Health Issues

Volatile Organic Compounds

How to avoid VOCs in the home

Organic compounds are all chemicals containing carbon and hydrogen. Almost 1,000 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been identified in indoor air. VOCs are different because normal conditions allow them to vaporize and enter the air we breathe.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be found in a variety of paints, plastics, cosmetics and more. New homes or building materials can off-gas volatile organic compounds in high concentrations for months after being installed and in lower amounts for years thereafter. VOCs can also be introduced on a daily basis through the use of a number of products.

Items commonly containing VOCs

  • Paint - removers and thinners included
  • Cleaning compounds
  • Caulking
  • Composite wood
  • Gasoline
  • Linoleum
  • Adhesives
  • Wall coatings
  • Photocopiers and printers
  • Carpet
  • Upholstery and carpet cleaners and protectors
  • Solvents
  • Lacquers
  • Correction fluid
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Acoustic ceiling tiles
  • Deodorizers and air fresheners
  • Polishes
  • Fabric softeners
  • Cigarettes (heavy-duty smoke eaters may help)
  • Moth balls

The Environmental Protection Agency says indoor concentrations of volatile organic compounds are up to 10 times higher than outdoors. During and for several hours after activities like paint stripping, levels can surpass 1,000 times that of outdoor air.

Negative health effects

Research has found that exposure to volatile organic compounds can cause fatigue, headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, joint pain and weakness, numbness and tingling, tightness of chest, blurred vision, skin and eye irritation and euphoria. Respiratory and sinus problems have also been reported. Elevated levels of exposure can cause liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Some VOCs are also suspected to cause cancer in humans.

Hypersensitive people can react severely to items containing low levels of VOCs, including soaps, perfumes, cosmetics, tobacco and dyes. It's a good idea to reduce exposure to all VOCs and remove existing contamination through air cleaning.

Prevention

Aside from keeping products containing volatile organic compounds out of the home, you can employ certain electronic air cleaners, HEPA filters or gas filter purifiers to lower levels. Find out what exactly the purifier or filter is capable of handling; not all filters are created equal.

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