Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Gases- Keep Them Low
Volatile organic compounds are chemicals used to manufacture and maintain building materials, interior furnishing, cleaning products and personal care products. “Volatile” means that these chemicals evaporate or can easily get into the air at room temperature. “Organic” means these chemicals are carbon based. The term “chemical emissions” refers to VOCs as they evaporate into the air from products.
Studies by the EPA and other researchers from the New York Department of Health, have found that VOCs are common in indoor environments and that their levels may be two to a thousand times higher than outdoors. There may be anywhere from 50 to hundreds of individual VOCs in the indoor air at any one time. Some may produce objectionable odors at very low levels, but many have no noticeable smell.
Many VOCs are irritants and can cause headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation and dizziness. Long-term exposure to certain VOCs may lead to chronic diseases or cancer. At high concentrations, some VOCs are toxic.
The majority of VOCs found in the indoor environments originate from building materials, indoor furnishings, cleaning supplies, consumer products and processes, such as printing, cooking, hobbies, cleaning, interior renovations and pesticide applications.
Tips for Eliminating Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in Your Home
- 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 within the school
- 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 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
This article was contributed by the Public Education Sub-committee: Steve Levy, Caroline Blazovsky, Brian Karr, Corey Levy, Mark Levy and Al Rabin.