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Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that evaporate easily at room temperature. The term “organic” indicates that the compounds contain carbon. VOC exposures are often associated with an odor while other times, there is no odor. Both can be harmful. There are thousands of different VOCs produced and used in our daily lives.

Many products emit or “off –gas” VOCs. Some examples of VOC emission sources are:

Benzene
Toluene
Methylene
Chloride
Formaldehyde
Xylene
Ethylene glycol
Texanol
Emission Sources
Paints
Varnishes
Moth balls
Solvents
Gasoline
Newspaper
Cooking
Cleaning Chemicals
Vinyl floors
Carpets
Photocopying
Upholstery Fabrics
Adhesives
Sealing Caulks
Cosmetics
Air Fresheners
Fuel Oil
Vehicle Exhaust
Pressed wood furniture
Environmental Tobacco Smoke (Secondhand smoke)

Many studies have shown VOC levels are higher in indoor air than outdoor air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies have found indoor VOC levels that were 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors.

Levels of VOC Exposure in indoor air vary widely depending on:

1. The volume of air in the room/building
2. The rate at which the VOC is off-gassed
3. The building ventilation rate
4. Outdoor concentrations
5. Time spent in the effected environment

What are the health effects of VOC exposure?

Immediate:
Eye irritation / watering
Nose irritation
Throat irritation
Headaches
Nausea / Vomiting
Dizziness
Breathing Problems

Long Term:
Cancer
Liver damage
Kidney damage
Central Nervous System damage

In Birds: Death

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 illness from VOC exposure. Parrots are very susceptible to VOC Exposure.

What are some common sources of VOCs ?:

New carpeting
New furniture
Idling automobile in attached garage
Recent painting
Chemicals stored in the home
Recently applied adhesives
New plastic or electronic devices

Most products containing VOCs will off gas within a short period of time although some will continue to give off trace amounts of VOCs for a long period of time.

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

1. Purchase new products that contain low or no VOCs (Environmentally Preferable Purchasing)
2. Air cleaners – look for HEPA filtration designed to remove chemicals from the air.
3. Ventilation – open doors and windows, use fans.
4. Remove unused chemicals from the home. Check with your city or county for household hazardous waste collection sites.
5. Purchasing environmental friendly cleaning products.