas within a short period of time, although some will continue to give off VOCs for a longer period of time depending on the environment and product.

Some steps you can take to reduce your exposure to VOCs in the home are:
1. Source control:  Remove or reduce the number of products in your home that give off VOCs. Only purchase amounts of chemicals that you know you will use and carefully follow directions on product labels. Remove unused chemicals from the home because stored chemicals in closed containers can sometimes ‘leak’ and release VOCs into indoor air.
For new items consider purchasing:

– Floor models that have been allowed to off-gas in the store
– Solid wood items with low emitting finishes
– New products that contain low or no VOCs (environmentally preferable products)

2. Ventilation and climate control can be used to reduce exposure to VOCs.
– Increase ventilation by opening doors and windows, use fans, maximize air brought in from outside
– Keep both the temperature and relative humidity as low as possible or comfortable. Chemicals will off-gas more under warmer conditions with high humidity
– If you have a choice, perform renovations when home is unoccupied or during seasons that will allow for additional ventilation

VOC & YOUR HEALTH

The ability of VOCs to cause health effects varies from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed.

– Eye and respiratory tract irritation
– Headaches
– Dizziness
– Visual Disorders
– Memory Impairment

Are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to certain VOCs. Many VOCs are known to cause cancer in animals; some are known to cause, cancer in humans. It is important to consult with a medical professional for proper diagnosis. Children, elderly and those who are immune compromised are usually most affected by VOCs. Search EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS)

 
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